Older folks flocking to online social networks

While social networks remain havens for the young, they are also becoming increasingly popular with the over-50 crowd.

Afp August 28, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO: While online social networks remain havens for the young, they are also becoming increasingly popular with the over-50 crowd in the United States, a study released this weekend showed.

“Young adults continue to be the heaviest users of social media, but their growth pales in comparison with recent gains made by older users,” said Mary Madden, from the Pew Research Centre’s Internet and American Life Project.

“E-mail is still the primary way that older users maintain contact with friends, families and colleagues, but many older users now rely on social network platforms to help manage their daily communications.”

Nearly half of US internet users ranging in age from 50 to 64 engaged in online communities such as Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn during the year that ended May 30, according to the study.

That marked an 88 per cent increase from the prior year.

The ranks of online seniors 65 years of age or older using social networks doubled to 26 per cent, the research indicated.

One in five “online adults” ages 50 to 64 claimed to use social networking websites daily, while 13 per cent of “wired seniors” said they did so.

“Social media has the potential to bridge generational gaps,” Madden said.

“There are few other spaces — online or offline — where tweens, teens, sandwich generation members, grandparents, friends and neighbours regularly intersect and communicate across the same network.” Social networking platforms have also caught on with older age groups in Pakistan. Over the past few years, there has been a steady increase in people aged 50 and above joining Facebook to connect with their peers, communicate with their children who may be settled abroad and coo over photographs of their grandchildren.

They also have learned how to use Skype, e-mail and text messaging to be able to connect with their children on these platforms.

Music aficionado Saffiya Beyg says, “My grandchildren use Facebook and Skype. The eldest is studying abroad and the two younger ones are in Hong Kong with their parents, so that is one way I remain in touch with them.”

According to Nuzhat Kidvai, “I do use Facebook to remain connected with my daughter, but it is not the only source of communication.”

However, Facebook can be overwhelming for many. Columnist Hamid Maker says, “I used to use Facebook, but I couldn’t keep up with the inbox messages. But to stay in touch with my grandkids I use Skype.”

Shehnaz Saleem, on the other hand, said, “I use Facebook seldomly. At the most, I log on once or twice every week.”

Pew research showed that older social network users were inclined to reconnect with people from the past, potentially creating support networks for retiring or changing careers.

Older people were more likely than the young to be living with chronic illnesses and using the internet for blogging or online health discussions.

Grandmother Talat Waseem told The Express Tribune, “Yes, I remain in touch with my kids and grandkids through Facebook and they enjoy being connected to me through it. But apart from that I do actively send text messages.”

However, not all children want their parents and grandparents to be on Facebook.

According to business executive Amna, “My mother is on Facebook and added me, but I ignored her. I didn’t feel that she needed to be on my list and have the same access that my friends did.”

Others have become more creative, such as Sundus. “My mother added me on Facebook but I freaked out and blocked her. Then I blocked my sisters but they kept pestering me so I ended up making a separate family account for my mother, sisters, elder cousins etc.” afp

With additional reporting by the News Desk

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2010.


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