Facebook and Instagram: a way to prevent loneliness?

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As individuals age it is important to recognize that it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain friendships. This is an issue because a lack of meaningful relationships may lead to a reduced quality of life and loneliness. However, the advancement and use of technology is providing an avenue for older adults to maintain their friendships. Through the use of applications and websites such as Facebook and Instagram, older adults may not have to lose their friendships as a direct result of their age.

Facebook is an application as well as a website. You are able to access Facebook from a variety of different settings including a mobile device, desktop, or other device with Internet access. It is used in order to post pictures, videos, stories and updates with friends and family. A person may also share different posts that other people have made. In order to use Facebook, the user must create a free account using their email. They can then add personal information about themselves such as their education, job, and relationship status. After their account is set up the user may then search for their friends and family and add them as a ‘friend’. The user’s friends are the ones who can see the content that they have chosen to distribute. In order to share content with friends, the user should create a new post and upload the information that they wish to share. They can then publish that content so that their friends may see it.

Instagram is an app that is available on mobile devices. It is not intended for use on a desktop computer. The app is intended to help people share snapshots of their lives with their family and friends. In order to use it, it must be downloaded from the application store, for free, on a mobile device. The user must then create a username and password for their account. Once they have made their account, they can set up their profile with a short biography and profile picture. In order to share their pictures they must ‘follow’ other people’s profiles. In order to post a picture, the user should select a photo from one of their albums, or take one through the app. They can then make edits and add a caption describing their picture. Once they post it, anyone who is following them can see their picture. The biggest way that these two products differ is in how they are accessed. Facebook is much more accessible than Instagram. It is also much easier to share more information at once and to a larger group of people due to the fact that people can share each other’s posts. However, both products do allow you to share pictures, videos and messages to a wide variety of people. They are also both free and designed to help people keep in touch with one another.

Older adults may be interested in these products because they may help to decrease the loneliness that they may experience. Researchers Sinclair and Grieve (2017) found that Facebook may be a potential way to increase the ability of older adults to feel connected to those around them. One unfortunate side effect of aging is that older adults have decreased social support and experience loss at a more frequent rate compared to younger individuals. In addition, older adults are also less likely to be able to physically keep up with relationships as a result of declining physical and mental capabilities (Sinclair & Grieve, 2017). It is also important to recognize that older adults are less likely to make new friends as a result of socioemotional selectivity. This is an issue because if older adults lose the friends that they currently have, they won’t replace them. Therefore, they will lose the benefits of friendships, which include things such as help with their emotional regulation (Burzynska, A., 2017).

In order to combat this, websites and applications such as Facebook and Instagram may be used to increase older adult’s ability to stay connected with others without having to leave the comfort of their home. This allows them to overcome physical obstacles that they might otherwise encounter. While many people may question the ability of an app or website to feel the same connection that a face-to-face interaction would provide, it was shown that websites like Facebook were in fact able to provide the same benefits. Sinclair and Grieve (2017) examined whether or not older adults could use Facebook as a means of acquiring social connectedness. They found that there was no difference in the age of the user and their ability to connect with others through the use of the technology. Furthermore, they were able to form the same connections that they would in a face-to-face conversation. These findings support the idea that as people become less mobile and able to physically connect with their friends, they will still be able to stay connected to them. This research is extremely important because of how rapidly society is aging. The fact that older adults may be able to better maintain their connections and sense of belonging by using Facebook has many beneficial outcomes. For example, people who feel a stronger sense of belonging are less likely to be lonely and tend to show higher levels of well being. They were also able to show that connections made through Facebook increased the study’s participant’s well being and decreased the incidence of depression and anxiety. Finally, they addressed a common misconception that older adults cannot use Facebook or similar technology. The study also found that Facebook is becoming increasingly more popular among older adults. The research that was conducted showed that more than half of adults over the age of sixty-five were active on Facebook in 2012 (Sinclair & Grieve, 2017). This study is important because it shows that Facebook and similar applications and websites may be a viable option to help older adults to maintain their relationships and overcome any physical barriers that they may incur.

However, more research needs to be done in order to figure out the exact age range that social media is effective for maintaining relationships. Researchers Hayes and Marie (2015) sought to determine the impact of age on how social media sites were being used. Their study examined individuals who were aged 18-70+ years old and how their well-being was impacted as a result of their use of Facebook. The results of this study found that older adults are less likely to spend time on their Facebook profile, as well as less likely to post things such as photos. When asked about how socially fulfilled they felt after using Facebook, older adults tended to answer that they were less socially fulfilled compared to younger generations. This study shows that there are clear generational differences in regards to both how Facebook is used and how it impacts individuals. One of the possible reasons for these differences is that the current older generation did not grow up with this technology and may still be skeptical of it or unsure of how to use it. This study is important because it points out the difficulties that are associated with technology. It also highlights the fact that technology is not a good alternative for everyone if they do not know how to use it.

Some additional obstacles that must be overcome in order to use technology to maintain friendships include a decline in physical health. Older adults often suffer from arthritis, which makes using a computer painful and difficult. They also may suffer from a decline in vision as their adaption reflex slows. Presbyopia is also a problem for older adults and decreases their ability to see a screen right in front of their face (Burzynska, A., 2017b). However, there are ways to overcome these obstacles. One example would be giving older adults a mouse that is easy to use. Using a mouse may help to reduce the pain that they may experience as a result of arthritis because it will increase their ease of mobility and potentially reduce the strain on their joints. A bigger screen will also help to combat their vision issues. Finally, classes that older adults could take to learn the technology would help them overcome the technology barrier involved in using websites and applications. Overall, with the use of a few adaptions Facebook and Instagram have the potential to help older adults maintain their friendships and live a much happier life.

References

Burzynska, A. (2017a). Relationships [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from Colorado State University Canvas site for HDFS 312: https://colostate.instructure.com

Burzynska, A. (2017b). Physical aging: joints, vision, hearing & balance [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from Colorado State University Canvas site for HDFS 312: https://colostate.instructure.com

Hayes, Marie. (2015). Understanding Facebook use and the psychological affects of use across generations. Computers in Human Behavior., 49, 507-511.

Sinclair, T. J., & Grieve, R. (2017). Facebook as a source of social connectedness in older adults. Computers In Human Behavior, 66363-369. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.10.003

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