A Facebook lesson from my newest friend — grandpa

Grandpa: Cigar aficionado and new Facebook user.

I was checking my phone on Friday, recovering from the previous night’s Thanksgiving meal, when I saw the notification bubble to the top of my screen.

“No way,” I said aloud to my husband, his parents and his brother, all of us occupants in a Chevy Suburban making the post-holiday trek from Corvallis, Oregon back to Seattle.

“My grandpa just friended me on Facebook!”

It made my day. This grandpa, my mother’s dad, lives in Monterrey, Mexico, along with my three other grandparents and the vast majority of my extended family. Growing up I saw them twice a year, then once, then every other year, and now, whenever I’m lucky.

Mónica Guzmán

My aunts, uncles and cousins flocked to Facebook around 2008, making it feel, finally, like they weren’t a country and a rare long-distance phone call away. But my grandparents were still technologically distant. Anything I heard about them, I heard from the rest of my family, some of whom are more active on Facebook than my most active friends.

Now, maybe, that would change.

By now, comparing the technology views of young and old seems tired. The young love immediacy. The old fear the loss of privacy. The distinction is as porous and imprecise as any generalization, but still, there it is. And so, I figured, my 84-year-old grandpa’s foray into Facebook must be somewhere near the front of a new trend.

Shows what I know:

“My grandmother is on Facebook. I’m 41, she is 91.” – Tim Reynolds

“My grandmother Inger Edwards is 80 and uses her iPad constantly to check out Facebook…” – Andru Edwards

“My grandpa (83) is on and my grandma (89) is on.” – Kristi Waite

Here’s a reality check: Just 42 percent of people 65 and older use the Internet, compared with 78 percent of all adults and 95 percent of people age 18-29 (my group). But according to the most recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a full 33 percent of Internet users 65 and older use social networking sites, up from 26 percent last year and a measly 13 percent in 2009.

Grandpa’s just joining the party.

Albeit it a small one.

“I hadn’t wanted to join Facebook, because I like my privacy,” he messaged me in Spanish when I asked — delighted — why he’d decided to join. “But your aunt assured me there were ways to ensure that only you — only the people I add as friends — would be able to see my information.”

As for the site itself, grandpa made clear that he’d only just taken a look around. Still, he wrote, “I think it’s marvelous.”

It’s interesting that for all the flak Facebook gets from savvy users over changes they say pose too great a threat to personal information, seniors are comfortably coming onboard in greater numbers than ever. It’s not a paradox. You and I like links, install apps and connect our accounts in a bajillion ways on a bajillion sites all day long with Facebook. Risky stuff.

But grandpa? Grandpa saw photos of his granddaughter featured in a Mexican running magazine and congratulated my cousin on his new baby with a message on his Facebook wall. He friended an old business partner and made a photo of himself and my grandma on a recent cruise his first avatar. He’s not there to build a brand, access services or develop a network. He’s there to connect with his family, his close friends, the people he cares about most.

Remember when that was what Facebook and social media were all about?

I’d almost forgotten.

This weekend I learned that grandma is also using his account to look over family posts and leave heartfelt messages. With way more Facebook friends than people I know in real life, I get plenty of views on my page. But knowing that these two are looking on already makes me want to post less of what’s brandy and breezy, and more of what’s purely and truly me.

On Friday my grandpa’s nephew, my second uncle, went on grandpa’s Facebook wall and posted a beautiful black and white photo of my grandpa and his younger brother when the two of them were kids. They’re dressed as little soldiers, holsters and all, their arms raised in salute. My grandpa said he’d never seen that picture before. His brother passed away a few years ago. The photo is now my iPhone wallpaper.

“I love you, little brother,” grandpa wrote in a comment below the photo.

We love you, too, grandpa. Welcome.

Mónica Guzmán is a community strategist in startups and media and a digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away at @moniguzman or reach her via email. See a list of her clients on her website. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.

  • http://www.bjmendelson.com Brandon Mendelson

    I thought this was really well done. And you’re right, way too many people lose site of what these platforms are meant to do because they’ve all bought the hype from the marketers. It’s a shame. But the demographics and numbers don’t lie, so hopefully as time goes by and the marketers move on to other things, we’ll get back to focusing on what makes these platforms worth using in the first place.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      It’s interesting to think that the group that seems least connected to technology could be the one that shows the way to the best stuff about it. I’m all about celebrating technology that enhances our lives, that enables us as human beings to do the things that fulfill us the most. What are those things? They’re different for different people at different times of their lives. But I do wonder if some never change. Maintaining good relationships with the people close to you, for example. Lots to mull on …

  • http://twitter.com/evonnebenedict Evonne Benedict

    Monica – I love this! My 85-year-old legally blind mother-in-law recently got on Facebook and she loves it. She can keep up with her kids, her grandkids and her great grandkids. And we can keep up with her, which is the best part.

  • Tamara Davis

    Excellent column!  I really appreciate the statistics you provided as I’ll now use them for my own arguments with older members of the family that still fear social media.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Thanks, Tamara! Crossing my fingers that my other grandparents get inspired and join in.

  • Michael Bean

    I think it would be great if you did more reflective writing like this and were less busy navigating the brutal and impersonal waters of the tech start up world. Nice piece.

  • http://www.jrotech.com/ Jeff Rodenburg

    This is very cool, Monica. Thank you for sharing.

    Also, here’s to hoping that your grandpa is using that awesome photo of him smoking a cigar on his profile.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Thanks, Jeff! Right now it’s a picture of him and my grandma. I took this photo of him a few years ago. I can almost smell the cigar when I see it…

    • Paul

      cute but that photo is originally homoerotica. no es your grandpa, unless he’s a gay model.

  • María G Guzmán

    My daughter writing about my dad… My life is complete.  ¡Gracias, mi chiquita preciosa!

  • Steve

    A nice personal reflection on how technology can touch us and improve the richness of our lives. It serves as a good reminder or all of us. Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/TobyDiva Toby Bloomberg

    Ohh! Heart warming. Wonderful that so many generations of your family to have an opportunity to enjoy each other especially at this time of year. Next step .. a family Skype party!

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      That would be pretty great. My grandparents couldn’t make it to Seattle to my wedding last year, so they watched the ceremony via live stream. Even that open window onto a world feels like it brings us closer.

  • Mello

    Monica, I just saw this, but it brought a happy tear to my eye.  I think it’s cool, and hope you enjoy having more of your family on FB.