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Penpals & Pensioners

Starting a new venture around Personal Networks has been a topic of conversation around the family dinner table. Our children (aged 11 & 12) are fascinated by mum and dad considering working again – after nearly 5 years of being “funemployed”. Also, we met up with with Carrie’s parents this week for supper – and they wanted to hear all about what we planned to be doing.

Somehow, during our discussions of Personal Networks with the children, we got onto the subject of how we kept in touch with friends when we were younger. We did a little comparison of our children’s Facebook activities and “friends” (yes, I know strictly they are too young!) – and our mates

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growing up in the 70s & 80s. Comparisons were….

* We both have/had roughly the same number of close friends that we chat to/hang out with every day. 4-8 seems a good figure on this.
* Mum & Dad did know people around the school, activities, etc – but just really knew their names. Millie has 247 Friends on Facebook & Joe has 319! Our children (and their Facebook Friends) seem to be like impassioned football sticker collectors. These seem to still come from the same base of school and activities – but their stretch through the age groups is interesting. Was there anything quite like this in our generation?
* The kids couldn’t understand the idea of Penpals (for the younger readers of this blog – penpals were children of similar age abroad that kids of my generation exchanged letters with Also, see Wikipedia’s overview.). The concept of writing long letters (often practicing your feeble skills in another language), sending this by post – and then waiting some weeks for a reply was very difficult for Millie and Joe to understand. I know that my sister (now 50) still has a couple of Penpals that she keep in contact – and has in fact visited in USA & Austria. Who will be this generation’s penpals?

Our children have amazing tools available to access and communicate with a wide range of people. It will be intriguing to see whether they will be traveling around the world when they are 50 meeting their Facebook friends?

Supper with Carrie’s parents was an eye opener. No need to explain to an older generation the benefits and value of a Personal Network. Gerry was a bank manager before he retired – and a network was important to him to support his working life. He joined (and actively participated) in traditional networking groups like RoundTable and Rotary. Also, Marina had to use her networking skills to “settle in the family” as Gerry was moved around to different branches with his job.

The most interesting part of the discussion for me was to understand the challenges faced by pensioners as their Personal Network dwindles. While Millie & Joe race up the league table of Facebook Friends – sadly, Gerry and Marina see their network reduce as age takes its toll. Also, the traditional “networking” methods of their generation (meeting up face-to-face and spending time together) – still further reduce the opportunity to be in touch/communicate as mobility/routine get in the way. Gerry and Marina do a great job of maintaining links with their network – in fact this year they have made a resolution to meet up with an old friend that they’ve not seen in ages at least once a month. However, they both see that the tools that Millie and Joe use on Facebook (status updates, short bursts of chat, passing on bits of info, etc) – would be great for pensioners of their generation who suffer isolation and loneliness.

Keeping in touch, building a Personal Network, choosing the right form of communication are all challenges – no matter what generation. Finally, please take the time to read this blog post on Wired – it’s a sad account of when the use of modern communication with a close friend misses the mark!

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