Social Networks: Do They Alienate The Elderly?

New technologies are frequently praised for the limitless communication tools that they provide. Social networks make it easy for people across the globe to interact with each other and to build new relationships.

One aspect of social networking, however, increases the social alienation of a particular group of people. Technologies and the transfer of interactions to the online realm could leave seniors alienated and isolated.

Some Figures
The demographic profile of social network members will either confirm or refute the claim that elderly individuals are left out because of their inability to get used to new technologies.

According to official 2012 statistics that provide demographic information for various social networks, only two percent of the members are aged 65 or older. The group of members aged from 55 to 64 represents six percent of the members.

LinkedIn, the professional social network, is the one that logically has the oldest audience. The average age of LinkedIn members is 44.2 years. In comparison, the average Facebook member is 40.5 years old and the Twitter user is 37.2 years old.

The Identity Switch
We are witnessing the phenomenon of identity switching. A new generation is growing up in the presence of computers from a very early age. These individuals are used to mailing and texting each other, instead of carrying out face-to-face communication. As a result, an identity switch is taking place. People’s online identities are starting to gain paramount importance for social interactions.

The elderly are left out because they are used to a different communication model. Many senior citizens are incapable of adapting to virtual identities and the new methods of social interactions.

A big number of articles praise social networks for their ability to provide lonely elderly individuals with new communication opportunities. These people, however, will find it very difficult to change habits and to get used to new methods of interaction. Rather than benefiting from the trend, the elderly will feel even more isolated in a world that is actively engaged in virtual communications.

What do Studies have to Say?
The theory and the logic are easy to understand but do social networks really lead to the isolation of the elderly? Several studies were carried out to find the truth.

The UK government’s Foresight Programme analysed the manner in which social networking is already affecting interactions. According to the report that was presented by Professor John Beddington, the online identity will become something common, a social norm in the future. Anyone refusing to participate in the trend will be considered suspicious, thus facing social isolation. The lack of technological knowledge will also affect communication, Beddington told The Telegraph.

Professors Barbara Thomas and Jean Coppola from New York’s Pace University carried out several studies connected to senior interactions in the world of digital technologies.

Logically enough, elderly people participating in the study had difficulties using a mouse and a keyboard. Eyesight problems contributed to a challenging task of social networking, as well. Seniors were also experiencing problems with finding functionalities and with inputting passwords.

Technology can alienate elderly individuals. Courses and computer usage classes are the only way to overcome the obstacles and to see a trend reversion. Social networking provides many opportunities but it is also connected to various challenges. Such new communication channels have the power to significantly increase the social isolation of the elderly unless active steps are undertaken to prevent such developments.

Written by Colin McDonald on behalf of Collins Care – Suppliers of Mobility Aids to the Elderly