Sep 09, 2008

Engage in Online Social Networking

Your social network need not be defined by the people who can ring your doorbell. Many potential retirees have created friendships via the Internet that have proven rewarding and satisfying. Although never a complete replacement for flesh and blood contacts, online friendships can do much to banish loneliness and a feeling of isolation. One great thing about virtual social networking is that it doesn't require getting dressed (or even getting out of bed). In fact, you can do it in the middle of the night when you're having trouble sleeping. Get up and post a few thoughts at the Rock from the Sixties webring. Or make some comments at the Boston Terrier Blog, one of hundreds of thousands of websites detailing the activities of favorite canines. Or, you could check out what happened to one of your high school friends at Classmates.com.

The possibilities for social interaction online are endless. Once you enter discussion groups, engage in chat-room banter, or begin serious email threads with like-minded souls, you may find that virtual socializing is what you've wanted all your life -- honest communications without having to comb your hair.

A computer and Internet connection can liberate shy and isolated people with easy-to-use email, chat rooms, and blogs. Many people contemplating retirement -- or already retired -- have established their own websites or blogs (Blogger lets you set one up easily, for free), sharing their opinions or knowledge about a particular subject, like hiking the Grand Canyon, helping new businesses get off the ground, or playing better tennis after 50. Others facilitate communication about a particular interest -- for example, staying healthy while traveling to difficult places or coping with Parkinson's disease.

And best of all, you don't need your own computer to explore the online world. Many public libraries and other public institutions offer free Internet access. If you're new to networking, one site that's a good portal for midlifers is ThirdAge, which says it's "rewriting the rules for getting older."

Posting a profile at a social networking site may also be your cup of tea. Sites such as MySpace and Facebook began as networking tools for youth but have quickly grown to accomodate all ages. Generally, you post a profile, invite and attract friends, and communicate within the network about shared subjects of interest. Another possibility is Gather, a social networking site geared to adults and the exchange of ideas about culture and politics. There are also social networking sites for living green; strengthening and establishing business contacts; finding old friends, family, or classmates; and even social bookmarking sites for those who enjoy surfing the web.

People who will retire in the next few years can expect to find more and more networking sites. Silicon Valley has realized that Baby Boomers -- who outnumber teens three to one -- are more "sticky" than their younger counterparts, meaning they're more loyal to particular social networking sites. If you'd like to join a network of your peers, check out sites such as Eons, Rezoom, Multiply, Boomj, and Boomertown.