The Silver Generation of Social Media Users

Published by Katie Speers

People today spend hours online. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and many other social media platforms take up much of our day to day lives. According to Belle Beth Cooper, a writer for the Huffington Post, social media has grown to become the number 1 activity on the web. Whenever I am idly sitting around I seem to be connected to some form of social media. I use Twitter to stay on top of the latest news and celebrity gossip and Facebook is a great way to keep in contact with distant friends and relatives. It seems that everyone is now using social media in some way or another – whether it be for advertising, communication or simply for fun and games.

One group of people who we do not often associate with social media use is seniors. There seems to be a stigma attached to seniors and social media use. We often think of them as “too old” to use and understand social media. The reality is that the proportion of seniors using social media sites is increasing. It has been found that the fastest growing age group on social media is those 55-64 years old. In an article written by Janet Davison for CBC news it was stated that “figures from Statistics Canada show that the number of Canadians 75 years of age and older who are online grew from five per cent in 2000 to 27 per cent in 2012.” This portrays the increasing number of seniors who are interested in testing the waters of social media use.

Seniors have witnessed a significant change in technology throughout their lives. They had the opportunity to witness the digital revolution first hand. They began their lives with no technology and now live in a world that seems to revolve around technology. So why should we assume they cannot or should not use social media? Seniors have had to adapt to a world that is controlled by technology and many are doing all they can to keep up with the constant technological changes. Being connected to social media is an important aspect of keeping up with technology.

The reasons I believe seniors are using social media are:

    • Stay connected with family and friends
    • Keep up to date on news and things happening around the world
    • Reduce isolation
    • Improve mental health

MYTHS

There are a number of myths surrounding seniors and Internet use. It is important for these myths to be dispelled in order to reduce the barriers older adults face as well as allow them to feel comfortable and able to be apart of our every growing world of social media. I myself have a number of biases toward seniors and social media use. However, as a student in gerontology I constantly make a conscious effort not to express negative stereotypes concerning seniors. However, we live in a world that is not open to ageing and therefore it is difficult not to express or believe the negative stereotypes you hear.

When I asked my friends and family about their opinions on older adults and social media use and these are the responses I received:

  • Too old to learn
  • Afraid of the Internet
  • Too slow
  • Have no use for social media

As you are reading these, you may realize that you too have these beliefs whether you knew it before now or not. However, after much research and reflecting on my own opinions and knowledge I have come to the conclusion that these myths are far from the truth – which is why they are called myths right?

Despite these myths being false, the number of people who share these beliefs is surprising. I find myself wondering what can be done to set people straight. It is my personal opinion that social media use among seniors should be encouraged.

STAYING CONNECTED

Social media presents an excellent way to stay connected around the world. No matter where you are, social media allows you to stay in contact with friends and family. This is one of the major benefits of social media. I cannot imagine a time when social media was not around and I did not have the ability of constant connectivity. However, most seniors can. Constant connection is something they have had to get used to, however it is something they have embraced.

A main reason found for seniors’ interest in social media is to stay connected. There are a number of benefits this constant connection can have, they are able to keep in touch with grandchildren who are away at school, children who live in different cities, as well as reconnect with old friends. Facebook and Skype are two common social media outlets seniors turn to in regards to staying connected with family members. Even simply seeing quick updates on Facebook such as pictures and statuses can help seniors feel more involved in their grandchildren’s lives. I can attest to this as I have always lived distant from my grandparents. Communicating through Facebook is often easier than phone calls and a more comfortable way of communicating.

POSITIVE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL MEDIA USE

There are a number of proposed health benefits to seniors using social media.

  • Social media use over the age of 65 has been found to increase mental abilities.
  • Social media use can also help reduce loneliness and isolation in seniors – They are able to connect with people of similar age who may be experiencing comparable issues related to the aging process.
  • Isolation has been linked to lower life expectancy and therefore social media may assist in increasing longevity.

FINAL WORDS

Although many people are not open to having their parents or grandparents on Facebook, or any other form of social media for that matter, it is becoming inevitable. Not only is it inevitable but based on the above information it is also important. Seniors should be encouraged and supported in their desire to be connected and up to date with the changing technology. Seniors on social media may help reduce the intergenerational gap that seems to be ever present in our society. Grandparents and grandchildren can bond over their new found similar interest in social media.

It is important to make a conscious effort to change your attitude around seniors and social media use. Trish Barbato, a senior vice-president of home health and business development at Revera Inc. said it well when she quoted a resident who said, “You are never too old to learn something new.” This is a phrase that should be believed by all in the quest to support seniors and social media use.

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