Facebook benefits older adults by giving them a cognitive boost underscored my plan for this post to share one way in which social media had impacted my life.
Sputtering start: The most complex electronic my mother mastered is her bank’s ATM, so I was understandably skeptical when some years ago. she expressed a desire to acquire a computer and acquaint herself with the mysteries of email and the Internet. Freshly retired and perhaps in need of an intellectual challenge, my ex-school teacher parent, well into her 60’s who wouldn’t even operate a point and shoot digital camera embarked on her brave journey into the virtual world. I heard little about the desktop and soon it went the way of all flesh, probably lying dormant in the house sleeping under a ruffled dust cover. A couple years later, my mother declared that she was ready to try again with a laptop. Obedient child that I am (no, not really), I celebrated this interest in intellectual advancement with a purchase of a reasonably outfitted PC laptop and limited by my own IT illiteracy determined to acquaint the lady with the basic operations she would require. (How illiterate you ask – well, I use the computer like a wiz for work and for social networking but techies scare me. I dread their scorn-filled voices when they respond to my pitiful calls for help and I know their dark hearts are amused by my fumbling for answers on those “Helplines.” “Erosion of self esteem lines” they should call it.) Lessons took place in her breezy porch, shaded with verdant baskets of giant stag-horn ferns; how to use a mouse, how to navigate from the home screen, setting up email etc. After some rigorous sessions, I wondered if teaching me as a toddler to use utensils or color within the lines was as challenging. My pupil was intelligent but concepts had to be broken down to their elements and manual dexterity to right and left click a mouse had to be mastered. It proved to be too daunting a task and my pupil quit after a couple lessons. Luckily my brother happened to require a laptop and happily took over management of that device.
That Old Jobs Magic: So in 2012, my dear mother informed me that she had contemplated the matter at hand and had decided an iPad was the way to go. I admit, I was the essence of a doubting Thomas with headshaking and dire predictions that the obvious outcome was that my brother was about to acquire another piece of tech. On my last visit home, I presented the iPad, showed her the basic functions, gave stern warnings about phishers and scammers and identity protection, practiced Facetime so we could talk over 3000 miles, said a silent prayer and left the happily blinking and flashing device in her hands. Then something amazing happened. If the heavens had parted and Steve Jobs himself had warned me to expect this I would not have believed it. My mother took to the technology like a chalk to blackboard. Within days she was Face-timing, Facebook-ing, emailing, IM’ing in chat rooms and, angels save us, discovered the joys of online Scrabble!! Now my folks are wicked Scrabble players and I routinely warn my friends when they visit to not get lured in to a game by the two kindly old people temptingly waving the Scrabble board. They are hustlers, and will strip you of your dignity as they beat you, smiling, to a frazzle, then they will beat the frazzle. They know every two letter word allowable and have politely asked me on occasion while I drip cold sweat on the Scrabble board with only consonants in my hand and every path on the board completely blocked if I was sure I was educated to university level. Yes, I’ve been ragged on by my parents over Scrabble so stay away if you know what’s good for you. But Facebook was her tool of choice. Because my parents are prolific travelers, we were able to share photos, and enjoy their life vicariously. She commented on posts, stalked my cousins till they friended her and soon she was keeping me updated on the doings of our circle. Mom realized the basic tenet of social media. Keep current, active and engaged. She congratulated everyone on their everyday achievements and was overwhelmed with joy by the flock of posts on her timeline on her birthday. Her reigning champion Scrabble scores are posted on her Facebook page and she is acknowledged and congratulated by other players and her family and friends. Now she shares kudos, ideas, and her social life with her family on a different continent and is way more connected with the younger nieces and nephews of the family by using the methods perfected by their generation. Auntie wasn’t sitting by the phone – her voice was present in their notifications and on their timeline. ‘Nuff respect Auntie! Her outlook on life seems to be changing as well. My very proper mother encouraged me to “Kick some a–” in my end of term exams last semester. I was stupefied, and when I regained my voice asked her about this recent expansion in her vocabulary. Well, the online Scrabble players are vocal and colorful and exposure to different nationalities and cultures had been educational and her ideas on appropriate-ness and self expression had shifted. Somehow, her virtual friends were more liberating in their friendship, support and affirmation than many of her life experiences. My mother was transforming before my eyes from a complacent matron who cooked delicious hot meals and cleaned the house and did the laundry into a whirling dervish of emoticons. Awestruck by these developments I asked her how it was that she had come so far in her use of Facebook and social media and the iPad itself. “All I have to do is touch it!” she praised the iPad. She said the touch screen, simple visuals, and easy to use set up of pages of app icons enabled her to explore and figure out the applications. Dad had also been encouraged to find his old movies and songs and spent some time enjoying them when he could pry the tech from her fingers.
Influential Late Adopters: There’s been an interesting ripple effect. Mom’s use of social media has inspired others of her generation in our family and some of my aunts have acquired their own tech to Facebook. I can just imagine the conversations that will take place and the pics which will be shared among that group. No sharing of arthritis stories here, but global planning on world domination or at least their next vacation. People scoff at social media and say it is taking the place of real human interaction but I believe in many cases, especially with the older generation, who are less active physically, it can enhance the quality of life. Most importantly to me, my parents can now share my life across an entire ocean in “real time” in living color and with sound if we wanted. This Christmas, away from my home, family and friends I wept in the grocery aisle leafing through Hallmark cards then went home and baked Trini Christmas cakes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpCBTYOw2so as my Mom had done for years, usually with me doing scullery level duty. Posting pictures those fragrant rum soaked delicacies
and reading her complimentary posts I was so proud of her for being brave and willing enough to step into a new world to maintain the connections of heritage and family.
Keys to the kingdom: So was it the iPad which motivated the use of social media or was it the engagement and entertainment offered by Facebook and its kin that brought about these marvelous developments? I suspect without the ease of navigation of the device, Mom would not have been active on-line, but once she experienced the joys of social media, she was motivated to do even more with the device. Perhaps Mom is more curious than the average senior. Considering the fact that she never used a computer professionally or personally, her achievement is admirable. Thirteen months later she is still going strong and I am impressed with her learning curve. So perhaps the keys to open these mighty doors with seniors are to:
1. Get an easy to use device
2. Show them how it can be relevant to their lives eg. researching a destination for vacation or looking up actors in their favorite soaps.
3. Be available and patient for helpline assistance. (spent an hour online with her once when the iPad stopped “dinging”)
And no, I don’t own shares of Apple of Facebook but I sure wish I did!