Pulling the plug on (communication with) grandma

love in any language
love in any language

This summer ultra right-wing spin masters crisscrossed the US, spouting sensationalist garbage about Obama’s healthcare plan and organizing America’s lunatic fringe for circus-style mayhem at Town Hall meetings. One of the more charming claims made was that somehow healthcare reform was going to allow the government to “pull the plug on grandma.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, who first made the comment regarding the government’s potential future role in end-of-life decisions, later retracted it. But like Joe the Plumber, the expression stuck around. The mention of grandparents struck an emotional cord with people. We want them around. But as much as we value older family members it seems that most of us do precious little in the way of communicating with them. What’s to blame? Busy schedules? Misaligned priorities? Or is the real evil… social media?

I typed in one simple question into my Facebook status today: “Are your parents on Facebook?” Comments ranged from “my parents are old school eastern Euros…they type with one finger…so your answer is no” to “Mum is a super user… AND my 80 yr old grandmother!” I got 23 comments total.

The general trend was surprising to me: Most of my friends had at least one parent that was on Facebook even if they were subscribed, as one person put it, “only as a lurker.” Keep in mind that most of the respondents were in their late 20s or 30s and had parents that are or are pushing, grandma age.

Facebook reported this year that the fastest growing demographic of users was over 35 (http://bit.ly/7CMGd). Even more significantly, the fastest growing subset of this larger group of people over 35 is women over 55 (http://bit.ly/173ReU). That’s right, grandma has invaded Facebook. Trends such as these may be part of the reason one of my friends’ responses was, “My dad is (on Facebook) and he keeps trying to friend my friends. I will not friend him. You have to draw the line somewhere!”

LifeTips blogger Jamison Cush said, “Conventional teen wisdom: once your parents embrace something, it is no longer cool. So, inspired by a recent Facebook friend request from my mother, I am boldly declaring on this blog that Facebook is so over.” This kind of logic may be indulged for comic effect, but there is truth to it. As much as I want to stay in touch with my retirement-age parents, I don’t want them sifting through my Vegas pictures. And I will think twice about social media that allows them to do so.

Is it just time to admit that cross-generational communication is a touchier area than we give it credit for? Trying to do what we’ve failed to do in face-to-face communication across an age gap isn’t going to get easier because grandma now knows how to post bingo pictures and, very disturbingly, friends your online buds that she finds attractive. You could try to remedy the issue through heart-to-hearts over hot chocolate.

Or maybe just beef up your privacy settings.


Bjorn Karlman

15 thoughts on “Pulling the plug on (communication with) grandma”

  1. Amen to beefing up privacy settings to thwart parental love-life surveillance. My parents spend WAY too much time on Facebook… in fact… they’re probably also on here, reading this, as we speak (or, as I type). They’re like Big Brother or something. Thankfully my mom gave up on asking me to remove words like “douche” and “a-bag” from my blogs awhile back, but only after multiple heartfelt entreaties, largely centering on the fact that her socially networked peers from church might read them. Mom, if you’re reading this, I love you. But I’m still entitled to call someone a “douchebag” if I feel like it. P.S. The show was great last night, yes I paid my parking tickets, and thanks for mailing me that hat I left at your house.

    P.S. For Bjorno: amen to parents NOT sifting through Vegas photos, am I right? That weekend was absolutely mental…

  2. I believe the many gaps already inherent to cross-generational communication are only widened in a culturally/religiously conservative context, where the younger generations are moving–steadily–in the opposite direction of their predecessors. Take Adventism, for example. Increasingly, our generation is finding new meanings, interpretations, and renditions of what it means to be Adventist. Lifestyle and lifestyle choices are, without doubt, included in this ‘reassessment’. It is safe to say that Gramma would never have remotely considered Las Vegas, except as a pit-stop on her grand tour of the American West. You and I, however, would consider staying overnight. We might even play the slots, take wild pictures, then post them on facebook. These differences (some subtle, others glaring) in what it means to be, for example, Adventist often find their way onto social-media network sites, like facebook, for all to see and comment on, including Gramma.

    But is that all? Not quite. We don’t want Gramma on facebook, or myspace, or anything of the sort because, well, we want these social-media outlets to be a private conversation for our eyes only, where our comings and goings, lingo and cultural subtleties can be expressed freely. We don’t want to use full sentences when we write, or real words, for that matter. We want to abbreviate and jive to our hearts content.

    So, the issue is twofold: 1) there are cross-generational differences on what it means to be Adventist that often find the light of day on social-media network sites, like facebook and 2) we don’t want to use proper grammar when we leave a comment.

    Put simply, Gramma makes us self-conscious on so many different levels.

  3. Fitting picture, by the way. Her bony, arthritic middle finger says it all: “Have another slice of pie, will you?” Absolutely love it.

  4. i don’t know what to be more scared of—the parents who are technically savvy enough to snoop on their kids, or the kids who enable it :D

  5. Ehren, great to see you on CultureMutt… thanks for your ideas on the reinvention of faith and how this plays out online and in our Vegas experiences… I want to show grandma a good time in Vegas…

  6. actually, what’s truly worrisome is when the auxiliary relations (yes, i really did just call my aunts and uncles that :D) start showing up with facebook pages. i feel it’s harder to say no to their friend requests than to a parent, but there’s still just as much or even *more* potential to get in trouble with those vegas pictures. they have no qualms about telling your parents about them…and everyone else in the famiy. :)

  7. I enjoyed going through this article, you have a wonderful delivery style! I have sent a link to my friends, and shall surely be back for update.

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