One of my favorite parts about using Facebook is connecting with my wife’s 99 year-old grandfather. He doesn’t post especially often, though when he does, he posts like a pro. But he does use Facebook to keep up to date on everything that people in his family are up to.
When we go visit him, he has a printout of all of the articles, photos, and other things we’ve posted since last we’ve seen each other. It helps us jump right into meaningful conversation about topics we might never otherwise think of delving into. (Yes, I imagine we’re likely to talk about this article when I post it on Facebook, too.)
I’m far from alone in connecting with someone from another generation through Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or any number of social media platforms. The idea that social media is for young people has been overstated for years. Personal anecdotes of middle-aged and older adults using social media abound – from awkward comments by parents or children on each other’s posts to the excitement I feel every time I go online and connect with a relative with whom I haven’t spoken in longer than I’d like. Rather than being a mark of generational stratification, social media might in time be seen as a generational bridge.
In the United States since 2011, rates of social media use among Baby Boomers has been expanding rapidly. As of 2013, 73 percent of adults who used the Internet also used social media of some kind, counting adults of all different age groups.
Yet until recently, social media has seldom been seen as a resource for meaningful dialogue between people of different ages. It might happen organically or by chance – but social media has rarely been seen as a means of improving the quality and frequency of interchanges between people of different ages.
Particularly as Baby Boomers approach retirement, the market seems filled with opportunity for such innovation in the way we use technology to connect with people of different ages.
I recently caught up with two people, Andy Siegel and Spencer Balkin, who are new entrants into this should-be market. I have known Siegel since he was fourteen and a star volunteer for an intergenerational program at the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington and have only more recently gotten to know Balkin.
Though by day they are college students, both spend most of their time as entrepreneurs, Balkin and Siegel have taken it upon themselves to create a social media platform specifically for intergenerational sharing. They are calling their new company eGenShare. I wanted to know why they would work day and night on the nexus between social media and intergenerational connection.
Siegel shared this thoughtful response with me:
Social networking has not even scratched the surface of what it is capable of doing. What if instead of checking someone’s Instagram to see what they’re eating, or Facebook to see what they’re watching on Youtube, you could get to know what someone experienced throughout their life, things you could actually learn and benefit from? Social networking has the potential to create a living legacy for people of all ages, to write and share life lessons, beliefs, regrets, and experiences with your community, and the people who are most important to you.
Even recognizing Siegel’s need to explain his forthcoming social media platform, his pitch is a compelling one. Given the amount of time people of all ages are coming to spend on social media, wouldn’t it be nice to have a conversation of greater depth and to do so with intentionality?
For the Jewish community, new tools for intergenerational interchange may prove especially important, particularly as a sizeable portion of our American population nears retirement. Isolation among retirees is far too common, and many people live far from their children and grandchildren.
Even if geographically far, it would be nice to feel close – and to have ongoing conversations in new ways. While social media can at times seem to undermine meaningful interchange, it need not do so and might in time become an invaluable tool to connect generations.
Read Start-Up Israel to keep your finger on the pulse of Israeli high-tech and innovation!