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.
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.