Social seniors

Rosie Chapman checks her Facebook before teaching a Seniors Now class.

Rosie Chapman checks her Facebook before teaching a Seniors Now class.

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Since 2004, Facebook has attracted young adults and even children, who join the social site to post updates, view photos, play games and more. But one group has been making its presence felt more than ever in the world of social networking: senior citizens.

According to a poll by Pew Research Center, the proportion of online adults ages 50-64 who use social networking sites increased from 25 percent to 47 percent from 2009-2010. That is an 88 percent increase, which is especially significant when compared with the mere 13 percent increase for ages 18-29. For online adults ages 65 and up, the number jumped from 13 percent to 26 percent.

Social networking may have begun as a haven for the young, with things like Farmville and 140-character limits, but there are several reasons why seniors are being drawn to such Internet communities. They can connect with family, find groups with common interests, blog about life or find information like recipes and sales.

Hillary Bressler, CEO and founder of Winter Park-based .Com Marketing, said, “They don’t want to be left out … Their kids are posting pictures of their grandchildren and they want to see it. Most grandparents will do anything to see pictures of their grandkids, and if it means embracing technology, then they do it.”

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Former Winter Springs Mayor John Bush is plugged in to the online social pipeline through his iPhone.

Bressler has an aunt on Facebook, but her parents have not joined the site. “I think my aunt sees more pictures of my daughter than my mom does, and my mom lives in town,” she said.

Not only can users connect with their family, but there are also past loves, old war buddies, and friends from youth that can be found among Facebook’s 600 million users, and that’s just one site. Jean Harding, 64, from Longwood, has been on Facebook for three months. “I found four of my old friends, my real old friends, that I haven’t seen for 25 or 30 years. It’s put me in contact with them.”

Harding is part of a small but rapidly growing group of seniors using Facebook. According to a 2011 Pew study, 11 percent of all Facebook users are over the age of 55.

To help herself acclimate to this new world, Harding has been taking introductory computer classes with Seniors Now, a group that teaches computer skills courses to senior citizens in Central Florida. Since its founding in 1996, Seniors Now has taught about 7,000 seniors basic computer skills, everything from using the “Start” menu to surfing the web.

“When we opened up the doors, there was an obvious need,” said Tom Springall, who has been teaching with Seniors Now since its beginning. “A lot of seniors had never been in the workplace, who didn’t know anything about computers and needed help.”

For 11 years, Rosie Chapman has taught classes with Seniors Now, and has been on Facebook for the past two of those years. “ I think most of us just want to get on there to be observers to see what our grandchildren are doing.”

Springall noted that families have moved away from communicating through phone calls and even email. Even if seniors do not contribute much to Facebook through status updates and other posts, they can at least see what their family and friends are up to. “If you want to stay active, if you want to stay involved, you have to know computer technology these days, or at least enough technology that you can get to the Internet,” he said.

The advent of tablet computers such as the iPad could be very good for seniors who want to use social media. Both Bressler and Springall spoke highly of the new technology for its ease of use and mobility. For seniors, a tablet has an advantage over a smart phone in that the screen and buttons are larger.

Senior citizen and former mayor of Winter Springs John Bush has had an iPhone for almost two years and recently added an iPad to his arsenal. “I like technology, and I like to have the latest stuff,” he said.

“The biggest problem with city government is letting people know what’s going on,” he said. Social media has the ability to bring a city, or any group of people, together.

Although he warns new users not to get too sucked in to social media, he encourages seniors to take advantage of the new technology available, saying, “You can never be too old to learn to do it.”


Learn more

Seniors Now Computer Learning Center classes are held at the Marks Street Senior Recreation Complex in downtown Orlando (407-318-3256) and the Renaissance Senior Center in east Orange County (407-254-9080). Visit seniorsnoworlando.org for more information.