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Connections

Social networking for seniors

Can a 66-year-old get the hang of Facebook?

Illustration by Gracia Lam

AT THE AGE OF 66, I decided to join Facebook. Though I realize this social network is primarily used by younger people, I thought I could reconnect with old friends. Now that a year has passed, I can say I am both intrigued and miffed by this social phenomenon.

I have yet to master or even understand the nuances of Facebook. For example, why do I get messages from people I don’t know who are doing things I’ve never heard of, such as kite-boarding?

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Why isn’t there a specific section for seniors on Facebook? You could expect postings such as “Has anyone seen a cup with my teeth in it?” Or “Free Lecture on Tuesday at Senior Center: Metamucil — How to Be a Regular Guy or Gal.”

When people post on their wall, messages seem to fall into one of three categories: 1) They are promoting a cause. 2) They are trying to communicate something to a particular individual. Or 3) they are reporting on the day’s activities. It’s the last of these that I find the most confusing. What would possess someone to advertise that he just ate a jelly doughnut or that he ironed his shirt? Is there really anyone out there who reads the posts and says, “Wow, thanks for sharing. I was wondering what you ate and whether you were maintaining that crisp well-starched look.”

What really grabs my attention is that as soon as you open someone’s Facebook page, you see how many “friends” that person has. Where else in life does an introduction like this occur: “Hi, my name is Ted. I’m a sophomore at Boston University. I’m a Sagittarius, and I have 57 friends.” No, no, no! It’s just not normal. To put in print how many friends you have is like saying, “Hi, I’m in the popular group, admired by throngs of people,” or “Hi, I’m a social outcast, scorned by the masses.”

I know Facebook isn’t a popularity contest, but when I saw my 29-year-old niece had 780 friends, I must admit I was intimidated and started to question myself. I couldn’t put together a list of 780 acquaintances if I included both friends and enemies. Trying to handle my insecurity in a mature and constructive manner, I set about attempting to inflate my numbers. I, too, wanted to be viewed in the popular group. Now . . . where to start? Hmmm . . . who do I remember from kindergarten?

I started asking everyone I ever knew to be my Facebook friend. I reached out to people from public school, college, and former jobs. This barely made a dent. I added club acquaintances, teammates, and congregants from religious organizations. I found myself wondering whether I should join some new ones. I hear the Unitarians are a friendly group.

How about old girlfriends — both those that dumped me and those I dumped. No hard feelings here. I was starting to feel desperate. Oh, what about that kid who recently came to the door selling candy to support his high school band?

Finally, my inner voice yelled, “Stop this foolishness!” It isn’t the quantity of people you know that matters but the quality of the relationships. When I was growing up, you didn’t send a message asking someone to be your friend. You became friends naturally and in person for deep and meaningful reasons, such as: They had access to their father’s car; they understood how to do the math homework; they knew the prom queen.

I guess young people today just don’t understand the true meaning of friendship.

Gary A. Kaplan is a retired social worker who lives in Peabody. Send comments to connections@globe.com.
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