It's a social world out there.

Are Online Social Networks For Everyone?

Posted on: July 14, 2009

Teens are using interactive communication technologies (ICTs) 24/7 to maintain relationships.  This age group thrives on communication, they want to chat, ask questions and gossip with each other.  The new technologies involved in interactive communications has allowed young people to increase their social interactive by using all kinds of instantaneous interactive communication tools. ICTs have become so mainstream that members of all generations are feeling the push to adopt these technologies. However, how and when older generations choose to use ICTs is vastly different from teens and young adults. Generational differences are exceptionally apparent when referring to online social networking.

Interactive communications now play a vital part of teens’ development.  While they may not realize how big of a role these technologies play, they certainly change how young people currently grow up. They are now able to more fully develop relationships they may not have without the use of interactive communications because of shyness or anxiety. They are able to use blogs to share personal problems, stories and thoughts, and even get feedback on their feelings, this provides amazing social and psychological developmental changes.  It is imperative that parents be involved in conversations about the dangers these technologies can pose.  Parents need to limit the use of cell phones and the Internet, while ensuring that the child understands the reasons for these limitations.  If parents are able to be a part of the child’s interactive communication use, this generation will, without a doubt, benefit from it. Adolescents use the Internet in ways that are very unique to their age group. Adolescents today need interactive communication, these technologies have become a vital part of their lives and development, and they will continue to play an increasingly large role there. It is likely we will see them benefiting from learning social and technological skills by growing up completely immersed in ICTs, time will tell how this will effect the lives and development of teens.  Will they be able to interact as well as baby boomers do in face-to-face social settings? Or will there be little effect from this constant connectivity?

According to Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship by Boyd, D., & Ellison, N. online social networking is constantly increasing its presence in day-to-day lives of people all over the world.

“Given that SNSs enable individuals to connect with one another, it is not surprising that they have become deeply embedded in user’s lives. In Korea, Cyworld has become an integral part of everyday life—Choi (2006) found that 85% of that study’s respondents ‘‘listed the maintenance and reinforcement of pre-existing social networks as their main motive for Cyworld use’’ (p. 181). Likewise, boyd (2008) argues that MySpace and Facebook enable U.S. youth to socialize with their friends even when they are unable to gather in unmediated situations; she argues that SNSs are ‘‘networked publics’’ that support sociability, just as unmediated public spaces do.” 2

Teens have grown up with these online social networks and thus have not only built upon real-life connections but have made strictly virtual ones as well. This is a place where baby boomers may not understand why to use these networks, they may not believe that real connections can be made online. As baby boomers begin to venture into online social networks they will be able to more fully understand just how and why teens and young adults have made these networks a part of their everyday lives.

Social skill development is key in how and why teens and young adults choose to use ICTs, however, baby boomers are adopting the technologies for different reasons.  While a 13-year old does not think about why to have a Facebook profile,  a 55-year old baby boomer will surely take more time to think about how and why to use these kinds of online social networking.  Teens are choosing these sites for socialization first and foremost, they meet and interact with many people they may never know. However , baby boomers are less likely to use Facebook to meet people and more likely to catch up with a college buddy or colleague.  These adults also seem to need a push to join social networking sites, while there are always those early adopters, many wait for a suggestion from friends or family and then find out why and how Facebook or Twitter works.  The use of online social networks does not immediate make sense to the baby boomers in the way  it does with teens and young adults who, currently, are not familiar with a life lacking ICTs and online social networking. According to an article from a May 2009 issue of the Telegram and Gazette adults have just recently begun to change and adapt to web 2.0. It states:

“Many boomers and those older have moved beyond e-mailing and Web surfing and joined the legion – including their own families and friends – who use Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other Internet social networking sites. What was once the domain of teens and young adults has expanded to all age groups, quite often at the invitation of other family members.” 1

Baby boomers are making the shift from e mail use and web browsing to online socialization, however, for this generation it is much more than just that.  Adults are using ICT likes Facebook and LinkedIn to network more than socialize, by catching up with old bosses, co-workers or college friends this generation expands it professional network ten-fold.  Baby boomers have different needs from social networking sites. For this generation that is still very much working professionals who use these ICTs as tools for resume and career building.  According to a May 2009 article from the Sacramento Bee:

“That old chestnut says: Getting a job is not about what you know.  It’s abut who you know. (continuing) ‘It’s now a real too,’ [Scott Olling] said. ‘Two years ago, it was  toy. Now, it’s a must-have.’” 3

Baby boomers are able to network socially and professionally thanks to online networks that have evolved in the past three or four years.  While teens will see the same benefits as they grow into adulthood, baby boomers are just now learning how best to employ these online social networking tools.  It is again the case that teens will be much more prepared for how to use these tools to network professionally, teens have been raised in constant connectivity, while baby boomers are learning how best to adapt to this new phenomenon.

In looking past baby boomers to the silent generation,  those ages 65-84, are also making the move into ICT use and online social networking.  This generation, comprised of many retired and/or widowed  eldering find different reasons than teens or baby boomers to use online social networking tools.  This group often deals with feelings of lonliness and solitude they can now turn to the vast online social networks that have formed in recent years. While it is the case that this crowd will tend to struggle with learning the ICT that are involved in online social networks, it is worth the time and effort.  A recent article from The New York Times explains this trend:

“’ I was dying of boredom,” she said. “Eons, all by its lonesome, gave me a reason to keep on going.’ That more and more people in Ms. Rice’s generation are joining networks like Eons, Facebook and MySpace is hardly news. Among older people who went online last year, the number visiting social networks grew almost twice as fast as the overall rate of Internet use among that group, according to the media measurement company comScore. But now researchers who focus on aging are studying the phenomenon to see whether the networks can provide some of the benefits of a group of friends, while being much easier to assemble and maintain.” 4

These silent generation users are just now discovering how well connected they can be even when they are alone.  It is likely that this generation will more fully adopt ICTs and online social networking as they realize and are further educated on the huge benefits that lie within the pages of these sites.  While it is likely that this group is quite apprehensive about internet use in general, nevermind online social networking, it is just as likely that they could see some of the biggest benefits from these services.  Keeping up with family, finding others that are in a similar place in life or catching up with old friends who are not located geographically close to them are only a few of the many benefits this generation could see from ICTs and online social networking.

It is clear that online social networking has built itself into the foundation of ICT and world wide web use.  The technologies behind these sites will continue to evolve and better serve users, no matter their age. This paper has shown the many diverse uses of social networking based largely on age.  Teens have grown up with these technologies and use them to grow  and develop their social skills but will always need direction about how best to use these technologies.  Baby boomers are adopting online social networking largely to benefit and enhance careers and professional development. Finally, the silent generation is working to further ICT skills and join social networks to alleviate the feelings of lonliness that plague a large part of this age group.  Not matter the reasons, each generation is finding benefits in using online social network. This will only continue to evolve as users learn more about how and why to best to use these ICT tools, either way everyone is in for quite a journey in the virtual world.

1) Bock, Linda. (2009, May 13). Never too old: Generational barriers broken online.             Telegram & Gazette, B.1. Retrieved June 10, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Trade &             Industry database.  (Document ID: 1709191091).

2) Boyd, D., & Ellison, N. (2007, November). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230. Retrieved July 19, 2009, doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x

3) Carlos Alcala  (2009, May 11). Once toys, now tools SOCIAL             NETWORKING SITES INCREASINGLY MATCH JOB SEEKERS,             EMPLOYERS: BOOKS & MEDIA. The Sacramento Bee, D.1. Retrieved June 10,       2009, from ProQuest National Newspapers Premier database. (Document ID:             1706976321).

4) Clifford, Stephanie. (2009, June 2). Online, ‘a Reason to Keep On Going’ : [Science             Desk]. New York Times (Late Edition (east Coast)), p. D.5. Retrieved June 10,             2009, from ProQuest National Newspapers Premier database. (Document ID:             1737620411)


4 Responses to "Are Online Social Networks For Everyone?"

As a baby boomer, I can tell you I’m STILL trying to figure out the benefit of these sites. It’s true that I have reconnected with a few old buddies from high school and college, which is fun, but I have little time to communicate much more than superficial information. Is that the drawback of these social sites? How much can you say without offending someone? How do you get beyond the tendency to brag, pontificate and say “How great am I?” I’d be interested in your addressing some of these issues in future posts, so keep up the good work!

Thanks Lee. Interesting perspective. I do wonder how a generation that did not grow up “needing” these technologies receives them. I would also agree that is a drawback, online social networking might be a little superficial, I never thought of it like that…

I’d love to know a little bit about whom to let into a social network and whom to exclude. I get invitations all the time from people I don’t know at all, but they’re friends with someone I sorta know. I hate to offend anyone, but it’s hard to accept all invitations without knowing their intent. And then, if someone goes a bit overboard with postings, is there a way to uninvite someone?

Lee’s a first-hand account in support of your argument :). I’m a little troubled, though, with your use of newspaper accounts to support a general social trend. I’d be curious as to whether data from Pew supports your claims. MySpace and Facebook both started out with older audiences (though not boomers), as did almost every social network. In places your argument pushes toward “naturalization” in a way that most of the researchers warn against.

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