The phenomenal growth of social network sites over the last decade or so is beyond repute. But for most of those years the growth came from those of Generation X (late 20s through 40s) and Millennials (born after about 1975) – both of whose members helped build as well as use the technologies of the internet, mobile devices and social networks.
But in recent years, the biggest movers in terms of usage are from the so-called ‘GI-Generation’ – those over 73. According to a recent report from theand American Life Project,
The fastest rate of growth was seen among the oldest generation of internet users, as the percentage of adults age 74 and older who use social network sites quadrupled from 4% in December 2008 to 16% in May 2010. Use of these services for all online adults in this time period increased from 35% to 61% over that same time period. (p.16; the entire report can be read here.)
What are they doing with their online time?
According to that same Pew Report, their activities, though comparatively limited in time and scope, cross the same range of interests, shopping needs, and SM outreach that define every other generation’s use of the internet. Their uses include searching government and academic sites for information, making purchases and travel reservations, even blogging.
The opportunity to get online at assisted-living, CCRM, and nursing-home sites across the country has been improved with the advent of classes to help seniors understand the hardware and the software they want to use. In particular, social-media networks are a real draw because they pay immediate dividends in terms of outreach and connection not only with their peers but with younger and often far-flung family members.
An article on TheAtlantic.com discusses how many seniors are turning toward such platforms as Facebook, blogs, and even Twitter to bring the larger world in to their daily activities. Recent studies, like those done by Dr. Laura Carstensen, the director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity, demonstrate that older users prefer social networks as gateways to the internet, as they bring familiar names and concerns to the users.
Moreover, study after study demonstrates how older people feel more engaged and less isolated (and thus less depressed) when using social media periodically.
With some irony, many of the GI Generation feel heightened stress while learning about the internet in classes. The stress of learning something new, though, seems to have its own benefits: participants in numerous surveys outlined in TheAtlantic’s article often admitted the stress of the initial challenge, but were generally excited about getting involved with the new technology and the new opportunities to reach out.
As those of the GI Generation have made history, they and their Baby-Boomer children are not ready to leave it yet. Access to new technologies and social-media platforms provide opportunity for them to continue to participate with their families and friends in the larger world they have done so much to create.