I started in with social media well before I heard the term in use. It was five years ago when, newly retired and both wondering what to do through yet another long dark winter, my movie and coffee shop pal, Wayne, suggested we get into blogging about what we’d each come to believe on our long life journeys. Maybe that big bulge of Boomers coming up right below us seniors would find our thoughts resonated with them? In those not-that-far-off days, Booming was still a big new thing, and its zippier manifestation, Zooming, was just coming into the the world, courtesy of Moses Znaimer’s media empire.
Wayne came up with an appropriately serious-sounding moniker for this blog, ‘Musings of an Aging Boomer’, and I our obscure tag line, ‘A Senior Perspective on the Evolution of Western Values since IBM Selectrics and Rock-and-Roll were young’. Though my partner dropped out of posting when that winter ended, I have soldiered on, shifting the blog onto my own domain to highlight the solo nature of its authorship.
We are up to 136 posts now and my followership goes up and down, but is never a lot. I began this blog with a view to honing a writing style and to explore content ideas for longer opinion pieces. That is where I presently remain. Ninety-eight percent of blogs attract a tiny readership and, while this is one of the more durable Boomer blogs, commentary on everyday life and times is not easy to monetize with cautious late middle age folk who often have only a dim idea or none at all of how to find good writing of interest on the Web. Without readership there will be no sponsorship to pay for spending time on developing well-written and satisfying posts.
These days I manage a couple of additional blogs. These are not personal but subject related, and content is at least partly provided by third parties. Their subjects of authorship and heritage attract a wider crowd than my personal musings.
About a year ago, I realised that I had better find out what some of the more recently developed social media options than now-mature blogging were all about. This was so that I could decide where, if at all, they could help my authorial efforts. What to choose? I had already joined LinkedIn years ago so I just needed to revamp my profile to fit my state in life, and start posting again. I added Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, the last at that point in time still much reviled by many pundits as mindless.
As an older person in an age category where Facebook (FB) use is still low, my very modest number of thirty-two ‘friends’ who are actual people (rather than an organization) are a heterogeneous lot, and largely not representative of my personal friendships. In contrast, my thirty-something-year-old kids have pretty well all their real-life acquaintances in their age group using FB regularly as the primary way they all stay in touch.
In addition to maintaining my own personal Timeline, I monitor ten Facebook groups that reflect my recreational interests. Sad to say that the very substantial memberships of most of these communities (some are well beyond a 1,000 members) are mostly middle-aged. Having hobbies is becoming a dated concept that may never catch on with our youngest adult age cohort, the so-called Millennials.
Facebook is a tool that, though started by college students for their peers, is now mostly used by working-age adults. Its attractive layout can make for quite addictive viewing, and its ease of use encourages a fair amount of thought-free posts and commentary. While it may seem reasonable to expect the level of quality individuals display in their FB posts and comments to match their real life personalities, this is often not so; both the shy and the bombastic find it a place to say things they would never to our face.
However most users are homely in what they post – pets, kids and recipes figure large. There are also some who use FB as a neighbourhood news channel, and others who enjoy a political rant (the current federal election zealots of the Anyone But Harper persuasion – Steven Harper is our P.M. - love the medium). This last group is typical of the haters that overpopulate social media. Any ‘comment’ on their raging of a less than supportive nature can provoke a painfully abusive response. Trust me for early on I made the mistake of responding to bigoted grandstanding more often than I care to recall!
Another depressing feature of Facebook for me is the surprisingly large percentage of silent ‘friends’ who rarely, if ever, actually post anything, though they tell you they check in more or less regularly. Some others do venture on occasion into posting brief reactions to others' posts. This too often goes along the lines of ‘Wow!’ and ‘Aaagh!!’, or the slightly more daring ‘You look great, Susie’ and ‘Love your doggie’. While one can bite the bullet and drop both sorts of voyeurs from one’s own Timeline, one still has to tolerate the sloganeers peppering our mutual friends with junk text. Too many of my FB ‘friends’ seem either to welcome any recognition, however inane, or lack the nerve to ‘unfriend’.
Overall my anniversary take on Facebook is that, while a handy tool for fostering our interests and enthusiasms through joining relevant Groups, as a vehicle for forging or cementing conventional friendship, it proves of little value.
Twitter I find very useful. If one uses the medium as a succinct sourcing and news channel, and tightly targets whom one wants as Followers and whom to Follow, it can prove a valuable way to stay up-to-date. One interest of mine is heritage, built and natural, and as @HeritageIan I follow and/or am followed by a good cross-section of those organizations and individuals who tweet on that subject. The ideas and links they provide are the source of some of the postings for my blogs and on my LinkedIn and Google+ accounts.
Though Twitter often points me to facts and ideas that I would not otherwise have come across, I do not dispute that there remains a lot of mindless trivia on the medium. As it is easy to ‘unfollow’ where a followed link is unproductive, I myself almost never sight the dross. Dropping boring tweeters largely lacks the potential for personal affront involved in 'unfriending' a Facebook friend.
We now know social media are here to stay and, as the population ages, are capturing the interest of older cohorts. While the leading edge of social medium development remains with youth, now that seniors outnumber the young in this country, the more mature will increasingly decide what has staying power and what not.
LinkedIn, a longstanding social medium for working adults, has evolved into a human resource tool, although more recently added features that encourage the posting of commentary and opinion pieces may again widen its appeal. The newer Google+, once just a medium for techno-geeks to enthuse with one another, now sports a somewhat wider following of the more thoughtful kind. Outside of the tech world, its followership is still however sufficiently spotty that readership stats on other subjects are generally poor.
Visually oriented social media like Flickr and Pinterest have an enthusiastic user base, but pictures-as-information-and-entertainment will probably prove a medium too limited to match the wider appeal of the text, links and pictures of the mainstream social media. I have registered some ‘dot.pic’ domains and have a good camera to hand, but have yet to see a way that pictures alone can foster thoughtfulness about our life and times without explanatory writing to accompany them.
I resolve that this next year in social media will for me see a tightening of focus on my Groups in Facebook, more refined mining of Twitter for interesting developments, and orienting my blogging activities to gaining new readership. Using these social tools, I will strive to improve my skills as a sometimes contrarian but usually clear-headed online societal commentator.