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Facebook is great. It allows you to keep up with old college friends, post inside jokes on your friend's wall or share pictures of the huge keg party you went to last weekend. And that was the site's original intention: develop an on-line space where young people could share information and pictures, chat, send messages and stay connected. But now, the parents are coming.
Surely it's happened to you. You log in to get the latest gossip or peruse the latest posts when all the sudden you're hit with a friend request from your mom. It's not always your mom, though. Sometimes it's an aunt, a great uncle or an old family friend. Not to say there is anything wrong with keeping up with family, but do I really want my aunt Chris to see a picture, posted by one of my college buddies, of me with a beer funnel held high above my head? Not really. Not that I ever participated in such low-brow behavior in the first place, but if I had I certainly wouldn't want everyone in my extended family to see the proof.
As Facebook grows in popularity, baby boomers are logging in at a record pace. According to the site InsideFacebook.com, 4.2 million users over the age of 55 logged into the site in June. Men over 55 are the fastest growing group and the number of women over 55 grew by 39 percent from June to July.
To find out how people were dealing with the parental invasion, I posted a note on my wall, asking my friends and family what they thought about the whole phenomenon. The reaction was mixed.
“It concerns me a bit, because I like to keep my personal life private from my family,” says Jenny, 28. (Jenny's name has been changed to protect the innocent).
“Now my mom, dad, aunts, uncles, and cousins are all on Facebook. I differ a lot from the rest of my family when it comes to religion, politics, life-choices, and well, just about everything. My solution to their potential disapproval is to control what they see of my profile and my pictures. I know this sounds kind of crazy, since I am almost 30, but my family really worries and obsesses about every little thing. If they see a picture of me holding a beer, or with my arm around a guy or something, they immediately want to know what is going on! I feel like I am just saving myself the headache of explanation.”
Some seem to welcome the idea of “friending” their parents on Facebook.
“I thought it was weird at first, but now I actually like it,” says Corrinne, 28. “I'm at an age where I don't keep secrets from my mum anyway, so I like it that she can see what I'm up to. Also, my granny is on Facebook, and she's put on lots of old photos of her and her brothers from the 1940s. I don't think I would have seen those without Facebook, and I definitely wouldn't have seen all the comments from all the different relatives.”
My great aunt Susie says she uses Facebook to catch up with “the girls” from her nursing school days and to keep up with grandchildren.
“It has also shown me a side of some of my children I have never seen before, yet thoroughly enjoy,” she says.
Most say they use Facebook for the same reason everyone else does, to communicate with people they may not see every day. Others say it's often a good way to stay in touch with people that live in the same home.
“According to my daughter, I am not stalking her,” says Julie. “I'm 39 and she's 17. One time she de-friended me because we got into a big fight. I had to ask her in person to be my friend again and she obliged. We often use Facebook to share things we find interesting or just chit-chat, even though we live in the same house.”
One big question is whether this will drive younger users away. College students used Facebook less and less over the course of the summer, but that could just be an outlier, not a trend.
As for my parents, we're “friends.” My dad doesn't say much and basically just uses it as a vehicle to post fishing pictures. My mother sees it as just one more way to embarrass me in front of my friends, something she doesn't get to do too often in person.