Facebook for Baby Boomers (Opinion Column)

The over-40 crowd navigates through the maze of 2lst-century technology

On a recent TV show, a young patient asked his boomer-aged therapist if he had a Facebook page. When the therapist answered no, the young man looked quizzically at him and asked him how he kept up any relationships. He continued to tell his old-school shrink that the world was now bifurcated; that people have two ways of ascertaining information. There is the “old” way (using normal conduits such as newspapers and speaking face-to-face) and the “new” way, which is through cyberspace. Society is now split, he told him; communication now has two faces.

After running to my Funk & Wagnells to look up the word “bifurcated,” I began to understand what that young man — who could have been our son — was saying.

More and more, we live in a world with a 24-hour news cycle. This includes not only local, national, and international news, but also interpersonal news. We have the ability, through Facebook, Twitter, and such, to know where everyone is and what they’re doing; friends, family, acquaintances, employees, wives, children — all can be located, and communicated with, instantly.

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What that young patient was telling us was that there are people who enjoy this kind of scrutiny and communication, and others who prefer the old way of picking up the phone or speaking to a person face-to-face — when the time is right.

The fact that I ran to a dictionary rather than “googled” the new vocabulary word should tell you which side I’m on. And the fact that I just used the word “google” as a verb should also tell you that I’ve accepted the bifurcation in our society and have embraced some of it. After all, I am using a computer to write this, not a typewriter.

This discourse is nothing new, of course. These fresh-faced cyber-warriors think that splitting a society along communication lines is innovative. Far from it. Back in 1969, when I didn’t trust anyone over 30, I was convinced that my parents spoke a different language; that society just “didn’t understand” Woodstock, Bob Dylan, or the DayGlo peace sign that I wore on my cheek when I came home from college.

Back then, I think we were seeking honest communication. We tried to understand what others were saying and hoped that the broadcast news (all nine channels) would tell us the truth about Vietnam.

For all its spontaneity, Facebook and its ilk can be forums for untruths. You can doctor your picture, your age, your vital information — parse the truth into many little cubes — but have it available right now. If any reality is bifurcated, cyberspace leads the way.

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A boomer friend of mine just got a new “smart phone.” He was proud to show me pictures of his grandchildren that his daughter had sent him on the phone. I asked him how come he wasn’t in any of the photos. He shrugged and said that his daughter didn’t like the way he looked in the pictures, so she cut him out of them. Like all of us of a certain age, my friend is trying to deal with this communications revolution. Sometimes we’re in the picture; sometimes we’re not.

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