By Jackson Richman
As of January 2014, Facebook passed 1.23 billion users. The social networking website was founded by Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg and launched in February 2004. Though it is used by mostly teenagers and young adults, it is for all ages above 13, which is the minimum age to create an account. Even the elderly are users of the popular website.
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center report, those over 65 years old are the fastest-rising group on Facebook, as the percentage of teenagers who use the social network remained the same. The report, which studied 1,801 adults from August to September 2013, cited a ten percent increase to 45 percent of the American elderly who use the website.
However, in Norway almost 70 percent of the elderly said they don’t use social media, according to the telecommunications company Telenor Norway, which conducted a large survey in 2013 of online habits of the elderly. The survey found while one in three aged 65-70 used social media, only 20 percent of those aged 75-85 partake. Of the elderly who use social media, two in three stated they use it to stay in touch with family and friends.
According to the press release by Telenor Norway, “Loneliness increases with age, more than one in three of those over 75 responded that they would like more contact with family and friends.” Said Norwegian businessperson Åsne Havnelid, “To many seniors, loneliness is a strain. To help older adults to become more comfortable with social media can be an effective measure in the fight against loneliness. Technology can make it easier to stay in touch with family and friends.” However, Telenor Norway Chief Executive Officer Berit Svendsen said social media is not a substitute for visits and close contacts rather, “an alternative at those times when one would otherwise be alone.”
Health-wise, a study conducted of 120 elderly people in the United Kingdom and Italy showed training older people to use social media improves cognitive capacity, increases a sense of self-competence and could have a beneficial overall impact on both mental and physical well-being. According to a December 2014 Guardian article about the study, the two-year project consisted of elderly people “given specially-designed computers, broadband connections and training in using e-mail, Skype, Facebook and other social media tools. A control group simply received their usual care.” Researchers reported those who had the hardware and training reported feeling less isolated because of the connections they could make with family and friends online, which contributed to some feeling physically and mentally healthier. Those in the control group steadily declined. According to that Guardian article, the number of people aged 65 and over in Europe will grow from 17 percent to 30 percent of the total population between 2010 and 2060.
When New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman wrote his book, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, in 2005 he said, “Facebook didn’t exist; Twitter was a sound; the cloud was in the sky; 4G was a parking place; LinkedIn was a prison; applications were what you sent to college; and Skype, for most people, was a typo.” However, even with such societal changes, quality time for grandchildren with their elders remains a must.