Many people still think of computers, the Internet and especially social media, as the domain of the Millennials. If you relate to this perspective, consider the staggering success 78-year-old George Takei has had with technology and social media.
With over nine million “likes” on Facebook and 1.76 million followers on Twitter, actor and activist George Takei is a social media sensation. Takei began embracing social media several years ago in an effort to build momentum for his Broadway show “Allegiance.” Up until that point, his primary online presence was a website and blog he maintained mostly for his Star Trek fans.
Eventually once this septuagenarian got the hang of social media, he grew his following well beyond Trekkies. In addition to publicizing “Allegiance,” Takei has been able to raise awareness for LGBT rights and fundraise for Japan after the 2011 tsunami. His online posts also regularly provides light-hearted entertainment for his virtual audience.
While most older adults active on social media don’t aspire to transform their image and the trajectory of their careers as Takei did, he offers a powerful example of all that’s possible. Here are five steps on how to effectively incorporate social media and technology into your life:
Learn about the hardware. If you have never used a computer or smartphone, consider taking a class. Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never used these devices — lots of older adults never needed or wanted to before now. Check out a beginner’s class at a senior center, community college or library.
Set a goal. Do you want to connect with old friends, find out if your high school boyfriend is still cute or bond with your grandkids who are obsessed with “screens”? Do you want to find a second new career or volunteer opportunity or just have an outlet for expressing your thoughts and opinions?
Start small. There are so many sites available these days: Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram…the list goes on. Let a trusted friend or family member know about your goals and ask them to recommend the site you should start with. For example, Instagram is great for simple photo sharing.
Be cautious. While social media offers countless wonderful opportunities for meeting your socialization and work goals, it can also create problems if you aren’t careful. For example, 81-year old Claire has a Facebook account and recently posted a photograph of she and her grandchildren at Disney World. Claire is “friends” on Facebook with her niece Julie. Having seen the photo of her aunt Claire, Julie mentioned it to her mother Marie who is Claire’s sister. Since Marie lives near the Orlando area and Claire hadn’t mentioned she was in town, Marie’s feelings were hurt.
A more dangerous example is when 68-year old Ken made a comment on Twitter about how he was looking forward to leaving for a long weekend. Ken’s home was broken into while he was out of town and he believes it may be linked to that post. The pros about social media surely outweigh the cons but it is important to carefully consider who might see the information you share. Further it’s critical to think through how others might interpret or use the information that you share.
Don’t let social media replace “real” socializing. Social media can be a terrific way to augment to your work and social life. But be sure to still pick up the phone or send a card when a friend is going through a tough time. Continue to get together with your former colleagues for that annual lunch. Use social media to increase interaction with those you care about in the interim.
Gerontologist Jennifer L. Fitzpatrick, MSW, CSP is the founder of Jenerations Health Education, Inc., an Education Consultant for the Alzheimer’s Association and a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University. You can find her at www.jenerationshealth.com or on twitter @fitzpatrickjen.