Baby Boomers Face Facebook and Other Realities

 
We boomers live active lifestyles, sure, but what happens when they get both active and empty? Wendy Reichental found out, as she learned to Face Facebook and Other Realities.

“Friends are those rare people who ask how you are and then wait to hear the answer.”
(Author unknown)

I just caught “The Social Network,” the movie about Mark Zuckerberg and the launching of his website that would become “Facebook” which as we all now know, revolutionized social media and the way we communicate. Truthfully, I rarely feel the need to share the boring minutiae of my day or post my latest pictures, but that being said, I tapped into this “Facebook” frenzy anyway, in part because of my irrational fear that as an aging boomer I have to secure and increase my dwindling circle of friends. After entering all the necessary information to create my profile, I set up my wall (personal page) listing my interests, hobbies, favorite movies and TV shows. I felt excited and eager to sit back and reap the rewards and experience the fun that is “Facebook.”

Wendy Reichental

I’m still waiting.

A few months on Facebook and my opinion of it is not unlike that of Betty White when she appeared on Saturday Night Live in May 2010 and became the oldest person ever to host the show. It garnered SNL its highest ratings. The movement to commandeer Betty was started by a Facebook group. Betty White herself at that point had never heard of Facebook and in her deadpan monologue mentioned that now that she does know what Facebook is, “I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.” She went on to say that although she has heard that Facebook is a great way to connect with old friends, if at her age she had to connect to her old friends, she would need “a Ouija Board.”

I have often wondered what happened to some of my childhood friends and now, with the mere click of a “friend request,” I could probably find out. I had images of me and some long lost friend exchanging witty Facebook messages, followed by warm dinner gatherings, laughing over shared memories, lamenting the passing of time, and commiserating over those we’ve loved and lost. This tender Hallmark moment is brought to you by my wishful overactive imagination!

I have searched my high school yearbook for names of friends who I wouldn’t mind reconnecting with, only to discover that they do not exist. Now, being a boomer, I’m not sure if it just means they are not a part of Facebook or worse yet, not among us period! This is why having a large pool of friends is so vital. But, what I’ve discovered is that making new friends is not such a simple endeavor and as we get older, our opportunity for finding them can sometimes prove to be a little more challenging then you might think.

Since my mom’s passing more than a year ago, I have felt this loss twofold: I lost my mom and my BFF best friend forever! I have found that during the course of our lives, friendships go through transitions. When things were getting more challenging for my mom, I spent more time devoted to being with her, and less time making plans with my friends, and in return, some of those friendships faltered under this neglect while others thankfully only got stronger and solidified.

So I joined the much venerated Facebook with good intentions. I “friended” those contacts who told me they were on Facebook and once I had access to their information, took notice of their friend count. I reacted with immediate shock and awe and admittedly maybe a bit of envy. “Facebook’s very premise—and promise—is that it makes our friendship circles visible.” (William Deresiewicz’s essay on Faux Friendship) What I could not get over was the cosmic size of some of these crop circles!

And apparently I am not alone in my thinking. Deresiewicz further explains in his essay: “The Facebook phenomenon, so sudden and forceful a distortion of social space, needs little elaboration. Having been relegated to our screens, are our friendships now anything more than a form of distraction? When they’ve shrunk to the size of a wall post, do they retain any content? If we have 768 “friends,” in what sense do we have any?” As time went on, I noticed that although I was leaving some messages on a few people’s Facebook pages, I wasn’t getting any substantive responses back, and what I was getting was so joke-laden and filled with abbreviations, acronyms, and cryptic words, it just left me feeling “vry” (very) “dfik” (darn if I know) frustrated!

I recently deactivated my account. I thought Facebook might somehow magically lead me to new meaningful friendships. But I realized I am more into Face-to-Face than Facebook. I’m not saying it isn’t a useful tool for those who do find it entertaining and satisfying, but for me, I crave eye contact, immediate reaction, and the gratification of hearing a chuckle when something funny is actually uttered. I am grateful for the friends I have and hope that they all stay healthy and around for a very long time. New friends are wonderful, especially if you can find them and the friendship develops and forms naturally. But “friending” is just not for me nor I guess is Facebook. I think the sagacious Betty White had it right!
 

13 Comments

  1. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. Facebook has made the world one big university campus (just like the movie). We meet all these people and we think we’re friends but we’re lucky if we even meet them in the cafeteria or library once or twice a semester. Facebook has devalued the term “friend” itself: how can a person possibly have 1000 friends! It has made us all aware of the fact that the world is a lonely place and we must all cherish the small circle of friends that we truly have. Carpe Diem.

  2. Hi Wendy!

    Great piece. I am 100% with you on this one! Most of my friends DO have a Facebook account however I personally only see it being benefical for business purposes (such as a company fan page) to increase traffic on a website/increase sales.

  3. I am reminded of one of my favorite George Carlin quotes:
    “I don’t need to go on Facebook to connect with the star football player from my high school. He’s mowing my lawn!”

    Yes, I have connected with a few friends from grade school through Facebook, and believe me, we have NOTHING in common now.

    Laura Lee aka the Midlife Crisis Queen!

  4. Thank you!! Thank you for putting in print what I’ve been saying for years: Facebook is a nonsensical waste of time.

    Several years ago a friend sort of coerced me into setting up a Facebook page. She said I’d become some sort of old fogey if I did not keep up with social media. So now I have a Facebook page … whoopie!! But I couldn’t care less about social media and almost NEVER visit Facebook and,like you, have practically nothing in common with the so-called friends there anyway. Besides, whose got the time for such nonsense? I’m far too busy building my career, working full-time,raising my kids, and – with what little time is left over – running, playing tennis, sailing, surfing, traveling, writing, biking, etc. If it somehow makes me an old fogey to prefer those activities over sitting in front of a computer … so be it.

  5. Thank you everyone who feels the same way about “facebook” like I do, it might make us “old school” but NOT old! Wendy

  6. About 3 years ago I got tired of signing up and trying to keep up with people on Facebook and LinkedIn. I had a problem with Facebook because of many of the reasons you state in this blog, along with the fact that the demographic of members were younger and many now are international. LinkedIn I still maintain for “professional” purposes, but minimize my participation to business promotion.

    I am a proponent of smaller and generational specific online social sites. Full disclosure is that I developed my own site for baby boomers and older, http://www.activeemptynesters.com. Membership is restricted to the North American continent so people you meet on the site are people you are likely to meet and have something in common with. Making friends is not any easier online than off, it just permits people with like interests to discuss there interests and maybe become friends. Friendship is more likely when there is a common interest.

  7. Almost 30 percent of the 78 million Baby Boomers are single. Some are looking to the Internet to find a partner or friend. Use caution if you do visit dating websites or with any online contacts where you divulge personal information.

  8. Hi everyone, coming to this discussion late to provide a voice of dissent! I really enjoy Facebook and the sense that it’s a global community.
    I think one’s experience of Facebook depends entirely upon how one uses it. I currently have around 200 “friends”, who are a mixture of real-life friends and people I’ve connected with through our mutual blogs.
    I find I value both the eye contact/chuckles of physical meetings and the sharing of interesting ideas with people I’ve never met.
    Note the phrase “interesting ideas” – my experience of Facebook has been very different from the acronym-drenched world you describe. Perhaps it depends who you “friend”.
    I have very little interest in using Facebook for catching up with people I’ve lost contact with. I’ve usually lost contact with them for good reason!
    I’m interested in using it to find like-minded folk and for keeping up with friends I know in real life. The latter may sound strange: why don’t I keep up with them via phone calls and social events. Well I do, also, but reading the casual snippet that someone visited the da Vinci exhibition currently on in London, or that someone else is swearing because her garden fence just blew down brings a day-to-day understanding of each others’ lives that’s enriching. I also love reading the links, quotes and poems that others share.
    It doesn’t suck away hours of my life – like anything else I think you have to set limits – and Facebook has recently introduced new privacy controls and groupings that make it much easier to share with smaller or specific groups of friends if you want to. I also belong to a couple of private groups on Facebook, the content of which can’t be seen by anyone who isn’t a group member. That’s very helpful.
    Finally, I do agree with both Ron and John. Ron mentions smaller, specific sites. I also belong to a couple of them – one I recommend highly is Elderwomanspace, set up by Marian Van Eyk McCain. Private and invitation-only. And John’s absolutely right to advise caution in divulging personal information, wherever your online travels take you.

  9. Hi Tess,

    I’m so glad a discussion could follow on the topic of following facebook. I consider you very lucky, and I mean that in a genuine way not in an envious one. I work full time and when I come home I turn to doing things I enjoy which is reading, knitting and even talking to my husband. We both already spend so much time at our computers at work I just want to connect with other things when I get home. I think it’s important to stress that I didn’t find the experience right for me, but hey it is great that facebook can work for others seeking to be connected. I am all about spreading goodness no matter the vechicle! happy new year! Wendy

  10. My much younger sister got me on FB so I could keep up with my nieces–now that I live all the way across the country from them. Without it, I’d never know what was going on, as their lives are so fast-paced–they don’t even check their “regular” email anymore! I have also been able to reconnect with extended family (due to a very unique last name) and follow up on some ancestry searching. I’ve also ‘Friended’ some sites that keep me up to date on various medical conditions, etc.
    BUT…you are right about other in my age group–they are my “Friends”, but most respond to regular email a lot sooner than comments left on their FB pages!!!

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