Social Media, Here We Come, or A Baby Boomer’s First Ten Days on Twitter

I can’t claim I was dragged kicking and screaming into this Twitter thing. I paid tuition for Sree Sreenivasan's Social Media course at the Columbia Journalism School . I took the subway uptown. I sat down in a class. Actually, first I had a meeting re reunion business at Barnard and then dashed across Broadway at 116th Street, raced down the steps toward the Columbia library (noting that the lawn is draped in white—seeding?), and hung a sharp right into the Journalism building, where I had not been since . . . . since a long time ago.

My high regard for Sree Sreenivasan dates back to my years (again a long time ago) at Sesame Street Parents when he wrote some family tech columns for the magazine. This was before he had a family, but he certainly had tech. It was also before Twitter, before Facebook, before broadband, and though I’ve always had this techie rep (I like to fiddle with things, a trait I inherited from my father, who was a chemist and educator, and also a licensed plumber and electrician), I didn’t know much about the Internet back then. Still, I was easily identified the geek who would edit the tech column.

But I am that much older now, and I worry about whether being part of Generation B-Squared means that I should throw my hands up in the air over social media and disappear from the blogosphere. Will I get it? I mean in social media terms. Many techies (information providers?) adamantly argue that people are now getting their news through social media, and it’s great because your news is tailored through your social network filters to your interests. (See, in particular, “How News Consumption is Shifting to the Personalized Social News Stream” on Mashable: http://on.mash.to/g1zmKZ.) Frankly, I find this a little horrifying. Sure, journalists I’m following on Twitter post links to news media articles. But how much weight I give the information in these links depends on the source of the information—and the reputation of the journalist. Yes to The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, NPR, PSBNewshour. No to @Marcisgod, whom I would trust to direct me to a pair of blue suede Tods, if I so desired, but who I’m not sure knows that there was a recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I’m going to bump up against the NYT’s paywall (except my husband has his “education subscription”) because I probably read 20 online articles a day. True, I used the word “online” in the previous sentence, but I fear I’m too old fashioned. I’m a baby boomer. The oldest in my demographic cohort are turning 65 this year. (The youngest don’t even have wrinkles. We’re a large group, and all that will be in my book.)

Then again, I took to Facebook like a—oh, throw in any cliché there, and it’s true. I pay more attention to FB than my Gen Y kids. With their 1000 or so friends—everyone with whom they went to elementary, middle school, high school, college, worked, or got drunk in a bar—they have already outgrown it, sort of. I, on the other hand, really use it. Socially. (And not for self-branding, as Sree advocates.) I know or have at least met all of my friends (except for Cindy Stivers, who seemed to have appeared on my friend list one day). Aside from face-to-face time with friends, most of my communication has become electronic. My friend Maki lives three buildings down from mine. I could probably go up to my roof and jump into her backyard, a place I love to sit and schmooze and drink wine. Telephone communication is now limited to, “You home? I’m passing your door.” But there’s lots of FB back and forth.

FB is amazing in a lot of ways. A significant book person I know posted a picture of a door with a patch of gold leaf applied. “There must be a story in this,” he commented. And then his writer friends started posting three- or four-line stories. Some were really good.

Of course there are the pictures. I get to see my great-nieces and nephew. My best friend’s great-niece. My daughter’s dog. My friend’s kitchen renovation. Another friend’s new iPhone app. I post shots of what I see during my runs in the park. I also documented recent renovations at the country house. I get to be a wiseguy. My friends get to be wiseasses. We’re all wiseacres.

This is possible because my FB is shut pretty tight. All my settings are for friends only. I do not show up in a Google search. I also have no qualms about un-friending people who get sucked into the FB spam-scans. Over the past couple of weeks I have unfriended about 40 people who still are wondering what some woman found in her Happy Meal or think that if they open up their address books, they’ll get a free iPad, or one that costs $14.99 at any rate. I’ll be happy to be their FB friends again—in fact I look forward to it. But first I have to know that they’re not so gullible. (I sent email messages to people I unfriended explaining my actions.)

All of this indicates that so far this baby boomer finds Facebook much more comfortable than Twitter. On Facebook you can see someone’s profile. It’s a much more hamische (“homey” in Yiddish) place as far as I can tell.

Still, I’ve been using Twitter for only 10 days. I have tweeted only 49 times. Yesterday I read that Judy Woodruff tweeted only three times in 2009, so I guess I’m on the right track at least.

I’m also trying to follow Sree’s suggestions for what makes a good tweet: is it helpful, useful, relevant, timely, actionable, and so forth. So far I’m being mostly me. Someone I’m “following” asked, “How influential are you on twitter?” Look, I’m not even influential in my own kitchen. So much for that.

But I’m keeping it up because: Power to the Baby Boomers! Right on! We are the largest demographic and even though I know many people my age who have trouble with email and no interest, they say, in Facebook, can you imagine the influence about 72 million Baby Boomers would wield if we took all the social media invented by Gen Y (mostly) and made it our own? That’s my intention. Social Media, I’m going to own you.

Sree says one should always sign off with her twitter handle: I’m @wordwhacker. Sree is @Sree (of course) and if you’re interested in social media at all, I suggest you follow his SreeTips page on FB. It’s also a great place if you know young people (your kids, their friends) looking for journalism or social media jobs.

Finally, @Sree, Sesame Street Parents never paid you for one of your columns. I called you a lot, left sweet messages, cajoling messages. I think this was before email. (Notice how quickly I’ve adapted to the new AP Style Sheet and removed the hyphen! I am so, so adaptable despite needing a colorist to maintain my real-looking blondish frizzy curls.) Too bad, @Sree; the magazine died a decade ago—but the money may have covered one or two orthodontist bills for your adorable twins.

So, as you comment, think about what you believe might be the obstacles slipping between Generation B-Squared and new media. I’d love to know you thoughts, reactions, bright ideas. They’ll all go in my book. Promise.

Linda (@wordwhacker)

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