- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - “Oh, golly, yes, social media have changed the face of retirement.”

So says Donna Held, 61, of Salisbury Township. She is retired and a big proponent of social media. Like Held, an increasing proportion of retired people use social media for connection, support, education, even business (call it “retirement lite”).

“It sure has changed retirement,” says Howard Levin, 85, of Cherry Hill. “Of course, it can become addictive - not a big problem if you’re retired.” For more and more seniors it offers, in the words of Judy Shepps Battle, 71, of Kendall Park, N.J., “an experience that just wasn’t there before.”

Facebook, first and foremost, is family glue, a way to keep track of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And auld acquaintance need not be forgot. “You can keep in touch with past schoolmates and coworkers,” Held says. “Even if you’re homebound for some reason, you can still keep up the social interaction.”

Carole Mason, 67, of South Philadelphia, speaks for many when she says: “After leaving my job, I never wanted to see a computer again. But everybody said, ‘You need to go on Facebook.’ And I did, and I love it. I’ve reconnected with people from my 1965 graduating class of South Philly High, people I hadn’t spoken to since, and it’s wonderful. You can see your grandchildren, what they’re up to, where they are traveling.” She also loves sharing recipes.

A study in April by the Pew Internet Research Project tracked technology use among older adults. While they lag behind the national average, about 59 percent of respondents reported using the Internet, a 6 percent jump from 2012, and 26 percent more than in 2008. Among those, 71 percent said they went online daily.

To this media demographic, mobility matters less than contact. While most older adults (77 percent) have a cellphone, only 18 percent own smartphones. Users prefer laptops and tablets. Anthony Gionson, 67, of Hilo, Hawaii, was talked into getting a tablet by his son Ilihia, and now he’s constantly on it. “Literally, the iPad has made it seem like a ‘small world,’ ” he writes.

Among online seniors, 27 percent use social networking sites. Facebook is much the preferred medium; older adults don’t do Twitter so much (6 percent). When they do, however, they’re great. Muriel B., 95, of Manhattan, known as “Quilting Muriel,” has 52,600 followers and is one of the funniest people on Twitter: “In Florida, ‘Happy Fall’ is said only by people who are in the will.” John Cleese, 74, has 2.7 million followers. Philly’s own Bill Cosby, 77, has 3.4 million.

As for business, you don’t need to stop if you don’t want to. Battle keeps doing the writing that was part of her professional life: Social media, she says, allow “my writing to have a much wider paying and nonpaying audience than back in the old pre-cyberspace days.” Sally Renata, 70, of Surfside Beach, S.C., sells her artwork online, as does Cynthia Nelms-Byrne, 65, of Dubuque, Iowa. Richard Pizer, 73, owns the Sprucewold Lodge in Portland, Maine. He and spouse Dana plan to use social media “to promote the efforts to sell the lodge, and perhaps to try to develop a specialized bus tour business by utilizing some of our experience from the lodge years.”

As millions know, social media can help create communities of shared interests. That can play an important role in the lives of older people who want to stay engaged. Renata stays in touch with fellow painters and poets. “It’s awesome,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you live anymore.” Poetry sites such as IBPC and Critical Poet, and Facebook pages such as Blackwater Poetry, let her “connect with people who understand what I’m trying to do. I feel close to the people I meet in the poetry world. It opens doors that were unimaginable before.”

Renata keeps in touch with the worldwide Bahai community via social media. Battle mentions animal-rights Facebook pages. Levin says he belongs to pages for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and the political site Upworthy. He also likes to write: “I like to share my thoughts with people. And I like to read what my acquaintances write. It’s nice when someone posts, ‘I saw your stuff and liked it and want you to know.’ “

Held’s class at Whitehall High School has created a group page on Facebook. “We go on every evening around 7 o’clock,” she says, “and talk about the day. Any time we want to get a group together, we post it on Facebook.”

The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons helps its members master social media to keep abreast of events. Held volunteers as a social-media adviser.

Such support groups can help those who are blue. “Sometimes we need people to say, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ ” Held says. “Sometimes we see a message that says, ‘I quit. I give up.’ Then we’ll organize a dinner or lunch. Social media have been phenomenal for things like that.”

All of which adds up to what Battle calls “the greatest antidepressant in the world.” Social media offer “identity, work, spiritual connection. Even a community of people having the exact experience of age, people who understand and respond.”

“Retired people have a lot of time,” says Levin. “If I was still working, I wouldn’t be using it. But now that I’m not, it’s a very good way to use the time I have.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1D0N27C

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com

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