Social networking and generalizations

I’ve seen a few too many email blasts and blog entries with a lead that dramatizes social media with these sweeping generalizations about age groups using social software. The average age of Twitter users is 32, so any line about 30-40 year olds is plain wrong. The average age of Facebook users skews upwards due to the pranking popularity of choosing “69” as one’s age.

Recent demographics from Facebook say that in the last 60 days (from end-of-March 2009), the number of people over 35 has nearly doubled. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is still women over 55. Over 4 million more US women 35-44 and nearly 3 million more US men 35-44 used Facebook in March 2009 compared to September 2008. The majority of US Facebook users are now over 25.

Because the data doesn’t match these types of age scales, I cringe a little when I see age generalizations associated with social software.

There’s ethnographic data from danah boyd that describes that the actual difference between people using different social software sites is in fact class-based.

People are networking as always – and I’d argue, the usual is to relate more to people your same age in a similar life stage. But you miss out when you box people into age groups.

I blogged previously about the need for visibility into younger age groups to getting involved in associations like the Society for Technical Communication (STC). As a result, I had great pointers to 20-somethings who were doing neat things in the tech comm space. Tony Chung, your name came up! He’s a fellow blogger with me at the Duo Consulting blog. Another woman had been given her mother’s tech comm consulting business at a quite young age and was succeeding mightily.

Ann Wiley wrote a great email about how much age doesn’t matter when it comes to technology. And I agree, and I hope she doesn’t mind if I quote her here:

Those of us who came into the world in 1948 are blessed indeed. The horizon is very big, looking out from that year, and it gets bigger all the time. The war was over, our parents were indulgent, and technology came our way. The question is, what can we make of all that opportunity?

It doesn’t matter what age you are when you get into social technology, but your attitude does matter.

One last personal anecdote about the benefits of spanning generations in all your activity. One of my best running partners of all time is now in her seventies, and I ran at the same pace as she did when I was in my late 20s and she was in her mid-60s. She was and still is a faithful companion, a good listener, and a wonderful mentor and coach.


  • April 7, 2009 - 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I agree that age doesn’t matter but I’d add that it helps. It’s not really age but experience and savvy which young people can have in huge quantities and sometimes older folks patently lack.

    I find developments in social technology very exciting and participate as much as I can, within reason. However, I also believe in the tried and true face to face meetings and phone calls where a wealth of perceptions are exchanged beyond words and emoticons.

  • May 27, 2009 - 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Gosh darn. My name came up in a discussion about 20-somethings? I’m so honored. I only wish I really were 20-something. I left my twenties over 10 years ago. I guess I just hide it well!

    The best part about DocTrain 2007 was meeting you, Lisa, Tom, and others in the flesh. I’m so proud to be connected to all the movers and shakers in the field.

    Too bad about DocTrain ceasing to be. But like the phoenix, something else will rise in its place.


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