Categorized | Sondra's Musings, Features

Confessions of a Facebook junky: Embracing my inner coolness

facebook

By Sondra L. Shapiro

Facebook has come a long way since Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and some classmates founded the site as a social network for college students. The concept caught on like wildfire with the nation’s youth.

Just as we “oldsters” have a proclivity for just about anything geared toward our kids it was just a matter of time before we “stole” Facebook for our own use.

Older adults are Facebook’s fastest growing demographic, according to Penn State researchers. In fact, we are the fastest growing demographic among all social media users.

In 2010, 11 percent of adults aged 65 and older belonged to a social network, such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Now, the number is 35 percent and is continuing to show an upward trend.

Eun Hwa Jung

Jung

We are joining Facebook to stay connected and make new connections, just like those college kids who joined the site decades ago. “Earlier studies suggest a positive relationship between bonding and bridging social capital and Facebook use among college students,” said Eun Hwa Jung, a doctoral candidate in mass communications. “Our study extends this finding to senior citizens.”

Jung was involved with the online survey of 352 adults whose ages ranged from 60 to 86. A total of 184 — or 52.3 percent — were female and 168 — or 47.7 percent — were male.

A Latecomer

I was a latecomer to Facebook. Much in the same way that I was initially disinterested in the term “blog” or “text messaging,” I saw no useful reason to spend any time exploring things further.

Shapiro

Shapiro

My interest piqued in 2009 when I happened upon a Time magazine piece, “Why Facebook is for Old Fogies.” The irreverent piece offered some interesting reasons for my generation’s interest in Facebook causing me to laugh out loud:

✔️ We can find people with whom we lost touch or become “friends” with people who may have rejected us in our youth.

✔️ It’s great for business networking.

✔️It’s tantalizingly easy to judge people when we hear how other people’s lives stink.

✔️Because our pictures from grade school or summer camp look nothing like us, we need Facebook tags to identify us to long-lost acquaintances.

✔️The captured audience allows us to subject others to pictures of our kids and grandkids.

✔️We’re too old to remember e-mail addresses so the site becomes a one-stop message center.

✔️And because we no longer care about our “image,” we aren’t the least bit embarrassed that Facebook is no longer cool since our kids have already abandoned it for the newest playground.

While the tone of the story appealed to my sarcastic nature, it also made me admit I was actually feeling left out. After all, Facebook references were appearing everywhere. And, it was often the subject of conversation among friends.

So, to avoid total social isolation, I gave in and struggled my way through the process of opening a Facebook account — adding just the right pictures, creating an interesting profile and sending out invites to perspective “friends.”

Then I began to worry that my “friend” requests would go unanswered.

I had nothing to fear since fellow posters were only too happy to connect with me. I shouldn’t have doubted the human desire to keep in touch with old friends and long lost family or the need to communicate with like-minded oldsters.

Social bonding was indeed the best predictor of Facebook use according to the new survey. Curiosity was also another motivation for old Facebook users, Jung said.

“Because they are now familiar with social networking technology, some seniors are just starting to use Facebook out of curiosity,” she said.

Foraging for Famous People

In the beginning, the most fun for me was foraging for long-lost associations and famous people that I could feel closer to by virtue of their sharing personal details under their Facebook profiles. I was reminded of those movie magazines of my youth that disclosed the favorite colors and foods of movie and TV stars.

My obsessive searching gave me a sense that I belonged to a club where the famous and nobodies like me were at the same social level. It was way cool.

Sundar

Sundar

I am not ashamed to admit Facebook legitimized my voyeuristic tendencies since my cohort also uses Facebook as a form of social surveillance (OK, I prefer to call it nosiness), according to S. Shyam Sundar, distinguished professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, who worked with Jung on the survey.

“Surveillance is the idea that you’re checking out what people are up to,” said Sundar. “This is something that many older adults do. They want to see how their kids are doing and, especially, what their grandkids are doing.”

Snarkiness aside, some of the unexpected perks I enjoy most about Facebook is the supportive network it provides and the ability to share special moments. How I love seeing the pictures of grandchildren, family gatherings and milestone celebrations.

Facebook friends can be kind and encouraging during challenging times like sickness or the death of a loved one or pet. It brings together a generation with shared memories and experiences — a collective understanding of special phrases, historical moments or musical groups. We can check in with a new recipe or restaurant suggestion or IM (instant message) a friend when we want to keep a conversation more private.

One of my Facebook friends, Ali Burke, said it best in a recent posting: “As much as I grumble about social media, the one thing I am very, very grateful for is how Facebook has brought back so many of my friends into my life, has allowed me to get closer and to remain close to my cousins, and to get to connect with so many relatives and friends in Europe and Australia.

“What this comes down to, is that we can strip away our religions, political affiliations, and what we have is just US … people who are there for each other, to congratulate, celebrate, sympathize, root for, and just care for and love each other,” posted Burke, a former high school classmate.

Making Facebook User-Friendly

As frequent users — the research sample found its subjects checked in on Facebook 2.46 times a day and stayed on the site for a little over 35 minutes each day — the researchers suggested ways Facebook could be more user friendly for us.

“Our findings show that message-interactivity features, for example the chatting function and wall posting, are the dominant activities for older adults’ Facebook use,” said Jung.

The researchers suggest designers of social media sites, such as Facebook, should emphasize simple and convenient interface tools to attract us and motivate us to stay on the site longer. “Those who are motivated by social bonding are more likely to use the ‘Like’ button, which shows the importance of simplicity in interface design for senior citizens,” said Sundar. “The ‘Like’ button is about as simple as you can get.”

We are not just a fast-growing market, but also a lucrative one. “Older adults have much more disposable income than teens and college students and would be more desirable for advertising,” said Sundar. Despite the growing importance, little research has been published on what motivates older adults to use social networking sites. “Most of the research is about how college students use Facebook or how adolescents use Facebook,” said Sundar.

All I know is that I am still motivated by a sense of curiosity and a need to belong. So, speaking of which, gotta go check in with my friends. I’m sure they will want to know that I just wrote about them. I just hope they all “Like” my column.

 

2 Responses to “Confessions of a Facebook junky: Embracing my inner coolness”

  1. Randy says:

    Nice article

  2. David Budnik says:

    It really does put the “social” in social media. It’s amazing how it spans the gap of miles and time between friends, new and old. Great story!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks


Leave a Reply

Join Now for the 50 Plus Newsletter