One of the things I look forward to more than anything is a letter from my cousin. Her letters span several pages, and days, and detail the beauty and fauna of her regular walks through a local woodland, as well as what’s going on her life day-to-day. Of course, we both have computers and could just as easily exchange emails, or post quick ‘status updates’ on Facebook; however letters possess an intrinsic value—their very length requires that I stop, make a cup of tea and sit down to read it. It’s not a 140 character ‘Tweet’; instead a more tangible communication that won’t scroll off the screen or be forgotten in the next hour.
Letters were once the primary form of personal communication. I think of references in literature where the comings and goings of the post were essential to the progress of the plot, i.e., Jane Bennett waiting for news from Miss Bingley in Pride & Prejudice. Letters written by historical figures tell us much about the context of their time and serve as an undoctored record of history. The loss of written correspondence is mourned by some as something that will have a negative impact on recording history. While it will be interesting to see how digital communication will be viewed in two hundred years, there’s no doubt it’s here to stay. Whether one is using it for professional or personal purposes, social media is about staying in touch, but more than that, it’s a virtual extension of our real life selves.
Why not just stick to letters, email, and telephone? Well, a whole bunch of reasons. Especially if one has family and friends comfortable with smartphones & tablets and Apps like Instagram & Twitter, social media may be the only way to learn what’s going on in their lives. If you’re not connected to their network, chances are you’ll hear about the new baby or promotion months after the event. Social media can connect you with others who share your interests, and reach those who might otherwise by physically or socially isolated—particularly the elderly. In addition, social media networks are outstanding for professional use.
There’s also the added bonus in that learning about social media will make you happier and smarter. Seriously! The neural pathway development stimulates the brain and just as my 80+ parents went from living in a world where electricity was a novelty to having a Facebook page, we’re going to see the proliferation of social media. Businesses such as restaurants offer specials via social media platforms, news stations direct viewers to their website, Twitter feed or Facebook page. Ever seen those matrix barcodes QR (Quick Response) codes? A person with a smartphone and the QR App can be taken directly to a web page with a coupon or ticket buying platform.
Part of me says, ‘Wow!’ and the other part is, ‘so what?’ because I’m still a little overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of connecting. That being said, social media platforms present the opportunity to link generations. The BoomGen has a perspective very different from younger cohorts, and we can learn from each other. For younger people who may never have used the original version of the icons they see on their phones (stamped letters, rotary dial phone, typewriters, etc.), or opened an encyclopedia to find an answer to a question, living in a world without the internet and 24/7 connection is inconceivable. As old-fashioned as we might imagine our parents’ or grandparents’ everyday life using gaslights, iceboxes, cars-as luxury, and crank telephones with shared party lines. Being in the middle, I find conversations with people older and younger than me to offer a valuable viewpoint developed from a lifetime quite different from my own.
Connecting with those who share an interest–regardless of age–benefits everyone. Particularly when the interest is something where a breadth of knowledge and experience may be useful such as with gardening, cooking, woodworking, astronomy, or writing code for a blog. Social media is the ideal medium for reaching across generations.
Next week I’ll look at the most common networks and provide a brief description of each.