The growth of social media is amazing. Really.
But a lot of the growth is among boomers.
In fact, social media use by people between 50 and 64 grew 88% between April 2009 and May 2010, ending at 47% of all such adults.
Social networking use by 18-29 year olds only grew by 13%. But of course they started with a much higher number, ending at 86%.
But these are just numbers.
The truth is that Facebook sometimes feels like it has been overrun by middle-aged women playing networking games, leading to my rant last year: I don’t care about your pony.
Of course older users still use email, while many younger users are exchanging practically all their messages on Facebook. Only 10% of boomers routinely use status updates, although they do comment on their kids updates—and pictures of their grandkids—much more frequently.
But since we choose or approve our friends on Facebook and other social networks, our associations don’t have to overlap much with people outside our peer group. And usually don’t. This is natural. And harmful.
We have much to learn from people of different ages, online and at church, for example. But while people have many “friends” they can spend more time managing online clutter and less time drinking coffee with each other. Especially with people who are not their age.
Students often tell me their mentors and accountability partners, their digital elders so to speak, are peers who are two years older than they are. Whole churches and movements seem to get along without any older people at all.
This can’t be good.
I understand the students who tell me their mentor is 22 may have a professor or two they look up to. But they get most of their advice from their friends.
And I’ve met their friends.
But if social networking is going to reach it’s potential, our networks need to be broader, not in numbers but in intention and significance. Or we all just end up moving to Farmville.
So make a new Facebook friend. Someone you know, who is much younger or much older than yourself. And find your way past your “like” button somehow, to conversations that matter. Use the tools to minister to and care for each other. And call up or reach out to those whose status says something about their heart. Get together for a cup of tea.
Because it turns out their needs aren’t virtual at all.
Tell us about a significant relationship with someone who is not your peer that is maintained or strengthened online.