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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Where Is the Facebook for Old People?

Social networking is for the young, says a new survey

  • August 27, 2011
They did it for phones - why not social networks?

Pew just released a study whose takeaway is that the first time ever, half of all Americans report being on some kind of social network, such as Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin or Twitter. (The survey didn’t mention Google+ or any others.)

But of course almost a third of Americans don’t access the Internet at all, ever, so in some sense the proportion who are accessing social networks is only relevant when compared to how many are accessing the web in the first place. And here’s where it gets interesting: One in three internet users – tens of millions of Americans – use the web without ever updating their status or checking out friends’ endless barrage of baby pictures.

Who are these Internet-savvy people who have completely dodged the personality-transforming phenomenon that is Facebook? For the most part, they’re older. While 83 percent of 18-29 year-olds use social networks (the figure is 89 percent for women in that bracket), only half of those 50-64 use social networks. (And what portion of those users were dragged onto them just so they could keep tabs on the young people?)

This suggests a business opportunity.

Where is the online social networking equivalent of the Jitterbug phone? Easy to use, foolproof, and designed, more than anything, to keep you connected to loved ones. Perhaps that’s the problem with social networks in the first place: they reward display and narcissism, exactly the traits most closely associated with youth. Apparently genuine connection will have to wait for a more advanced technology.

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