If we’re complaining that our children are too busy to talk to us, there is one medium through which we can be sure of keeping up with their adventures - Facebook. And more older people then ever before are logging on to this popular website, as Laura Murphy finds out when she meets two ‘silver Facebookers’.
When Gloucestershire great-grandmother Lilly Strugnell became Facebook’s oldest user, at the grand old age of 106, a strong message was sent out to pensioners everywhere.
Social networking sites were not just for their grandchildren - indeed; with the rise of the ‘silver surfer’ in recent years, signing up to Twitter, Facebook and all the rest was simply the next step for older armchair laptop users.
Instead of finding out what was going on in their families’ lives via the telephone, or Sunday afternoon visits, why couldn’t they catch up with their weekend antics, trips and holidays with one click of a mouse?
And, as stressed by Age UK’s joint 2011 internet champion, Margaret Goodwin, who taught Lilly how to get acquainted with all things online, in some ways websites like Facebook are valued more by older people than younger people, as they understand how important it is to be connected to friends and family.
“It’s also a very valuable tool for family who are at a distance from a relative,” said Margaret.
“If an older person goes on Facebook every day, then you know they’re up and about, and active. If they don’t register one day, that alerts people. It could be a warning sign.”
Margaret’s ‘student’ Lilly became so au fait with the worldwide web that she even requested an iPad for her 107th birthday last summer.
It’s amazing to think that the Cinderford woman was born in the same year as the portable typewriter was invented - 1904.
Over a century later, she has got to grips with the internet by learning how to find new knitting patterns on YouTube.
“There are so many things I want to do,” said Lilly.
“Twitter sounds very interesting and I can watch Coronation Street online.”
The trend of older people logging on to social networking sites on a daily basis has certainly caught on. A survey carried out last September revealed that more than half of UK pensioners claim to use Facebook regularly, while three-quarters of the adult population are now signed up to the social network.
It was discovered that 55 per cent of over-65s in Britain had an active Facebook page, while more than two-thirds regularly viewed videos on YouTube.
Anne O’Reilly, who is chief executive of Age NI, revealed that their Facebook page had seen an amazing increase in the number of ‘likes’ of over 100 per cent in the last 12 months, demonstrating the value of social networking to the charity and its supporters.
“Facebook is a really great opportunity for older people to engage with family, friends (including those overseas) and wider networks and groups,” she said.
“Other digital applications like Skype, which enables free online video-calling, are increasingly being used by older people – we hear anecdotes from grandparents in particular who love Skyping children and grandchildren who live overseas. Skype enables them to see their family grow in a way that the telephone can’t – they can get a Skype tour of a new family home, physically see what Santa left below the tree or even read a good night story via Skype!”
She added: “Fifty-four per cent of older people here tell us that loneliness is a major problem, and digital tools like Facebook and Skype are certainly enabling older people to feel more connected. People in later life are actively embracing new technologies to stay in touch, informed and socially active and that’s a real benefit.”
We chat to a few of those so-called ‘silver surfers’ about their passion for social networking sites.