It’s not unusual for me to know what’s happening across town in a confrontation between police and protesters before there’s any mention in the traditional media. How? I see it on Facebook. A trusted Facebook friend, say, the guy who works for the ACLU or a well-known community organizer, will post the latest news on Facebook. Often there are photos or video. This is of value to me – getting information in real time, especially if it involves big, important issues in my town. I want to know what’s going on before the news gets sifted through a thousand editors. I want to be current, engaged, now.

But beyond the latest info, Facebook is a godsend to me. Oh, I wouldn’t say it saved my life but I would say that it kept parts of my life alive when my age and disability started to shut doors for me. Here’s how:

  • Vastly expanding the points of view I hear on any particular issue. I think we get more fixed and absolute as we age. Whatever political events molded us, in my case, the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements, continue to define us despite the accumulation of more history, better research, finer nuance, particularly on issues having to do with sexism, racism, and poverty. We stay stuck even while we think we’re so progressive because we haven’t looked around the corner to see a new angle. Being smart isn’t a fixed thing. It’s an evolving thing. One evolves with challenge and conflict, not by rocking in a hammock.
  • Helping me build relationships with other generations. Very few of the people I interact with on social media are my age peers (68), most are one, maybe two, generations younger. I have shoes that are older than some of my Facebook friends and I like that a lot. It’s good for me to know that not everyone thinks the Rolling Stones are the greatest band in history. Beyond that, the benefit of having intergenerational contacts is substantial. I’m still working; I still run my own community planning consulting practice but if I relied on my age peers for business, I’d be broke. They’ve retired. It’s the 30 and 40-somethings who are hiring consultants, people I know through Facebook, sometimes so well that, when I see them in person, they hug me like their favorite aunt.
  • Cuing me to other people’s vanities. It’s fascinating to me what other people brag about. Themselves, their children, their dogs. Their food. Facebook is, by definition, a vanity device. Someone who is successful on Facebook, and by that I mean able to develop a following and achieve a level of influence, is someone conscious of his or her own image. It may be the most interesting thing about Facebook – individuals’ packaging of themselves.and their use of photos, posts and comments to create an online persona. If the old adage is true, “you are who you pretend to be,” then Facebook is a never-ending game of dress-up. And that means I get to dress up, too.
  • Giving me ways to do good in the world. Facebook makes it easy to be nice. It’s easy to support other people, encourage younger colleagues, offer information and insight, be, for lack of a better term, a good electronic friend to people I like but would otherwise never see. Facebook makes it easy to support causes and get other people to support causes. I collected a ton (well, not an actual ton but a lot) of feminine hygiene products for homeless women through my Time of the Month Club and nearly a thousand pairs of socks for homeless kids and adults through my Sox Rox effort, both conducted almost entirely online.
  • Not caring that I am disabled. If I didn’t tell them, no one on Facebook would know I’m hearing impaired or that I have a cochlear implant for one ear and a hearing aid for the other. For a long time, pretending that I had no hearing loss was consistent with what I was trying to do in real life but then, fortunately, I shed the act. From then on, I posted about hearing loss when it made sense to bring it up. I see Facebook as a great vehicle to educate people and reduce the pretty substantial stigma that comes from losing one’s hearing. So I use it for that. But it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t. No one on Facebook cares. They just care what I type. Not what I hear. In other words, I’m not disabled on Facebook unless I want to be.

Facebook has helped me beat back the process of becoming invisible that is almost an inevitability of aging, especially if a person has a disability. Receding or withdrawing, whatever you call it, is a powerful force on older adults. They do less and less, say less and less, think about less and less and then they are less and less. I’m not ready to fade. Not yet. Not anytime soon. So look me up on Facebook. We can be friends.