“What’s this Facebook?” my mom asked.
“It’s a social networking site online,” I said. “Why?” She went on to tell me about a conversation she recently had with a distant relative through marriage. My mom was telling this person the latest news about my 2-month old son, Gilad. The distant relative through marriage responded, “oh I know. And aren’t those pictures of him in that little tuxedo the cutest?” Mom hadn’t seen those pictures b/c we hadn’t printed them out yet. We don’t like sending photos via email b/c the files are big and clog up Inboxes (a pet peeve of mine). The distant relative through marriage, however, had seen them on my wife’s Facebook page, which incidentally was the easiest place for us to post them.
“Why do I have to hear about my Grandson from her?” she asked. “I’m the Grandma!”
“You should set up a profile,” I said.
“Oh no,” she said, “I don’t want my information out there …” And there it was: the digital divide. It reminded me of the bad press about pitbulls; great dogs when trained right despite their potential for great harm. Online networks are the same thing, powerful tools with the potential to make our lives easier and better when used correctly.
What my mom and other traditional communicators (as well as some over-enthusiastic Millenials) have trouble with in the online era is that your information is likely out there anyway (credit reports, mailing lists, billing information, most of which is stored and transfered online). Web 2.0 acculturation just puts the dissemination control in your hands. Share as much or as little as you like about yourself in your online community so long as you connect in some way to those you do want to keep tabs on.
In Mom’s case, I told her about privacy settings, and how she can make herself invisible to searches and anyone else she does not want on her page. We set up a Gmail account for her so she’d have one to use for sign up. Then we created her skeletal profile, omitting all info other than her name and birthday. Last, we sent friend requests to me and my wife (later that night my sister emailed me: “how funny is it that Mom’s on Facebook!”).
Rather than talk her through all this, I did the set up myself from my computer, with her on the phone so she could get the login and password. It took 10 minutes to bring my mom into the 21st century and now she is on Facebook. After we hung up the phone, I posted a message on her wall explaining the meaning of friend requests and encouraging her to browse other profiles of family mambers on Facebook. Hopefully now she won’t be surprised by conversations with distant relatives through marriage and will be able to stay connected to her kids in this faster moving world.
Who else has coached a reluctant parent or family member through this process?