WHEN I FIRST SIGNED UP FOR FACEBOOK, back in 2008, I pecked away at the keyboard, trying to figure out what it was all about. I was immediately accosted by a guy named Elmore. He said we had gone to school together. He gave me some brief details of our friendship and wondered if I remembered him, and I said, sorry, no. He asked several more questions, none of which I could answer, and that was that.
As time went on, I became more familiar with the platform and have found a few friends that I have welcomed with a smile, but mostly, I've made new online friends. An interesting side note: I've been way more successful with Twitter than I have Facebook.
Curious elders love social media
Maintaining meaningful social relationships is widely regarded by professionals who study such things as critical elements of aging well. Older folks do more socializing today than ever before, but much of it is on the Internet using social media platforms. Statistics tell us that most curious elders prefer Facebook.
My own involvement with social media began back in the '80s with an Internet platform called CompuServe that included a variety of quasi-social media tools. I used a product called UseNet, and Internet relay chats known as IRCs. I began blogging in 2003. In more recent years, I've joined various social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. I've also been a member of Pinterest, Google Plus, Instagram, Linkedin, Typepad, Flickr, etc.
Social media has come a long way in the past 20-years, and more services pop up every day in an attempt to fill specific social networking niches. But these gathering spots live on the Internet (aka the wild west), which means most of us have a love/hate relationship with our social sites.
The downside of a good thing
We love it when we find someone we can relate to, and we hate it when we're harassed by trolls or have our personal information stolen.
But our love affair with technology comes with risks and costs. The negative side of social Internet use includes ...
- Data breaches (our information is stolen)
- Email hacks (our emails are used by others for nefarious purposes)
- Dissemination of fake news
- Disinformation that's been weaponized against others
- Outright lies and misleading statements
- Advertising that tracks our every move
- Spying by shadowy overseas organizations
Additionally, social media also has negative attributes that affect us on a personal level:
- Some become virtually addicted to it. We've all seen the person who (literally) can't put down their phone because they might miss something. (FOMO)
- We allow ourselves to be harassed or denigrated by trolls.
- Many people relinquish too much personal information.
- We waste way too much time cyberloafing, doomscrolling, and scanning nonsense.
The upside of a good thing
Despite its inherent dangers, millions of older people continue to use the Internet and social media every day. Why? Because it offers so much enjoyment and valuable service, and it's often a great way to:
- Communicate with healthcare professionals through their social platforms.
- Interact with friends and family across long distances.
- Provide or receive social support when confronted with a difficult life situation, regardless of geographical location or time.
- Create social relationships when in-person relationships are unattainable.
- Learn all sorts of new things; academic, artistic, travel, exercise, political, and more.
- Meet like-minded people and create friendships.
- Consider new ideas, theories, fresh perspectives.
- Overcome loneliness, relieve stress, discover a nurturing voice.
- Share your thoughts, ideas, photos, and more.
- Shop and pay for merchandise.
- Operate a small business with minimal overhead.
- Watch movies and listen to music.
- Do your banking: checking, investments, loans, and credit cards.
- And much more
Participation in social media can range from passive behavior such as reading posts and online discussions to the active involvement of posting, blogging, or uploading multimedia content.
In 1967 The Beatles recorded the song: Hello, Goodbye. It somehow resembles the feelings surrounding social media and the many inconsistencies of the Internet.
I had a conversation with a small group a few nights ago during happy hour. (I always enjoy good conversation during that hour of the day.) The question was raised, "what do you think about social media." The answers were varied and went something like this:
- I think it's just a bunch of rubbish.
- It's a place where youngsters get bullied, depressed, and worse.
- I just want to be able to talk to my friends.
- It's a vehicle businesses can use to create relationships that become profitable.
- It's a creepy place that I don't like.
- I like shopping in my living room.
All of these are true to some extent. It's up to us individually to use social media and the Internet in general with extreme care. We have to constantly remain vigilant of its dangers while employing common-sense practices like these:
- Follow and communicate with only those you find agreeable and polite.
- Don't get emotional or defensive with trolls; simply block 'em and forget 'em!
- Report obnoxious individuals to the platform's moderation team.
- Block any person or company that makes you feel unsettled.
- Never share personal information with anyone unless you know them and have a secure connection.
- Use a complex password (not your pet's name), and change it often.
- Use Two-Factor Authentication when available.
- Remember: If someone or some interaction doesn't feel right, block them.
The Internet was created to be a good and helpful thing. But, as good things go, get enough people involved, and the original purpose of the idea disintegrates. But we're fully involved now, and it ain't goin' away! But we can still fix it, and I hope we will. When the Internet and social media are used correctly, it's a beautiful thing.