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My Dad, the Social Media King

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One simple story most accurately illustrates the way my father views the Internet.

He and I were talking once about how modern technology has changed journalism.

"No, I have a blog," I told him, explaining my job writing about motherhood for the website of a local newspaper. He had repeatedly referred to the posts as my "motherhood column."

We discussed the differences between the two until, suddenly, he raised his hands in triumph, paused, and said, "I've got it.

"A column is in print," he announced knowingly. "A blog is in the atmosphere."

It's funny -- but also expected -- coming from a 73-year-old man who has never in his life turned on an actual computer.

What makes it funnier is that, despite my father's lack of practical knowledge regarding the online world, he's ever-present and popular in that very realm. He wields his Blackberry and iPad like weapons as he pushes his liberal agenda, promotes certain non-profits and, yes, occasionally comments on pictures of his grandchildren.

I've often wondered, in fact, if my father is utilizing technology more effectively than the Internet-obsessed individuals half his age.

Like me, for instance, as I halfheartedly write a blog post, becoming distracted from the task at hand by an online chat with my brother. My attention is divided; there's just so much out there.

But my dad, with his unwavering focus on a specific set of technology-based goals (single-handedly take down the GOP, rile up the religious set by suggesting the Catholics get over it and ordain women priests) is nothing but focused.

He's got more Twitter followers than I do.

Turns out, he's not alone in his newfound affinity for the virtual world, nor is he alone in the purpose-based ways he uses it.

The number of computer users who are 55 and older increased nearly 59 percent the year prior according to the AARP, the Sun Sentinel reports. A Nielsen survey shows that 22.8 million people over 65 got online in September 2011, an increase of 4 million when compared with the same month in 2010, according to the paper.

Grandkids and tech experts alike are interested in making new technology more accessible for older adults.

It's "cute." Sure. But these older users aren't kidding around.

The more interesting point is that seniors are not only turning to the Internet in droves, but they're doing so in decidedly different ways than younger users.

Doctoral student Chaiwoo Lee has studied the phenomenon. Lee works in the AgeLab at MIT, where research focuses on "translating ideas in technology into practical solutions," for older adults.

Last year, for example, the AgeLab created and tested eHome, a home-based monitoring system for seniors geared towards helping them manage their medications.

Lee has also done specific research identifying key factors regarding how and why older adults adopt and utilize technology, including everything from Facebook to smartphones.

And one of the most important factors? Practicality. Older adults don't necessarily want a new technology just because it's cool, or because of social pressure.

"They have to see a value and benefit from using it," says Lee. "If they don't see the usefulness they're not willing to use it at all."

When I mentioned this idea to my husband, who is, like me, 34, he instantly defended himself as a member of the younger generation. "I'm not like that," he said, claiming that he only utilizes sensible technological innovations.

I agreed to avoid an argument, but thought about the multitude of apps on his iPhone, including the one that makes the device sound like a lightsaber.

My father, on the other hand, joined Facebook not because he was afraid he'd miss out on party invites if he didn't, but to share articles and blog posts he thinks his friends should read. He is now so comfortable with social media that he also helps man the Facebook page of a non-profit he chairs, Catholics In Alliance For The Common Good.

He hit his natural stride, however, on Twitter, where -- especially recently -- his political commentary has reached a passionate peak.

"Do honest conservatives realize how Repubs r killing democracy--voter suppression, sabotaging economy, unlimited use of secret money," he wrote in a recent tweet.

He's gotten the hang of using hash-tags and the at sign to finely tune his pointed remarks, and follows a number of politically-driven individuals and groups, like David Axelrod, MSNBC commentator Lawrence O'Donnell and, not to be unbalanced, The Tea Party.

Also, inexplicably, Kevin Spacey.

While I try to promote my own writing career, my father's online empire -- which he often mans from the comfortable confines of his bed -- keeps growing.

He's quickly figured out that email is the perfect forum for fast-paced discussions with friends of differing political affiliations. Their witty back-and-forth is somehow both contentious and affable, as they take a jab and then discuss upcoming lunch plans.

He recently started writing a regular blog -- "Fred's Thoughts" -- for the group Democrats for America's Future, and is a guest on their weekly netcast. He's written over 20 pieces for The Huffington Post.

And yet, as I am awed by my father's omnipresence online, I am also amused -- and often comforted -- by his lack of expertise.

His unfamiliarity with autocorrect, leading him to spell his name "Poop" instead of "Pop," for a few hilarious weeks. His misunderstanding of certain basic principles, like when he asks me to send him a "link of my email."

Constant reminders that this particular social media king is dad to me.

What I like best is when he takes a break from the politics, policies and causes, and is as casual as the rest of us humble social media addicts.

I recently logged onto Facebook to discover that he had commented on one of my decidedly non-important status updates. Delighted, I checked my page to see what important information he'd chosen to impart.

"Hi Hon," it read.