Photo credit: Joey Devilla

I’ve been searching for a catchy way to describe the surprising story of baby boomers and their love affair with social media. Sex, Lies and Baby Boomers (inspiration: Sex, Lies and Videotape) has a nice ring to it. And as my journalism professor told me, people really only care about two things: sex and money. So get one or the other, or both, in your lede.

First, the love affair

The growth rate in adoption of social networking by the 50 to 64 age group was 88 percent last year. For the over 65s, the growth rate was 100 percent. (Statistics courtesy of Pew Research.) So much for the notion that emerging tech only appeals to Gen X and Millennials. But what does this mean?

Short answer: for those interested in demographic touch points (the baby boomer bulge) and in the increasingly mainstream adoption of the social Web and emerging technology, the numbers are fascinating.

2011 has already turned into the year of the baby boomer. Every seven seconds a boomer turns 50. Starting Jan. 1, 2011 ten thousand baby boomers turn 65 every day. (The New York Times calls this a navel-gazing moment, consistent with boomers’ self-absorption.) Some 72 million boomers, the largest generation in U.S. history, are officially entering middle and old age. They have an estimated $3.4 trillion to spend annually, making them a target demographic that no marketer can ignore.

How cool that many of them are diving enthusiastically into friending, tweeting, blogging, texting and other social technologies, even as they face what will surely, inexorably, be their final chapter.

Second, the lies

Which brings me to the lies. Facing the prospect of old age is not fun. It’s not uplifting. In fact, it’s kind of a downer. Even though I am a proud member of the baby boomer generation, I am not enthusiastic about crossing into my sixth and seventh decades. Yes, I am over 50. So even though I’ve been cogitating for several months on baby boomers and social media as the focus for my next book, I am beginning to think this is not really the story I want to write.

There are several reasons. We live in an ageist society. Gen Xers and Millennials are not interested in old age because they think it doesn’t apply to them (ha! just wait). Baby boomers do not like to think of themselves as “old” and certainly not as seniors. That’s one of the defining elements of the boomer mindset. So a book about getting old, paired with the (to me) endlessly interesting subject of social media, is net net not a killer topic.

Mindset over age

What I really care about has nothing to do with age. It’s the passion and possibility, daring and reinvention that drive the use of social media. Smart marketers know how much more powerful social media can be than print or TV advertising, trade shows or the yellow pages. Consumers are delighting in the ability to connect instantly with companies, to express their pleasure or discontent. And Steve Jobs understands that toddlers and 90-year-olds alike can quickly learn to use, and become infatuated with, the iPad.

Outside the PR / marketing / social media bubble

What fascinates me about the increasing adoption of social media is that it is enabling ordinary people, of any age, to express themselves in wholly new ways. Becoming fluent with the tools of social media enables them to create a digital footprint that impacts those around them, starting with their immediate circle of friends and acquaintances and extends, via the social Web, to anywhere on the globe.

There is more but I’m going to stop here. I want to write about ordinary people doing extraordinary things with social media. It’s not about age, per se. Although it could be. Baby boomers who use social media to explore a second or third career, or reinvent retirement, or join a cause or create a movement fit into my story. But so do 20-somethings who toss aside traditional career paths in favor of starting their own companies.

P.S. Re “game over. press start.”

I stumbled randomly onto the image at the topic of this post. It signifies that the game may seem to be over after age 50. But the tools and the mindset of the social Web enable you to start over.