07/18/2013 05:32 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2013

What Seniors Can Teach Tech Experts about Connectivity


My generation lives in a 140 character world. We communicate through tweets, text messages and email. We share our experiences through Instagram and Facebook posts, and we express ourselves without saying a single word. I'm all for technology -- I co-founded Integrate, an advertising tech company, and I'm fortunate to work with young, brilliant, tech-savvy men and women. But I also founded Wish of a Lifetime (WOL), a non-profit organization with the goal of helping to change the lives of seniors in a meaningful way by helping them fulfill their dreams. It is through WOL that I've seen that seniors know more than our tech-savvy selves when it comes to connecting.

My grandparents lived full, rich lives -- they savored every experience and lived in the moment. Their days were not interrupted by thoughts of how to best condense an experience into a 140 character memory, and they were not skipping ahead to something new before they finished what they started. My grandmother inspired me to found WOL, and spending time with seniors and fulfilling their lifelong wishes has helped me to realize how important the interpersonal connections are to a rich, meaningful life.

WOL and Brookdale, the nation's largest senior living provider and our lead national sponsor, granted the wish of 91-year-old Sadie Fanali, who dreamed of meeting her pen pal, Lorraine Thomas, who she has been writing to since 1932. Sadie and Lorraine wrote three or four letters to each other every year, including one every Christmas. Through the long form letters, they have gotten to know intimate details of each other's lives and have developed an incredible bond. Before meeting Lorraine, Sadie said: "We wouldn't need to have anything planned -- it would be such an event for us two to simply be in each other's presence." When finally meeting after 81 years, both women said it was one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives.

77-year-old Margaret VanGrouw was granted her lifelong wish to share a French experience with her granddaughter, Erin, in Quebec. Erin had been taking French classes and dreamed of traveling to France to partake in the culture, food, and experiencing their heritage first-hand. Margaret and Erin stayed in the heart of the city, took walking tours and most importantly, practiced French. They immersed themselves in the culture, something they wouldn't have been able to do online or by phone.

WOL and Brookdale also recently granted the wish of 93-year-old Bill and 94-year-old Peg Harper, who have been married for 70 years and wished to travel back to Normandy, France, where Bill stormed Omaha Brach on June 6, 1944. Their wish of a lifetime was to share this experience with their great-grandson, Liam. They hoped this would give them a chance to reconnect with the people Bill lost that day and to demonstrate to Liam the significance of what being a true hero really means. Bill has received several Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for his valiant actions in both the Second World War and the Korean War. During the trip, Liam was able to see the courageous actions that his great-grandfather endured and gain a greater understanding of the importance of our older generations. Peg said: "Liam understood so well the significance and importance of what his great-grandfather had done on that beach. Liam realized it wasn't just a trip. It was so special. Our other great-grandchildren said they were so proud to be with us."

I often receive messages from children saying they have been touched by WOL and have begun to spend more time with older relatives or to volunteer with seniors. They've realized there is a lot to be learned from seniors, and there are skills they have that we are often lacking in. They also realize that the gap between them is not as wide as they might have initially thought.

Here's what I've learned from my experience with seniors: We need to savor the moment and breathe in experiences, and we need to take the time to look each other in the eye and have more face-to-face conversations. Only then can my generation and the next become more engaged, active participants in our own lives and learn from seniors like Sadie, Bill and Peg--because a life lived on the surface is not as rich as a life fully experienced.