AARP and Microsoft study shows online communication bridging the generation gap

The Internet and social media are becoming crucial tools in helping families stay connected, according to a study by Microsoft Corp. and AARP released Feb. 7.

The “Connecting Generations” study, which surveyed participants ranging in age from 13 to 75, found 83 percent of all participants consider going online to be a “helpful form of communication among family members.”

In addition, the majority of respondents think computers increase good communication with family members living far away, as 70 percent of teens and 63 percent of adults 39 and older believe it improves the quantity of communication. Sixty-seven percent of teens and 57 percent of adults 39 and older believe it improves the quality of that communication.

That generation gap isn’t just for parents and children. Thirty percent of grandparents found connecting online has helped them better understand their grandchildren, while 29 percent of the grandkids said the same about their relatives.

Students traveling from different cities or states to come to Marquette University often use social media websites and online communication to connect with friends and family back home.

Jeffrey Djoum, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, uses Skype, email and Facebook to connect with friends and family in Chicago.

“I chat with friends on Facebook often and keep everyone informed on my latest antics through Twitter,” Djoum said. “I still have my mom restricted on Facebook, but it’s nice to see her keeping up with the young people.”

Social media has become increasingly popular at Marquette, whose students use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and most recently Pinterest to connect with students and other Marquette community members. Tim Cigelske, senior communication specialist in the Office of Marketing and Communication and one of the key people behind the university’s social media presence, said the campus has Facebook groups for incoming freshmen, alumni and parents.

“Social media allows us to reach out to the community wherever they are, so they can get the support they need,” Cigelske said.

Scott D’Urso, an associate professor in the College of Communication, thinks this newest study is testament to the power of social media and online communication.

“Looking at the past 20 years of computing, you’re seeing a larger number of older adults buying computers to connect with their children and grandchildren,” D’Urso said.

He specifically cited the development of video communication in keeping in touch with family.

“Video conferencing tools are helping online communication become more real and rich,” D’Urso said. “When you’re using video chat, it’s nice to be able to see the nonverbal cues and facial expressions of family and friends you don’t see as frequently.”

While Cigelske did not find the research findings surprising, he thinks other social media users will.

“I think a lot of Twitter users won’t believe it,” he said. “The median age of Twitter users is 35 years old, so the assumption is a lot of teens and young adults use the site, but in reality, the ages of Twitter users vary a lot.”

The university’s Twitter account, which boasts more than 14,000 followers, is followed by current students, alumni, faculty and parents.

“We see a broad range of followers of all different ages,” Cigelske said. “I have a lot of alums tell me they love following the university’s Twitter because it keeps them involved in what is going around of campus without having to wait around for the newsletter.”