To friend or not to friend

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While many youngsters are turning to Instagram or Snapchat as their social media platform of choice, increasingly those aged 65 plus are choosing Facebook to communicate online. 

Maureen Durney has packed a lot of living into her 69 years.

Having dedicated more than three decades of her life to special education teaching, in the years since taking retirement the dynamic Aveo Mountain View resident has discovered a range of different ways to keep her cognitive cogs turning.

When not at her desk producing content about local businesses and events or building and maintaining her blog, podcast or website Mountain-View Living, she can usually be found planning her next trip abroad, attending WordPress networking events or learning the fundamentals of conversational Swedish.

Yet despite the numerous activities demanding her attention, one of the very first things Maureen does each morning and every evening is to log in to Facebook, a ritual she has maintained since first joining the social networking site in 2006.

Eighty-three-year-old June Porter is another active senior who has turned checking her Facebook page into part of her daily routine.

Having joined the site only six years ago, June is a relative newcomer to the joys of social media and estimates she spends up to two hours a day checking in on acquaintances from Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, and commenting on photos posted by her three children, six grandchildren, one great-grandchild and numerous friends and family.

Facebook gaining popularity

It seems the pair are not alone in adopting the platform as their go-to communications tool.

A recent report from digital marketing group eMarketer shows that as the social network founded by Mark Zuckerberg 14 years ago grows older, so too has its popularity among older people.

The research suggested that more than 500,000 new over-55s will join Facebook this year. These new additions will mean that worldwide there will be 6.4 million 55 to 65-year-old-plus regular Facebook users, making this demographic the second largest users of the site after 16 to 34-year-olds.

The research supports earlier findings that suggested seniors are one of the fastest-growing demographics on Facebook, with a 2015 report finding usage by adults 65 and older worldwide more than tripled since 2010, jumping from 11 per cent to more than 40 per cent.

Figures from Statistica show there are more than 1.3 million Australians aged 65 or over who have a Facebook profile.

S. Shyam Sundar, one of the principal authors of a paper, Senior citizens on Facebook: How do they interact and why, says seniors are mostly motivated to join Facebook for social bonding and social bridging but argues they’re also driven by curiosity.

Speaking to US media about their research, Shyam said that Facebook users aged 65-plus wanted to learn something new, and didn’t want to miss out on what was trending in digital communications.

The analysis of the relationship between senior citizens’ motivations and their participation in activities on Facebook indicated that social bonding is a major motivation for participating in most activities on Facebook.

The data also revealed that using message-based interactivity

features on Facebook, such as posting on other people’s wall and Facebook chatting with others, led to greater Facebook use.

“When on the site, seniors love looking at family photos, but they’re not that interested in posting photos of their own. Those who share comments and chat spend significantly more time on the site.”

Shyam said users in this demographic also loved the “social surveillance” afforded by Facebook, which afforded them the chance to lurk, check up on and keep tabs on their family members and acquaintances.

In addition, Facebook often proved the ideal platform for those who could not get out and meet people face-to-face and was an important tool in tackling social isolation, Shyam said.

“My goal is to keep seniors in our village connected. Not everyone has family nearby so having the ability to connect via Facebook…might help with those who feel a bit isolated.” – Maureen Durney

“Seniors living alone do not have to sit by their phones waiting for a call or hope that they have a visitor today. They can instead go online and have rich social interactions with all their acquaintances from the comfort of their homes.”

Easing communication pathways

Maureen says one of the many benefits of being an active Facebook user is that it meets the needs of both younger and older users equally and she believes this may be one of the reasons why its popularity among those aged 65- plus is growing.

While it is easy for “young ones” to keep up with the technology easily, seniors take a while longer to adjust to what’s on offer and as a result, tend not to drift between different platforms, she says.

“Seniors tend to stick with one thing. We can see feeds from friends and family. We only have to post one thing, and everyone can see it. It beats the heck out of writing a million emails to keep in touch. Group messages can be sent to a number of people on Messenger, so you can keep some things private – like arranging coffee/lunch catch-ups.”

Clearly an early adopter, Maureen also has Instagram and Twitter accounts but admits to finding these much more difficult to use. She has been active on Facebook almost from the date it launched.

Living in San Francisco at the time with her Canadian-American tech- savvy late husband Bill, she was first introduced to the social media site by Bill’s brother Jim.

Initially using it to communicate with her brother-in-law, Maureen says she didn’t

get serious about logging on regularly until she moved back to Australia in 2010.

“By then I had a teenage granddaughter and it was a way of keeping up with what she was doing, without asking heaps of questions,” she says.

“Since then I have found Facebook to be the easiest way to stay in touch. By now, more of my family is on Facebook so when my cousins and I meet for coffee, photos go on our Facebook pages for the rest of the family to see. It’s a great way to keep us connected.”

With “several hundred” friends dotted throughout Canada, the US, Mexico, Hong Kong, Laos, Denmark, England, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia, Maureen says she went to India two years ago and met lots of people.

She now jokes she is Facebook friends with “half the Indian population”.

Maureen says her usage increased dramatically when she started getting more serious about her blogging, prompting her to undertake several online courses.

“They all pointed to the value of Facebook for promoting my blog. I then realised how helpful it can be to make a comment or simply like someone else’s page, especially if they are connected to a website.

“It helps friends and family with any businesses/blogs etc they may have. The more likes and comments they get, the more their site is viewed.”

Maureen sometimes worries she is too reliant on Facebook but says she is forced to keep a tight rein on her usage or she would fail to get anything done.

“I could spend all day on it. But I have to control the urge to do that. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is turn on the coffee machine (through Alexa), check my email, and then Facebook. The last thing at night, I check emails and then Facebook. And throughout the day – I check emails and Facebook whenever I have a spare moment.”

As is the case with June who rarely posts status updates or arranges social catch ups on the platform but regularly makes contacts on other users’ photos, Maureen says the majority of her friends are now active on Facebook but few fully utilise all the options it offers.

She has now made it her mission to assist more of her fellow residents to get on Facebook by helping to set up a wi-fi connection in the Aveo Mountain View Community Centre.

“My goal is to keep seniors in our village connected. Not everyone has family nearby so having the ability to connect via Facebook … might help with those who feel a bit isolated.”

The argument that the high cost and complexity of the technology needed to drive social networks makes them prohibitive no longer holds sway, Maureen says, with touch screen tablets much easier to navigate than computers and much more affordable than they used to be. “We need to keep mentally active to keep dementia at bay. And I don’t believe there is an upper age-limit for learning.

“A friend of mine started doing podcasts in her 70s so there’s no excuse for not being able to learn to navigate Facebook. And by teaching just-in-time, not just-in-case, the learning is made a lot easier.”

Original article from Chapter Magazine.

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