Older Adults Face Facebook Mystery

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that after reading Newsweek's recent cover story on Facebook (not to mention the news of a possible Microsoft investment that would value the social networking site at a hard-to-believe $10 billion) … I signed up.

The majority of new Facebook members are people over 35 — oldies like me. Still, it's uncool — and supposedly "old school" — to join because of pieces in "old media." And what's the point of joining Facebook if not to be cool?

In my defense, I work in new media, plus I come from a Web-savvy family; my 72-year-old father recently answered the phone saying "Can't talk, in Second Life!" (the online virtual world).

And I'm delighted with my first "friendships." It's great to see people I'd known professionally in a more informal light, with family photos and droll daily updates (who knew an oldie journalist I really admire could recommend new tunes by The Hysterics and Rilo Kiley?).

Less delightful was the reaction of my younger friends. Alex, my 23-year-old consigliere on all things new media, wrote "As one of the first 10,000 users of Facebook, I'm officially uncomfortable with John Pomfret [a respected Washington Post reporter] and Virginia Heffernan [a respected New York Times reporter] … having profiles." He was jokingly referring to some of my new Facebook friends, but here's the point: Young people do feel somewhat uncomfortable with established and "establishment" people, aka "older" people, on their social networking site.

A 20-year-old friend then forwarded me an article called "omg my mom joined facebook!!" Hmm … not so subtle.

So, to all my young friends, let me first say, we're not trying to encroach on your territory. We oldies arguably need ways to stay in touch with each other more than you do. For us, having any social life is a challenge, with kids, workaholism, etc. Already I'm back in touch with friends now living in China, Lebanon and Great Britain. And, like you, we love meeting new friends and networking.

Some say LinkedIn is good networking for oldies. But that's a professional network, and frankly, not much fun. Facebook is more like a "play network." Any chance for a middle-age mom to "play" is well worth it!

Now, I know youngsters are concerned about what we'll see about you. Take it from me, we don't necessarily want to see it either.

A number of my young colleagues are on Facebook, but it's doubtful I'll "friend" them. Do I really want to know whom they're getting blitzed with this weekend? No. Do I want them to know whom I'm getting blitzed with this weekend (OK, all the things I'm not doing this weekend)? No.

So don't worry about not wanting to be my Facebook friend if it makes you feel awkward.

My young friend Eric is a sort of new media guru who blogs for CBS News and the Huffington Post. He says, "If a boss Facebook-friended me, I would be put in a hard position. You don't want to say no, because that would be bad, but you don't really want to say yes either. So, I could compromise, and say yes but 'block' some of my profile."

I could do that too (after I learn how), but doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose? It also feels funny. I can tell when I've been blocked from certain areas of others' lives — er, profiles. Should I feel offended? Should I do the same to others?

The bottom line is that there's clearly a social networking etiquette still being worked out, especially now that, as the home page says, "anyone can join" (not just college students).

Here's an even dicier issue: What about friending your friends' kids, or even your own? If you ask me, any parent who's just on Facebook to learn about their kids is both missing out on most of the fun and probably overstepping some parental boundaries.

I believe kids have to be able to work through many social issues, online and off, in their own ways and time. This is particularly important now that Facebook includes high schoolers. Maybe this is easy for me to say because my daughter's not that old yet (she'll probably call me on this later).

Eric, it turns out, is friends on Facebook with friends of his mother. But, he says, "You have to know that moms gossip with moms. It is almost like breathing for them!"

So here's my message to young people: let us have fun too. After all, you'll be "old" one day, and probably still on something like Facebook. And to oldies: If you join, join for yourselves, not to keep tabs on your kids. Oh, and remember … it's really uncool to "poke."

Deanna Lee, a former senior producer for ABC's "World News," is the vice president of communications at the Asia Society.

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