Email vs. Facebook: Which Will Win?

For older adults technology can be difficult to navigate and use.  There are many reasons why older adults have the stereotype of not being able to use technology well.  But, for many that believe this they do not understand the implications and restrictions older adults are faced with as they age.  Just like with anyone, older adults like to stay connected with their friends and family, and with technology booming, it is becoming increasingly harder for older adults to stay connected.  One of the most popular ways people stay connected is with Facebook. A popular social media website and application that allows you to send pictures, post statuses and pictures, and privately message others.  Limitations of Facebook for older adults includes small print, accessibility to certain features, and lingo they might not understand.  On the other hand, we can use email to stay connected with others as well.  You can send people pictures through email and you can write notes to update them.  But for older adults email is easier to use because it is easier to navigate, and is not full of all the junk Facebook is.

One studying about older adults and technology found that the main reason older adults were even getting computers and creating an Email was to stay connected with others.  In White and Weatherall’s study older adults volunteered to be interviewed to discuss how they use their computer, why they choose to get a computer, their opinions and experiences, and the benefits they think they have gained from getting a computer.  They found that communication and connections with friends and family was a key factor in their decision to get a computer.  Another reason older adults choose to get computers in this study was for the speed of communication and lack of geographical barriers.  Also in this study they found that one reason older adults are hesitant in getting involved in technology is their lack of confidence in their ability to properly use it (White & Weatherall, 2000).  In other studies it suggested older adults favored technology when they were able to confidently use it and it increased their independence.  For emailing and Facebook, both medians address their reasons for attaining technology, in order to stay connected with family.

The complications older adults are faced with in using technology is associated with their decline in cognitive function and often physical decline needed for using a computer.  In another study conducted by Baniqued et al. (2017) found that adults with cognitive impairments had a harder time using technology.  They used a spatial stroop test and optical recording to find out what was happening in their brains while using technology.  They found the centers responsible for reaction time played a significant role in determining the older adult’s ability in using the computer.  They found the middle frontal gyrus and the intraparietal sulcus cortical regions were involved in the attention and reaction time.  They also found the adult’s optical signals were also associated with cognitive impairment and ability to use the computer.  Taking in all the considerations from the two studies emailing is less difficult for seniors.  Emailing is easier for older adults for many reasons.  The most prevalent navigation, the accessibility to the specific feature they want to use, and use it in the right way.  For emailing it is simple. You hit the big red compose button and start typing in the name of the person you want to contact and their name and email usually pop up.  Then you hit the send button and they will get it. It only takes three buttons to send an email.

As we get older and our cognitive functions decreases there is a variety of difficulties associated with one’s ability to use technology.  Also in White and Weatherall (2000) when they asked the older adults their opinions and difficulties using the computer.  A common pattern was their inability to see the screen clearing or the screen hurting their eyes after a period of time.  As you can imagine using your own email or Facebook, some of the features are difficult to find.  For an older adult that has experienced vision loss due to cataracts it can be very frustrating when trying to use technology.  Along with older adults developing cataracts, on their lens, older adults are more prone to develop problems on their retina as well.  One common issue is retinal degeneration, which is the deterioration of the retina, making it harder to see.  Email makes it little easier. As I discussed earlier, most modes of email have a larger button where you can compose an email.  Email is also easier for older adults to navigate.  To send an email it only requires up to four clicks to get to the correct message to the correct person.  Email is pretty straight forward to use. When older adults want to communicate with their loved ones, they’re not looking for all the advertisements, new articles, or random videos that pop up on Facebooks newsfeed.

Facebook on the other hand makes it difficult for older adults to properly use its features in the desired way.  Facebook is full of advertising, links, new articles, and videos.  As mentioned in the articles above older adults main reason for requiring a computer was to stay connected with their friend and family.  Facebooks added features get in the way of simply sending a message to a certain person.  The processes of when the older adult’s attention is taken away from the task at hand of sending a message is called dedifferentiation.  While the older adult is being directed to all the different pages with all the different pop-ups and advertisements their attention is being switched back and forth making it slower and causing them to make more mistakes.  When older adults are doing skills that require a lot of attention and focus they are often displaying the HAROLD model.  This means they are recruiting more of the brain to successful complete and learn this task then it would take for a younger adult.  In Baniqued et al. (2017) their use of the spatial stroop indicated it was difficult for the older adults with cognitive impairments to switch back and forth between the distraction and the desired task.  Those results are best demonstrated with all the clutter of Facebook and their ability to suppress irrelevant information decreasing as we age, or inhibition.  This decrease is associated with synaptic loss and white matter disconnection in the brain.  Compared to Email, Facebook can require up to six different clicks to get the right message to the right person.  One reason why navigation is important for older adult’s use of technology is their decline in memory.  Older adults have a harder time with fluid intelligence, or their ability to solve new problems.  It is easier to remember and learn how to do something that requires less steps.

Another presenting problem associated with older adults using technology to stay connected with their friends and family could be the mode of writing their message.  Compared to writing letters using Email and Facebook requires the messages be typed.  This could be a presenting problem for older adults because as they age certain bones and joints are damaged.  Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that affects the joints in the fingers, wrists and ankles.  Typing requires mobility of your fingers and joints. Because rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease it is very destructive and painful.  Older adults may not want to write an email or message over Facebook because it requires too much movement of their joints that are affected.

Both email and Facebook create a barrier for older adults connecting with their friends and family.  Email is a better for older adults because it is easier for them to see the desired buttons.  Aside from being easier to see what they what to do, email is easier to navigate. Instead of requiring six buttons to hit to send a message is only requires three.  This decreases the problems older adults are faced with when it comes to remembering and learning how to perform the required task.  Another main difference between email and Facebook, is email does not have all the distracting feature Facebook does.  With the elimination of these distractions older adults can more easily get the task done in a timely manner and without making mistakes. If Facebook wanted to become friendly for the older adult population it would need to make the print larger, eliminate the distracting content, and make navigate more straight forward. Older adult’s main goal in acquiring technology was to stay more connected with their relatives and friends, and technology allows them to do so.


Baniqued, P. L., Low, K. A., Fletcher, M. A., Gratton, G., & Fabiani, M. (2017). Shedding light on gray(ing) areas: Connectivity and task switching dynamics in aging. Psychophysiology, doi:10.1111/psyp.12818

White J.& Weatherall, A. (2000) A grounded theory analysis of older adults and information technology, Educational Gerontology, 26:4, 371-386, doi: 10.1080/036012700407857



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