The Near Future Of Mobility

travel, cars

Facebook in Aging Suburbia

excludes China
source: globalwebindex Q1, 2014. Excludes China


Facebook and “Aging in Suburbia” seem like unlikely companions. Facebook is about where you live online. And, Aging in Suburbia is about where you physically live. Yet Facebook and Suburbia are metaphorically linked…at least for graying Baby Boomers.

Facebook was once the province of college age students, but now, they have been joined online by their elders. Facebook has become a means for middle-aged and older people to connect with their families, and a tool to reach back to earlier acquaintances. Older people are likely to say that Facebook is both informative and useful. The Pew Foundation found that  for the first time, more than half (56%) of internet users ages 65 and older use Facebook.  Pew reported that nearly two-thirds of 50-64 year olds and 43 percent of those aged 65+  (online) used Facebook.


But, for younger generations, it is no longer as cool to hang out on Facebook. The above cited article describes it as “an awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave.”  One reason is that pictures, posts and timelines are stable and searchable by employers and schools. It can anchor younger people to a network they might have outgrown. Like the suburbia inhabited by the Baby Boomers, it is a reminder of earlier times: a place for the old folks who are more settled in their roles.

Digital Natives and younger Millennials say they are tired of the old neighborhood and do not want to move back to suburbia. They favor more flexible, hands-free transportation, and they want to be closer to the center of things. They also seem to favor, at least for now, renting, over buying. They are wary of making a permanent footprint when there are so many alternative paths to explore.


The interconnection with Facebook does not end here. Older people grudgingly acquired the technology skills to navigate a Facebook page, set privacy options, and keep their profile current. They are generally slower to learn these techniques than younger people. Older people who stay in their homes, their physical homes that is, lag in other ways too. They are not early adopters of efficiencies in lighting, solar power, or recycling. They may resist mixed development in their suburban neighborhoods. But, when they see younger generations accepting these changes, or learn about it from their children, it is a prod.

Aging in Suburbia (the book) mulls over the problems when older homes require more extensive maintenance, when driving becomes arduous and difficult, and when the immediate neighborhood is no longer filled with local friends and acquaintances. At face value, Facebook would seem to be the salve for keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances. But, like the connections on Facebook, even connections to our physical neighborhood become tenuous over time. Loose connections, rather than a firmly knitted community of people meeting face to face, occur when people age in place but their friends and family move out.

Meanwhile, Internet commerce is rewriting where people want to live and work, forcing small businesses to close or relocate, and leading to a flood of empty malls and big box stores. A younger generation, living closer in, seems to be channeling the time they would have spent commuting in the car towards a different priority. The reallocation of their time is spent online, but not all on Facebook.

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