My mother will turn 85 this coming December 26th. This year, when I visit her and my dad for the holidays, she’d like me to show her “these new things on the internet” that she’s been hearing about. What she’s been hearing about — and not just from me — are the communities and online social tools that have become integrated into the lives of many of us. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. She’s not sure which ones might be right for her, but she’s curious and wants me to help her understand them.
Despite her age, my mother is comfortable with the computer, uses email and knows how to set up a video conference on iChat. She also enjoys simple computer games. She loves to be in touch with friends and family, but isn’t able to get around as much as she used to. For older people like my mother, social media can be a godsend against isolation, a way to stay connected to the wider world and to socialize.
Josh Bernof, one of the co-authors of the book Groundswell and analyst at Forrester Research, recently wrote about the rapid growth of adaption of social media in 2008. Not surprisingly, much of it is coming from older onliners. Whereby he defines “older” as 35-44 year old’s. (And I thought 40 was the new 30.) But even among Americans aged 55 and up who are online, only 38% are what Bernhof calls “inactives” — people who don’t even passively use social media (e.g. never ever read, say, a blog, much less leave a comment or subscribe to one).
I say not suprisingly because the greatest potential for social media growth will come from that great white space of older, later adopters, who still have yet to get their feet wet. But have every reason to do so. Like my mom.