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Social media: Not just for kids anymore

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Story by Christine A. Verstraete

More and more people near and over 50 can’t resist the lure of going online and seeing what social media like Facebook are all about. And once they do, well, there’s a reason Facebook has more than 500 million users.

“I’m addicted now,” admits 59-year-old former Kenosha bus driver-turned-author Marty Molinaro Sr.

Molinaro, who writes about some of the people he met on the job in his humorous human interest books, “Hey, I’m Marty, I Drive the Bus” (I and II), joined Facebook two years after his wife, Rose, mentioned this “cool” thing she’d found.

His initial reaction? “I said, ‘What’s it gonna do for me?’” he recalls. “Then I got into the conversations, then I said how can I use this to hawk my book? Now I’ve got friends in England and all over; it just kind of blew up.”

As a personal admission, this author also didn’t initially want to join all these sites and have even more to do. But for writers, sites like Facebook can be great tools. It’s the perfect way to meet people, share news or my collections, and let people know about my writing, including a recent book on miniatures, short fiction and a new series of storybooks for younger kids. I also like the “instant” access and being able to dash off a quick message. (Reach me at www.facebook.com/christine.verstraete.)

Forty-eight-year-old Gigi Nephew of Salem says “peer pressure” lured her to joining Facebook more than a year ago. “People I knew were on it and I thought of finding others,” she says. While she admits, it can be “a time-waster,” she’s still found it a good way to communicate with those who don’t have her personal email. A bonus is going online can be a good tension-reliever, she says: “I call it a stress reliever for when I get frustrated at work. I work from home so it’s sort of my water cooler. It’s something different than an Excel spreadsheet.”

That social aspect of the social network is what 53-year-old Kenoshan Dona Balla Lobes enjoys about the site. “I personally like Facebook and the opportunities it offers to reconnect with classmates, stay in touch with family and friends and debate issues affecting people today,” she says.

With a son-in-law in the military, she says the site and Skype have become essential tools in keeping her and the family connected. It also has given her and others a platform to protest injustices as with the recent situation when returning military personnel were charged $200 each for a fourth bag by Delta Airlines.

“It (Facebook) is becoming a tool of the people,” she says. “That issue really got under my skin. Facebook literally blew up that day and forced Delta to backtrack and issue refunds. Facebook can be as anonymous or as open as you want. You can share your every moment in pictures, or use a select few. With my kids all over now, I enjoy it to be part of the ‘conversation,’ to connect with them and their friends as if they were still in the kitchen.”

Another advantage users like is being able to share information on an event and invite their friends, who then invite their friends, and so on. The caution, of course, is to watch what kind of event you’re inviting people to and whether you’ve designated it as public or private. Otherwise you could end up like a girl in Germany who had hundreds of “friends” crash her birthday party.

But for more “public” events, Facebook is better than an engraved invitation. “I like using the events (function),” says Molinaro. “If you have a book signing, you can reach a lot of people.”

“It’s a great way to boost an event,” agrees Sharon Davila, whose husband and business partner used the site to help spread word about the opening of their new restaurant, Hot Rod Dogs.

Davila says it proved to be an easy way to raise funds for Kenosha’s Relay for Life event, too. “I had my $100 goal met in the first day,” she says.

Whether they’re checking in via phone or computer, these users say that the appeal is the ease of communication. You can see what someone else is up to in a click or two no matter the time of day or the location.

“You can get instant info and answers from someone anywhere in the world with just a few key strokes and clicks,” says Lobes. “I have made some wonderful friends locally, in Canada, Australia, England, Ireland, and quite a few other nations.

“We can commiserate, ‘like’ their status, comment on their comments, congratulate them when there is a birth, graduation, birthday, anniversary, and we can share their sorrow when they experience a death in the family, or of a friend, or their beloved pet,” she says.

It can be a time-saver sometimes, too, if you use the chat function or leave a message “instead of spending an hour on the phone,” Davila says. “It has really helped keep me in touch with people.”

While it’s one thing many users never think they’ll do in the beginning, later they find it easy to pop on Facebook to check messages, or play a game, via their cell phones. “I use my phone a lot to stay up to date,” says Davila. “I’m up periodically through the night and my phone is next to me.”

And as any parent will attest, ultimately Facebook can be a great way to reach the often-too-busy kids or grandkids, adds Molinaro. “It’s a quick way to talk to the kids,” he says. “If I call and leave a message they won’t call back so I put it on Facebook.”