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Social Media Since Early Days: Baby Boomers have Used Social Media for 30 Years

Computers have been around for a very long time.

One could start with the abacus, which dates back to around 500 BC, or even further back, with the Sumerians and their recording of planetary data, and calculations of where planets (and the sun) would be on a particular date.

Or jump forward to “Napier’s Bones” and slide rules, based on logarithmic rules for multiplication and division, Wilhelm Shickard’s invention in the 17th century along with Blaise Pascall’s wheels and cogs calculator. Another time jump would reach Charles Babbage and his difference engines, George Boole and his works on setting out the logic that is the basis for modern programming. Then there’s the machine used for the 1890 U.S. Census.

The modern era, of computing starts about 1943. By 1946, when the first baby boomers were starting to be born, ENIAC and Univac were created. IBM is quoted famously as saying– that there would only be a requirement for 12 computers worldwide.

The innards of the computers went from transistors to integrated circuits, from the size of a room for a few kilobytes of computing power to modern hand-held machine, barely the size of a mobile phone that have gigabytes of power and storage.

What is the difference between those early computers and the modern ones? Storage! Not just on the machine but distributed over whole networks. All because baby boomers wanted convenience!

What does this have to do with social media?

Well, without storage and computers there would not be any social media on the World Wide Web. And before the WWW, there was the Internet.

The internet was invented to allow people to communicate about many things. At first, it was for distributing documents and files of data, but it also allowed people to have small informal groups for the discussion of ideas and about the ramifications of the data. Remember, to the computer, there is no difference between a file containing words, data or even programs.

And these discussions led to newsgroups.

According to Wikipedia:

usenet newsgroup is a repository usually within the Usenet system, for messages posted from many users in different locations. The term may be confusing to some, because it is usually a discussion group. Newsgroups are technically distinct from, but functionally similar to, discussion forums on the World Wide Web. Newsreader software is used to read newsgroups.

Newsgroups formally started at Duke University in 1979, but a form of newsgroups were used between universities and within business organizations from the late 1960’s, as a tool for reviews and discussion forums. Postings were exactly like blogs, and people would comment/discuss the ideas presented.

That is the REAL foundation of what we now call social media

Of course, personal computers, laptops, and the World Wide Web have opened up these forums to millions of people, not just a few thousand, but who drove this change? Baby Boomers!

Like it or not, baby boomers have grown up with the Internet and the Web (the Web did not really start until the 1990’s, but was based on the techniques used on the internet (and usenet) proper.

They learned that interaction on the Net and Web were based on rules – netiquette. Netiquette required people to behave, just as etiquette defined good physical social behaviour. They learned that you put as little personal information on the Net (or Web) as you could beyond what others needed to know. In other words, most baby boomers knew what made the social aspect of the internet a medium work.

Because Baby Boomers have watched the internet and social media grow, they are cautious. In the world of the Baby Boomer, they have experienced events that have created high distrust and lack of ease with the technologies that younger people take for granted. Many Baby Boomers understand that privacy means do not post what you do not want people to know about you even to your friends.

And like it or not the Baby Boomers are the employers, who understand that this tool called the internet can expose the follies of people. They understand that predators exist on-line and why. But for many Baby Boomers, they feel ignored by the younger users.


I think because the younger generation struggles with the facts that the Baby Boomers, because they created the internet and used social media long before many of today’s users were even born, know that there are some rules and common sense that needs to be exercised.

There are some Baby Boomers in the cyber space who truly understand the good, the bad, the ugly and the very ugly of social media. They use the tools but with caution and they know that the internet and social media is a TOOL of communication and that once you have put it out there, you can not take it back. An apology is never heard as loudly as the initial comment, especially when the original goes viral.

So as a Baby Boomer, I say…use Social Media but as with any communication, be considerate, be kind and be truthful. In the long run, it will be your best defense.

And as a side note – understand, truth is a perceived thing.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by coleydude

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6 Replies

  1. Everyone could use a little netiquette!

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