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Facebook's silver(-haired) lining

Posted by David Beard, Globe Staff  September 23, 2010 02:00 PM

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By B.J. Roche

One afternoon last week I logged into my Facebook page to find an ever-growing online list of heartfelt tributes to George Parks, the much-loved director of the UMass Marching Band who died of a heart attack at age 57 while en route to the University of Michigan for a big game. The posts ran the gamut from fellow UMass alums from the 1970s to current students.

Just below that was an update from my niece that included some absolutely breathtaking 4D in utero photos of my late brother Tim's first grandson, who should be arriving next month.

The thread pretty much summed up the way Facebook, which started out as a college student's game, has changed how we middle-aged women connect, across the generations, as well as with one other. (I promptly e-mailed the photos to my 85-year-old mother, who has more friends than I do.)

In 2009, women over age 55 were the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, and though most of my UMass students still profess a powerful addiction to the site, you do wonder whether it will lose its luster as so many gray-hairs start appearing there. (Although there's apparently plenty of room; with 500 million members, Facebook, which is less than 10 years old, is larger than most countries.)

Facebook is a different experience for us older users than it is for the twenty-somethings. I've heard stories of formal and informal Facebook reunions among women who hadn't seen one since junior high. And it's unnerving how a quick peek in the middle of the day can bring you right back to junior high, say, when an eighth-grade Mean Girl now wants to be your friend.

After all that time, there's a risk to reconnecting. What if she's still a Mean Girl? What if you are? Sometimes it's a disaster, and you move on. But other times, as Fiftyshift.com and BellaOnlinebloggerJulie Fredrick writes, it can be a chance worth taking.

Older people are also using social media to build their careers and promote their causes, and the result is sometimes a risky mix of work and personal life.

It's created new dilemmas: Should you friend your kid? (Ask him.) How about your husband's ex? (Hmmm.) Do people get a notice when you turn down their friend requests? (No.)

And just what is the etiquette when an old boyfriend shows up in your friend request box? (As one of my students advised, Ignore, Ignore, Ignore! Or not.)

Many companies now have social media policies, and people need to have them, too. Don't friend your students. Assume everything can be seen by everybody. Forever. And you may want to keep your work-related contacts over on LinkedIn. BlogHer columnist and career coach Paula Gregorowicz offers these tips for managing your online professional and personal life.

And the wags at The Onion provide an E-Mom primer on keeping tabs on your grown children online. Try this at home.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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