Facebook in your 40s?

The median age of a Facebook user is 26. I am 41—and yet I’m getting peer pressure to join Facebook. Even though the over-30 crowd is the fastest growing demographic among Facebook’s more than 150 million users, I’m hesitant to join.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a report last week on adult use of online social network sites like Facebook. Pew found that the share of adult Internet users (”online adults”) who have a profile on a social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years—from 8% in 2005 to 35% now. Thirty percent of online adults aged 35-44, and 19% of online adults aged 45-54, have a profile on a social network site. According to the study, most adults use online social networks to connect with people they already know.

But why do you need Facebook to do that? What’s wrong with e-mail or even the phone (although I admit to not being a phone person)? An article in Time about Facebook referred to a 39-year-old single mother of two who “stays logged on to Facebook all day at work, and then spends an hour or two, or lately three, at night checking in with old acquaintances, swapping photos with close friends, instant messaging those who fall somewhere in between.” If someone can find time for Facebook, can’t they type a few lines in an e-mail?

Stories like this, from the Time article, reinforce some of my doubts:

“Jenny has not returned my calls in roughly a year. She has, however, sent me a poinsettia, poked me, and placed a gift beneath my Christmas tree. She’s done all this virtually, courtesy of Facebook.com, the online social networking site where users create profiles, gather ‘friends,’ and join common interest groups, not to mention send digital gifts. Though Jenny has three children, ages 4 to 14, and rarely finds time for visits, phone calls or even e-mail, the full-time mom in upstate New York regularly updates her status on Facebook (’Jenny is fixing a birthday dinner,’ ‘Jenny took the kids sledding’) and uploads photos (her son in the school play). After 24 years, our friendship is now filtered through Facebook, relegated to the online world. Call it Facebook Recluse Syndrome, and Jenny is far from the site’s only social hermit.”

I need more from my friendships than digital bouquets and updates of mundane daily tasks. Not much more but more. And I don’t really see the point in the one-sentence updates. In a recent article in Forbes, a 40-something discussed the different perspectives younger and “older” users have about Facebook. He wondered if posting on his Facebook page is truly an invitation for his friends to respond, or if he has “succumbed to the tedious, excessively revelatory ways of modern American society, which assumes that every ounce of everyone’s life constitutes a narrative-in-waiting, a parable, a morality tale—which assumes, in fact, that nothing is ever banal.”

The 39-year-old single mother in the Time article explained that “It makes you feel like you’re part of something even if you’re neglecting people in the flesh” It strikes me as a little warped to admittedly neglect people in the flesh while finding hours to spend on Facebook, but I’m not a single mom of two and don’t have nearly as much to juggle. In fact, that woman says Facebook has made her already-close friends—whom she has little time to see—closer. “I know more about them now than I did when I was in regular contact with them,” she says. To her, Facebook is “a beautiful blossoming garden of information about your friends.”

I guess I can see the value, and fun, in that, but some friendships are closer than others. I wouldn’t want Facebook to take the place of my existing communications with my closest friends. When you’re talking about a 24-year relationship, I don’t think a friendship that exists only “filtered through Facebook” is much of a friendship at all.

That said, I’m flying from LAX to Newark next week to visit a friend of 20+ years who happens to be an avid Facebook fan—and I have a feeling I’ll be returning home as a Facebook member.

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