As if some savage was going to destroy the aesthetically elegant layout of the food, one of my friends commented “None of you are allowed to move the chopsticks”. Then several smartphones zoomed in and out as they focused on the food. With a simple touch, my friend posted her eighth photo of the day to Facebook and laughed out loud “Let’s see who can guess where we are eating today.”
Then she suddenly stopped and turned her eyes to the table next to us. All five elderly women at the table turned out to be her allies, who were also engrossed in taking photographs.
One was holding a dish of shrimps in front of her face while another kept saying “Right, right, a little closer, cast your eyes. Ok. Finish your duck face and then take some photos for me.” “Let’s take a wefie. Wait a minute, I need to touch up my lipstick.”
Our party table, though quite buzzy, was nothing compared to our “neighbours”.
We began to gobble up the food while the elderly women were still wrapped up in taking and posting photos to Facebook. My friend told them “You are having such a joyous party, you’re even more youthful than us.”
One of them, a pretty woman, replied “We’re very happy. Age is no trouble, we’re very young at heart. I posted a photo to Facebook just now and already got 31 likes.”
I was impressed at her elaborate make-up though at her age she could already be classified in the rank of grandmothers. The signs of her old age were concealed behind a careful veneer of face powder and lipstick.
It was a friend’s birthday party but the chit-chat was no longer about the birthday, the topic had changed to taking photos and sharing them on social media.
The women at the nearby table said to us, “Let’s make friends on Facebook.” With the phone already open in my hand, I accepted their invitations immediately and was surprised to see that the women showed up at almost all photograph hotspots, from the cloud-covered mountains of Sa Pa to the blue seas of southern provinces.
In Hanoi, they had already visited the gardens of daisies and sunflowers, even the flood plain by the Red River and the recently opened flower maze in Long Bien district. Thousands of likes are not an empty boast but a truth. The amount of comments and compliments are really spellbinding.
The woman with nice make-up continued “We need to change our thinking, like this lady. Without us, she would know nothing but staying at home and taking care of her grandchildren. Since coming to Facebook, she has become several years younger. Her hair is also tidier. I just showed her how to edit photos. Her skills are much better now and her selfies can get as many likes as mine.”
The women were still excitedly talking about clothes for the next photo op. Looking at the Facebook pages of our new friends, many would think they are teenagers if just skipping over their faces. From clothes to poses, they are really trendy.
Just a few days ago, I objected to raising the retirement age for women. But now I think I was absolutely wrong. For many, the age of 60 seems to be when they are young again.
“You’ve got to be pretty, even when doing exercise,” reads a status beside a photo of sultry eyes posted by one of the women who is more than eligible to be admitted to an association for senior citizens.
Facebook is truly a source of happiness for many senior citizens.
After the party that day, I have become more interested in the effect of Facebook on senior citizens. I read an interesting piece about research published by American universities in 2016 suggesting that social media, particularly Facebook, could help people live longer.
Similar research has not been repeated in Vietnam, but the benefits of Facebook are all too obvious. Senior citizens now have more ways to connect with their children and grandchildren without the need to meet them face to face. And their social space has also been expanded from roadside tea shops for men and kitchens and markets for women to almost everywhere.
Recalling the occasions when I visited the lotus ponds near West Lake, the Nhat Tan peach gardens, the Red River floodplain, or the Phung Hung pedestrian street, I realise that many of those who were posing for photos are middle-aged and even senior citizens. I did not realise that until now because of my lack of keen observation.
It is generally said that young people today are too addicted to Facebook. But such a statement is demonstrably incorrect. Facebook does not only belong to young people, especially when more and more middle-aged and senior citizens are getting to use Facebook. Young people have the joy of young people and older people also have pleasures of their own.
That said, Facebook is not all glory. There are countless stories of young people facing serious consequences owing to their social media dependence. Most senior citizens have grandchildren too young to differentiate between right and wrong and they are unaware of the harmful effects of Facebook.
How would Facebook users, who are members of the association for senior citizens react if they unfortunately have grandchildren who neglect their studies because of their addictions to Facebook?