The late Apple entrepreneur Steve Jobs may have been a baby boomer but it is the younger, technologically savvy generation - from which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sprang - that has made social media its own.
Yet it is New Zealand's post-war-born generation who are to be anonymously surveyed on their use of social media in a $600,000 nationwide Massey University study - baby boomers such as Palmerston North marketing manager Jo Sutton.
The Palmerston North City Library employee is happily ensconsed in the digital world - she has a smartphone, uses Facebook and Twitter and maintains a Linked-In profile.
She uses Facebook to share photos, connect with old friends and organise events.
Her marketing job required her to be cyber-connected, but also brought consideration of older clients who did not have access to social media.
"You have to remember that in today's world there are still people who are not privileged to have social media."
Recently Ms Sutton took a trip to Sydney with her daughters and she describes with relish how she tagged photos of them.
But Ms Sutton has also discovered the dark side of "sharing".
Sometimes she would talk about an upcoming event online, remembering too late that people she had not invited could easily view the chatter.
"I sometimes forget that social media is viral - it's instant. I might have said something and once it's online it goes everywhere. Maybe it's my generation or a blonde moment, but sometimes I just forget."
Her advice to others of her generation considering taking their social lives online?
"Don't go on social media when you've got a beef because the language you use has unseen emphasis and without body language it can be misinterpreted."
Massey's longitudinal study began six years ago and has been following 3200 baby boomers since they were first surveyed in 2006 when they were aged between 55 and 70.
The latest questionnaire would be rolled out next April to 600 participants. Researcher Dr Chris Stephens said there may be a misconception that older generations and internet did not mix.
"That's something people don't know . . . it may be an assumption we are making," she said.
The researchers want to know what aspects of social media they are using, and how they might be being prevented from using it.
“We have a sense these days more people are online, more older people are engaged in various ways, but [not so much on] exactly where their preferences lie, how they're using it, how it's part of their lives, or what difficulties they have with it - and who doesn't have access."
The findings and feedback will be shared with government ministries, district health boards, city and district councils and community and social service providers, and used to develop policies to support the active engagement of older people in society.
Other aspects of the baby boomers' lives would also be studied, including their alcohol use, how they made social connections, and their health and wellbeing.
Dr Stephens said they had never met their research participants, but having followed them for the past six years felt like they knew them intimately.
"We have become fond of them - we have been following them since 2006, so they're like a family to us."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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