Generation Facebook: Thailand’s silver surfers
The Bangkok Post has an interesting – in every sense of the word – article on social networking and the older generation this week, ‘Facebook revitalises seniors’.
The suggestion from the piece is that, with the number of Thais using Facebook growing to nearly 4 million, the older generation is not being left out and is using the social network to keep in touch with family, share photos and, most importantly – apparently – play online games.
In the West, the older generation has begun to embrace the internet, with some joining Facebook, but Thailand struggles getting even the younger generation, an obvious target of social media, online such is the low (25 percent) internet penetration rate and cost of technology given the average wage.
A few excerpts from the Bangkok Post below.
“I’m so addicted to online games that my family members have told me they’ll send me to the Wat Tham Krabok drug rehabilitation centre to solve my problem,” jokes the 75-year-old woman.
You will no doubt be surprised to hear such words uttered by a senior citizen and not a child or teenager. But M.R. Dibbavadi Tulalamba, a tech-savvy grandmother, insists computer technology and social networking are not only for the younger generation.
“I prefer staying home and playing games on Facebook, such as FarmVille, Social City and FishVille, to travelling with my children to Hua Hin on weekends. There’s no internet connection down there, and I like to play for three or four hours a day,” she said.
While I’m all for the older generations adopting technology for access to information and convenience, like online shopping, and photo sharing, but social games like FarmVille are surely a step too far?
Better than a weekend at the sea with the family?
The following reason is likely one many older Facebook users can relate to.
M.R. Dibbavadi’s children started her on Facebook so she could see photos of them and her grandchild when they travelled abroad. They uploaded photos onto Facebook, and when she saw their pictures, she felt as if she were with them.
The rest of the article is bordering on humorous as it details on how the featured older Facebook users use the social network and the internet.
“I convinced her to try some games on it [Facebook – says her teacher at Old People Playing Young, OPPY]. She started playing Happy Aquarium and then realised she needed some friends. So she started persuading her classmates to join her, and now she has a game group in the class and has added all of my friends as her friends to exchange gifts on FarmVille and other games like Social City.”
M.R. Dibbavadi said her own friends do not want to play online games or like technology. They claim they are too old for that.
“So I have to add the friends of my children and grandchild or even my computer teacher’s friends, because playing games on Facebook requires a big network, especially FarmVille, which is my favourite game,” she said.
And then my favourite quote.
Apart from reading and sleeping, the elderly often have no idea what to do when their children leave for work. But now M.R. Dibbavadi has her Facebook community to play games with. She engages in the same activities as children and no longer feels lonely.
Sleeping and eating are so overrated anyway… who needs them when you’ve got a big network of FarmVille friends.
There is another example of another of the online habits of another of Thailand’s ‘silver surfers’.
Sixty-year-old Naruvorn Panyarachun, a FarmVille neighbour of M.R. Dibbavadi, said she plays the game many times a day – morning, afternoon, evening and before bed.
“I’ve stopped reading books so I can play games,” she said. “I think it can fulfil my life. In the past I had no idea what to do, but now I have lots of friends and a duty to take care of my farm on FarmVille and my city on Social City.
“I can honestly say that if I did not use Facebook, I would feel as if something were missing in my life, particularly during the red-shirt protests, because I could not go out then.”
Looks like the end for literature in Thailand, all hail Farmville and Facebook for providing lifetime fulfilment.
The article finishes with a look at the benefits of social networking for the older generation.
Ms Suteera of the OPPY said using social networking media like Facebook benefited the elderly by exercising their brains and hand muscles.
“The elderly I observe playing games online regularly look so fresh and lively. Playing online games requires basic computer skills, because they must register to play,” she said.
Ms Suteera said social networking can foster communication, and many people have reconnected with long-lost friends. This is particularly good for the elderly, because they feel they are no longer alone and have something to do.
“Parents or grandparents will come to understand why their children and grandchildren love to play these games, and the generation gap will eventually be narrowed,” she said.
First off, it is important (and perhaps obvious) to state that these profiled users are not indicative of the average elderly Thai, nor are they even indicative of the average young Thai.
Getting back to the golden oldies in Thailand while them online and able to navigate the internet independently, there is more productive and useful activities than FarmVille. Facebook does have obvious benefits though I’m surprised the OPPY teacher hasn’t educated them on other, more productive benefits of the internet.
The benefits of access to the internet is a big issue in Thailand. The UN found internet penetration rate to be just 25 percent, one in four, which severely restricts the public from accessing the benefits of the internet, and I’m talking about more than just FarmVille.
Government usage of the internet and IT was revolutionised by Obama in the US, which inspires countries acriss the world – including the UK, Australia and the Philippines – to investigate alternative online forms of public engagement.
But this is Thailand, a country where adopting a defensive attitude to the internet, policing its usage and limiting users’ options, is more important than the potential benefits.
Blaming the Internet, it seems, is the easy answer.
While it is accepted that bad content does exist on the Internet, its capacity to do good far outweighs the few rotten apples that have grown.
Just a glance at the West gives the Thai government examples of the benefits.
Last year saw (now) President Obama fight a ground-breaking Presidential campaign using social media to drum up funds, communicate ideology, listen to America and mobilise his voters.
In Britain too, where politics is increasingly seen as out of touch with the public, the main parties use the Internet to better listen and communicate with the country.
Given the recent political and social problems in Thailand, the Internet could be used to increase communication, educate and promote peace. Yet the government is more concerned with control and a ‘we know best’ attitude.
For the internet to be effective it must be accessible by more than just a quarter of the nation. Though mobile is emerging as the primary platform for internet access, the lack of 3G and prices of phones – though they are considerably more affordable today – remain a hurdle.
The time is not yet right for the government to connect with all layers of Thailand, but it would do well to start by adopting a more positive and proactive approach.
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