Tweet remembrances: Keeping up with family through technology
Friending, following, tagging and tweeting have become a part of life for most Generation Xers, Millennials and the teen set. But social media isn’t just for those born after the ‘70s, it’s now also for those who are in their 70s.
Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Skype have been catching on with the older generations—and for good reason. The main use of social media networks for all ages is to keep in touch with family and friends.
Out with the old
Social networking through technology is nothing new. “When I was in high school, my social media was a party line with about 20 people on it,” recalls Helen Milliron, 75, of Boiling Springs. “If people wanted to know what’s going on with you, they would just pick up the telephone and listen. That was social media then."
Modern technology has opened up a world of opportunity to connect people.
Dianna McIlwain, 66, who lives in the Ecumenical Community of Harrisburg, realizes how useful social media can be, especially when loved ones are on the other side of the world. “I have relatives and friends in so many places—the people with whom I stay in contact are from Massachusetts, California, Texas, Mexico, Florida and England.”
McIlwain says she uses Skype to video chat with her daughter and grandchildren who are in England. “I Skype with a number of people, but mostly with my grandson in England. That way, I can see them almost every day,” she says. She appreciates how, through Skype, she can celebrate milestones with her daughter’s family, even from a different continent. “Look, he’s taking his first steps,” her daughter says as her little grandson pulls himself up and begins to toddle on camera.
Milliron agrees that getting updates about grandchildren is one of the best perks of using social media. “I get lots of pictures or videos of [grandson] Roman on Facebook. He’s the baby of the family, so that’s fun to do that,” Milliron says.
Keeping in touch
Social networking sites also offer users the opportunity to reach out to people they haven’t kept in touch with over the years. McIlwain says she hadn’t heard from many of her childhood friends from Florida in decades, but she recently began to contact some of them. “Through Facebook, I’ve reconnected with high school friends, college friends and elementary school friends. I just got invited to our 50th reunion. It would be fun to see people again. Especially old boyfriends.”
Features like Facebook’s chat are another great way to instantly catch up with family members. “I like the chat factor,” McIlwain says. “I see somebody on there, like one of my cousins or my daughter down in Florida, and we’ll get on there and have great old conversations.” Milliron is a fan of chatting as well. “My niece just got Facebook. Now I can chat with her all the time. It’s nice to catch up with her and her family and see how she’s doing.”
But Milliron admits sometimes typing over the Internet isn’t always the ideal way to hold a conversation. “The other night, I said, ‘I just have to stop, I just have to call you,’” Milliron says. “We talked on the phone for three hours.”
Of course, the popularity of social networking isn’t signaling the end to more traditional means of communication. Milliron and McIlwain agree that sometimes, a Facebook message or a quick tweet really just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes, as with Milliron’s conversation with her niece, it is simply more efficient and personal to catch up over the phone. Other times, a mass social networking message is completely the wrong medium. McIlwain shares about a recent family incident. Her brother-in-law had been in the hospital after a stroke. Unfortunately, he passed away. To McIlwain’s shock, instead of calling family members first to let them know, her niece posted “Goodbye, Daddy,” as her Facebook status update. “That was a heck of a way to find out,” McIlwain says.
One of Milliron’s favorite uses of social networking is keeping up on the news. “My favorite person to follow on Twitter is Anderson Cooper,” she says. “He tweets throughout the evening before the show starts. He’s always saying what’s going to be on his show, which starts at 10 p.m.” She also follows several local politicians to keep updated on minute-by-minute news from the Pennsylvania State House and Senate. “It’s just so instant. You’re there,” she says. Milliron mentions that with all the direct and instant access to news and raw footage from all over the world, she finds that she has become more engaged with the actual news content. “You have to be able to assimilate all this information and interpret it, to figure out how you’re going to react to it,” she says. “Because anyone can put their opinions out there, you’re being bombarded with everyone else’s ideas, you have to know what your own ideas are.”
She also notes how the instantaneous nature of Twitter can be useful for checking the weather. “If you’re following something like a weather channel, that would be really handy. You would find out instantly if a tornado came by or something.”
McIlwain and Milliron have both been using computers since the early 1980s, so signing up with the latest social networks was only natural. But seniors who may not have had such extensive computer use should not be discouraged or intimidated by the idea of a Facebook or Twitter account. McIlwain has helped many residents of the Ecumenical Community learn how to log on to social networks. For somebody interested in trying it out, she suggests, "I would tell them to get in touch with someone who does it already and have them be at the computer with them, for at least the first four sessions, until they get more comfortable with it. And preferably someone not too young and impatient.”
McIlwain encourages everybody to give the new technology a try. “I don’t see where social networking would be bad for anyone. I think it’s a wonderful luxury,” she says.
Anna Bloom is a senior at Asbury University and a Central Penn Parent intern from Carlisle.