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Social media: The risks and rewards

It took him 85 years, but even tycoon Warren Buffett finally decided it was time to defy his own aversion to investing in high technology.

He took a risk by scooping up 10 million sagging shares of Apple, Inc., earlier this year.

And it may be a lesson for the rest of us.

Buffett had previously been quoted as saying, “I know about as much about semiconductors or integrated circuits as I do of the mating habits of the chrzaszcz (Polish word for beetle).”

Therefore, Buffett’s massive fortune was instead accumulated in his familiar territory, away from the realm of electronic media.

Many of us can relate. We reside blissfully in the suburbs of computer innovation, looking quite nervously from the outside-in at social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, preferring to snuggle in our own comfort zones and reluctant to take a risk.

We are the folks who prefer newspapers that you hold in your hands. And we con- sider mail to be something written on paper and stuffed into a stamped envelope. It’s true that many of us have at least sniffed around the vagaries of modern e-places like Facebook and Twitter. But that’s about it. So, is it finally our time to take a risk on social media?

First of all, let’s give credit where credit is due. A good many seniors have, in fact, enthusiastically and admir- ably embraced today’s electronic wizardry.

However, as a group we typically lag well behind the younger crowd. (PEW Research: 89 percent of 18-29 year olds use the internet. Forty-nine percent of those over 65 use the internet.)

For those of us who may be electronically challenged — as our grandchildren are wont to remind us — we might do our- selves a favor to at least explore the benefits of expanding our social media horizons. “That willingness to dive in and try something new is one of the key elements,” says Karen Travillion, who organizes social media seminars for seniors at Portland’s Cedar Mill Community Library. “The rewards are helping you stay connected.”

In the interest of clarity, let’s define social media — ala Webster — as “forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, photos, and other content, such as videos.”

Got that? Bottom line, it’s a fun way to stay in touch online.

Now let’s narrow the field of discussion to those online media most commonly used by boomers and seniors: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

FACEBOOK: Great way to keep in touch with family, friends and even total strangers. It’s the world’s largest social network with more than a billion users. At no cost it allows those who register to electronically publish personal profiles, photos, and messages.

We get to snoop on others and let them keep an eye on us.

TWITTER: A no-cost service which allows the user to publish online posts called tweets, just so long as they are no longer than 140 characters. If you like a tweet from someone else, you can re-tweet it to share it with others. It’s not as social as Facebook, but it’s newsier and lets you stay up to date with a broad range of topics, people and organizations that interest you. For example, keep track of what the Portland Trailblazers are saying or what your favorite actor is up to.

PINTEREST: Allows you to “pin” a piece of information about a subject that has your “interest” onto your personal electronic bulletin board.

Let’s say you want a recipe for meatloaf. You register online for free with Pinterest and create a “board” which you decide to call Favorite Recipes. You search Pinterest for a meatloaf recipe and, poof, you find one that sounds delicious.

Now, you tell Pinterest to “pin” (attach) the recipe to your Favorite Recipes board so you can retrieve it as often as you wish. Groovy. You can actually have a bunch of boards for all sorts of stuff, such as Organizing My Office, Photos of Our Family Reunion, Videos of the Grandkids, Making Pottery, etc. You can organize and share ideas that others have posted and they can see and comment on your ideas. If you especially like someone else’s board, simply click “Follow All” to have all their posts show up in your account.

INSTAGRAM: Owned by Facebook, Instagram lets you upload, edit and share photos on the Instagram website as well as on email and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. It can be very geeky for those who want that sort of thing. But it’s also user friendly for those who simply want to publicly share photos or restrict access to them through an invitation-only application. Those who are a tad overwhelmed can limit what they learn to one byte at a time, especially at local libraries that offer beginner classes. Even if you don’t have a computer at home, libraries often have computers you can use there.

Another great way to learn is through the Goodwill Community Foundation which offers free online tutorials. It’s very user-friendly and easy to understand. Check it out at gcflearnfree.org/topics/social- media.

“Social media is not necessarily for everyone,” says Heather Waisanen, adult services programmer at Garden Home Community Library, while noting that “it can be a great way to keep up with a person’s network, what’s going on, especially people who are far away.”

For security purposes, Waisanen also recommends changing your passwords occasionally. Avoid passwords with personal information, such as the name of your dog or your grandkids.

Social media lets us connect and share. Using one or more of the sites is nearly an essential 21st century skill. But they are not 100 percent secure. So as one instructor tells her students, “If you wouldn’t spray paint it on the side of your garage for everyone to see, you shouldn’t say it on social media.”

“Even if you choose not to use it,” says Travillion, a lot of seniors show up at her seminars simply to find out what everyone else is talking about.

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