What my grandfather taught me about social media

 

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It’s been more than 2 years that my grandfather created his first Facebook account. It may not sound something extraordinary, but what called my attention was his purpose.

My grandfather is full of life. He loves people, social events, music, his students and his family. He uses Facebook to basically stay in contact with people, finding ways to support them in their activities or just giving his opinion. He is 80 years old.

I’ve been researching some articles about social media and Facebook and what caught my attention was the idea that “oh no, teenagers are moving to other chat apps” and this sounded like the end of the world. First, I’m not a “pro-Facebook” or something like that. Second, teenagers can do what they want. If they want privacy, good for them. I think everyone does.

The main concern here is that it seems that sometimes those articles forget that elderly people are now using social media to communicate and this can’t be overlooked. Basically, designers from social media websites and apps need to understand this phenomena and start designing for those people’s purposes and needs. Why not? I’m not saying that designers are not doing it at all, but this concern should be in the mind of design professionals from different parts of the world. This is big challenge and shouldn’t be left unnoticed.

Take as an example, my lovely country, Brazil. According to a research, the number of elderly Brazilian doubled since 1960 and it will grow with time. Technically, this is something new for Brazil that used to have a very low life expectancy and now, because of investments in health and well-being, this context changed significantly.

Taking back the issue of social media, Facebook was found to be one of the most popular networks in Brazil, but there was a lack of concerns around a proper inclusion of elderly people into those systems. I can imagine that this could be related to the interaction with the network’s interface and tools, familiarity, access to the page, especially if using a computer and privacy settings (of course). But who should take the blame?

It could sound easy to say that because people are getting older, they are not able to do some “stuff”. We all know that this is wrong (and sad). That’s not the point and we need to stop making a “gap” between ages, because this is not fair.

First, the possible problems highlighted before could be applicable to any human that is interacting for the first time with a system. Second, privacy issues are an universal concern. So, we are not talking about gaps. We are talking about designing things for people.

Taking back the example of my grandfather. He had to learn how to interact with the network by himself, as he wasn’t familiar with it. However he knew what social media could do. His “needs” were that in the social network, but they weren’t presentable or usable for a “newbie” user. However, even in that way, something just happened that he decided to experiment.

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If we, as designers, could understand that once people want or feel motivated, they will act, maybe we could not get worried about people choosing other websites or behaviours. If we could pay attention on how to build things for people, we should not overlook elderly people’s needs, which are basically human needs and that’s all. It’s not because of age that people can’t interact with something new.

It’s necessary to understand that once the perception of needs and reality, combined to a “good” design are integrated, people can feel motivated. And this could happen in all ages because, well, we are human.

Read more:

Can technology help us to support the ageing population?

Why Should We Listen to Old People? A Very Good Question
photo credit: 2010 – May – 18 – NodeXL – twitter social graph via photopin (license)