Social media, which can be like having pen pals, is more than a fad
Long before the phrase “social media” was coined, Beverly Ann Burke was using computers to connect and share with others.
“We used to bounce mail from one person’s computer to another’s around the world,” says Burke, 61, recalling the bulletin board service she used with her first personal computer. She and other women were sharing stories about domestic violence. “It improved my self-confidence,” she says. “I learned I wasn’t stupid; that people would listen to things I had to say. ... I could help people just by communicating with them.”
Thirty years later, Burke is on Facebook several times a day, connecting with people about something else. Diagnosed with hepatitis C, her posts focus on information about the misunderstood disease, and she advocates for better prevention and detection. Facebook also keeps her connected to people with similar interests, including in different countries, she says, making the world feel a little smaller. And social networking from home means she can stay active, when attending peace rallies or just leaving the house, would be too physically exhausting.
Burke’s social media savvy may not be the norm for others her age, but that’s changing.
Social media is not going anywhere — it’s not a fad, says Anne Lagacé Dowson, an active Facebook and Twitter user. Giving a talk last month on social media and libraries at the Atwater Library, Lagacé Dowson told the crowd about the latest demographic staking their claim in the social media world: women on Facebrook who are between the ages of 55 and 65.
For Montreal social media buff Erica Glasier, it makes sense. “Social media is such an easy way to stay connected with the daily ins and outs of your family, whether they’re close or across the country. You get to share in triumphs and struggles as they happen, and help with insight, support or cheerleading.”
Seeing photos of grandkids is an obvious perk, she adds.
But beyond staying connected, Glasier says, older women have a certain freedom to use social media to be outspoken on issues that are important to them.
“Largely past the consuming work of raising children, and possibly retired—so no longer pressured to conform to a role or organizational set of values, older women are set free to focus on their intellect, finally get that PhD, and be a force for social change.”
Age can also disappear online, Glasier notes. “You can construct whatever persona you want on social media. Older women can use Twitter, for instance, to be seen for their ideas and interests. This mediation through technology strips away prejudices that older women may otherwise face, and helps them make friends with others who stimulate them intellectually, politically and socially.”
For anyone hesitant to join the world of computers and social media, Lagacé Dowson mentions computer courses available at libraries and adds, “It’s often just persistence that will get you over those initial difficulties.”
Burke offers her advice too: “Just find someone who can sit with you who’s patient and whom you can trust.”
“It’s like having a pen pal,” Burke says—only now, you can have many.