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AARP Loneliness Study...In your Facebook

The Social Network -- an oh-so-modern tale.  Who cares about Mark Zuckerberg? The new movie, "The Social Network" tries to make you care. It makes for a good viewing experience, a well-made movie that holds your interest throughout -- not so easy to do with camera shots of young, obnoxiously clueless nerds sitting in front of screens-full of code. It's the story of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and almost-youngest self-made billionaire (apparently one of his co-founders was 8 days younger).  What a guy, at least as depicted -- sued by his best and apparently only friend, sneering at his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend online, and who may sue movie makers who placed him in a cynical spotlight. Eh, who cares? The central character/hero of the movie is Facebook itself, with its meteoric explosion from a university-network socializing tool to today's 500 million-and-beyond universal platform for helping everyone in the world share their private information and believe they are connected to something and somebodies -- and now, with ads too!

Boomers and seniors flock, and maybe they stay - who knows?  So we know that baby boomers and seniors represent the fastest-growing (not largest) age group flocking to Facebook, because this is an oft-quoted statistic that is surprisingly tough to nail down. Here's a 2009 stat on women age 55+ as the fastest growing demographic, for example.  According to Nielsen, seniors age 65+ pick Facebook as one of their top Internet destinations. And according to eMarketer.com in December, 2009, 46% of online boomers age 44-62 and 36% of those 63-75 had a social networking site profile. Note the word 'online'. So far, I have not seen a report on frequency of update or access -- hope eMarketer.com checks that out this year.

Now comes the AARP Loneliness Study. AARP is pushing down the survey age and definition of 'older' people, from 50 down to 45. Pretty soon no one will be younger than all of these so-called older people. Published last month, a survey of 3012 adults age 45 and above revealed that 35% are lonely (using UCLA's index of attributes of loneliness.) Surprisingly, and supported by the Gallup study about overall happiness, those in the younger age range of 45-49 were lonelier (43%) than those age 70-plus (25%). According to the study, those married, wealthier, healthier, who volunteer more and have been in their homes more than one year are less likely to be lonely. Maybe the older folks are onto something -- 62% of the 65+ population isn't online. As for the use of social media (aka Facebook), lonely respondents were more likely to agree with the statement "I have fewer deep connections now that I keep in touch with people using the Internet." Interestingly, AARP's website did not report that 57% of both categories of responders, that is those self-identified as either lonely and not lonely, said that they never participate on social networking sites. Note the word 'never'.

Facebook manages the Rolodex of acquaintances. There's something ironic about Facebook terminology -- 'friends' who you 'poke', versus the more civil LinkedIn use of the phrase 'trusted connections.' In the October 4th New Yorker article, Malcolm Gladwell draws a distinction between actual activism and what he describes as 'weak activism', observing that "Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice." And his comment that "Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with" resonates with me, especially after watching this movie.  Young people are resilient: maybe they know that their hundreds of Facebook friends aren't the same as actual friends who would join you at a meeting or in a volunteer effort, help you move your belongings to a new location, or even eat a meal with you on a Sunday night. Older people are less resilient and perhaps after registering their profile, they secretly wonder to themselves -- what's the point of this, life is short, let's go out for lunch.








I have a rule that I'll only "friend" someone on Facebook if they are someone that I would stop to talk to if I ran into them in a public place. Still, relationships change over time, and you have to be diligent in figuring out just who should be your "friend" at any given time.


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