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#TooOldForTwitter?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

I encouraged my grandmother to get a computer and Internet in her house. Now she sends me ridiculous email forwards on a regular basis,  wants to be friends on Facebook and calls to ask if I've heard of particular websites (most recently, J-Date). Have I created a monster? How do I set cyber-boundaries with my elders?

Signed,
#TooOldForTwitter


Dear Hashtag,

With great power comes great responsibility. Some Internet users translate that responsibility into making sure that everyone they know sees the latest cat video on YouTube, while others take on the burden of reconnecting with every single one of their preschool classmates. Still others find themselves with so much important information to share in online forums that they can't possibly be bothered to slow down long enough to spell words correctly. Cyber-etiquette is a new and fascinating arena, and varying opinions are as prevalent as unsubstantiated tweets about the news of the day.

All snarkiness aside, though, when it comes to family members, especially those of another generation, it's legitimately difficult to navigate these online relationships. Your grandmother welcomed this technology into her life at your suggestion and presumably thought this would be a way to connect with you. You can ignore her forwards, or you can use them as an opportunity to respond with a more personal message. You can accept her friend request and set up the strictest privacy settings, or you can make up some excuse about only using facebook to keep in touch with certain people and preferring to keep in touch with family through other media. When she calls to ask about particular websites, talk if you have time, talk about the website if that's what she wants to talk about, share other websites with her if you think that's a way to have a meaningful conversation and try to find the whole thing charming. If she's calling to ask about J-Date, though, don't delude yourself into thinking this is an innocent question. She wants to know if you're on J-Date and she wants to know if, G-d willing, she'll be around to meet her great-grandchildren.

If she (or anyone else in your life) is sending multiple forwards every day or sending messages that may contain viruses or is sending hoaxes that can clearly be disproven on snopes or is doing anything else online that really feels like a violation, you can find a way to educate her. You can point out some key phrases that are likely to be in scams, and you can help her set up spam filters. You can also say, "my friends don't usually send forwards because we prefer more personal communications," and she may catch on simply because she wants to mirror your online habits. You could also introduce her to buzzfeed or similar compilation websites in case she really enjoys looking at those kinds of pithy top 10 lists.

If these internet missteps sound familiar to any readers, but you see these habits in people who are in their 50s or 60s rather than their 70s or 80s, I urge you to take a  more direct approach in educating them about online norms. Hopefully, they have many happy healthy years in front of them, and they'll benefit from all the time you'll be freeing up for them to watch cat videos if they don't have to worry about sending money to Nigeria.

Be well,
Miriam

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