29 per cent of Baby Boomer respondents said virtual friends were most important to them / Corbis


Middle-aged Baby Boomers are now so obsessed with social media that they rate their number of virtual friends as more important to their self-esteem than experiences they have in the “real” world.

Financial wealth, material possessions and a rich and varied social life are seen as less central to measurements of success than having a large number of virtual friends and followers on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – especially for those aged between 49 and 68.

A generation already going grey at the advent of social sites is most likely to rate “the number of friends I have across social media networks” as their key self-confidence indicator. Some 29 per cent of Baby Boomer respondents said virtual friends were most important to them. Despite having lived through the supposed hedonism of the Seventies, only 21 per cent of them valued “the number of experiences I am exposed to”.

Generation X, aged between 34 and 48, were the first targets of MySpace and Bebo at the start of the century, and 27 per cent of them said social media networks were most important to them – the same number that most valued life experiences. This age group, supposedly struggling with the inflated housing market, placed the highest importance on financial wealth.

Counter to most media commentary, Millenials, aged 18-33, whose lives have been immersed in social media, were the group least likely to value it as the main indicator of self-esteem (25 per cent, compared to 26 per cent who opted for life experiences).

But overall in a survey of 2,000 people by market researchers Opinium, social media network was the clear winner as a measure of personal value (28 per cent compared to 24 per cent who chose life experiences).

The survey was conducted for The Future Laboratory, a “trend forecasting, brand strategy and consumer insight” agency which today was hosting a £650-a-head event at the British Museum on changes in social behaviour.

Trevor Hardy, chief executive of The Future Laboratory, said social media had given Boomers a chance to share their experiences – and to put them in a favourable light.

“They have become broadcast agents of their own lives,” he said. “Experiences they were previously only able to discuss at the dinner table or a cocktail party can be shared with the world at large.”

The same study found that 60 per cent of people believe social media users exaggerate, although only 23 per cent admit to doing it themselves.