faithful friends: beyond Facebook

Almost half of those over 50 ae using social media. It’s social media week here at thedaysman, partly because I’m helping host a conference on campus: @Jesus: Finding the Truth in a Digital World.

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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.

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Tell us about a significant relationship with someone who is not your peer that is maintained or strengthened online.

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

5 Responses to “faithful friends: beyond Facebook”

  1. I have to say first that my main use of facebook is “crowdsourcing.” What other way is as convenient to “poll” a specific demographic pre-fitted to understand the things I talk about or relate to? I have roughly 1600 facebook friends- and I know 98% of them (a few squeaked in by numerous mutual friends or sheer accident). Using my status as a question to get opinions, ideas, suggestions, you name it- from this group of people has proven to be valuable and very helpful to me. But beyond that, I do use it to maintain, or strengthen relationships I do have.

    My father is the first example of many that come to my mind: he lives in Alaska, and works in the field of excavation, geology, etc. Currently his job has him working on the base of a volcano. Phone communication is not realistic, and with the time zone almost impossible (though he did just learn to text effectively). So, when he visited me in Chicago over New Years, I taught him how to use facebook. Now it seems so much easier to communicate and connect with him. He sees my life here through photos and status updates, and remembers to ask me about them via email and phone time, when we have them. I get to see pictures of the bears he’s chasing off while directing helicopters. Facebook has made a marked difference in the quality and quantity of our relationship when he’s out working, which is often for months at at a time.

  2. This middle-aged Facebook frequenter wholeheartedly agrees with you!

  3. My daughter dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the Facebook world primarily as a way to keep up with her when she went to college. It took me about 2 years to do anything more than just read what she had posted. I don’t have a vast number of “friends” but now count among them some of my daughter’s friends at college as well as friends and family of my own.
    I find Facebook helpful for giving me a “birds-eye” view into my daughter’s life at college even though she calls me daily. It is another way, besides e-mail, for me to send her an encouraging word or Scripture when she is feeling overwhelmed.
    As first, I found Facebook annoying. Like you, I was irritated by updates about “Farmville” and whatever other games were being played. I even shut down my account for a while until my daughter protested loudly and talked me into turning it back on. Now, I have come to a truce with it and recently even linked my blog to my Facebook account. At its best, Facebook is another way to keep in touch with the friends and family that we may not keep in touch with otherwise. At its worst, it is a way to keep people at a distance, discouraging real communication and interaction.
    Like everything else, Facebook is a tool and the benefit (or lack thereof) lies in the hands of those who use it. As for me, my main concern is one of security and safety. I am often amazed at some of the personal and private information that is revealed. Thankfully, my daughter and her friends are more careful with that than many of those in my peer group.

  4. I have a good friend, a half generation older than me, whom I’ve never met. She started out as a customer of the yarn company for whom I used to handle complaints (among many other things). In the course of resolving a quality issue, she told me about knitting prayer shawl ministry, something in which I had a professional interest and came to have a personal one. We got so friendly in the course of my work that I gave her my home e-mail, so as not to take up office time with what had become a personal relationship. We have had long, deep “discussions” via e-mail on life, God, religion, the mysteries of the universe. When I was trying to do some research on my family, she helped — she had traced her own family back to the middle ages — and we discovered she grew up next door to my grandfather’s brother! We know and ask after each other’s families (she has a grandson now studying in Tokyo!) and subscribe to each other’s blogs. Someday I’d like to meet her face-to-face (she lives in Minnesota, I in New York), but whether that happens or not, she is still a dear friend.

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  1. 20/20 Vision: What Role for Social Media? « Discernable Futures - March 26, 2011

    […] faithful friends: beyond Facebook (thedaysman.com) […]

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