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Time Flies When You're Growing Old

Crabby Old Lady and Intimations of Email's Death

Crabby Old Lady has been reading it for several years: that she is hopelessly out of touch to prefer email to social media, texting, etc. and she will soon be out of luck anyway because email is dead - it just hasn't laid down yet.

Notifications of email's demise arrive almost exclusively from the younger reaches of the age spectrum but the latest test of its pulse is from a man who is, if not quite a contemporary, leaning toward Crabby's demographic:

”This morning I read that the University of Exeter has had to employ social media operators to deal with inquiries,” writes Ally Fogg in The Guardian, “because increasing numbers of students will not use email, considering it too slow and unwieldy.

“Apparently, opening Outlook Express takes up valuable milliseconds that could otherwise be spent watching Adventure Time on Netflix.

“For someone of my generation, it is hard to consider this with anything other than baffled wonder.”

Fogg likes email. It is valuable, even irreplaceable, he says, among the other formats of electronic communication (texts, tweets, instant messages, various social media) on their various platforms – television, telephones, computers, tablets, etc.

The problem for the older generations, he seems to believe, is that we have not, unlike the young, learned to differentiate among the complexities of those platforms.

”Crusty old souls like me, and bureaucratic institutions like universities, have little choice but to shuffle along in [youth's] wake.

“This is as it should be. A society that is progressing as it should, must leave behind the ways of older generations. The occasional lurching stomach of modernity vertigo is a small price to pay for progress.”

Crabby Old Lady does not accept the notion of youth's superiority in this regard and is much less philosophical about the predicted death of email than Fogg. Her first issue is related to substance.

Texting, instant messages, Twitter and to a large degree, Facebook and other social media lend themselves only quick and dirty messages: “Running late.” “Happy Birthday.” “Here's my new selfie.” Nothing that would test one's intellect.

Thoughtful conversatioin is actually precluded with Twitter's 140-character limit and although Facebook allows for lengthier messages, it is obvious from even a cursory glance any given FB page that anything more thoughtful than fortune cookie wisdom is discouraged.

Crabby's second objection is lack of convenience. As Fogg notes, college students consider email “slow and unwieldy." Really? Just how is that?

Select a recipient – click. Type a message – as short or long as Crabby wants it to be. Send – click. Done.

In addition, all – read, ALL - of Crabby's personal, private business and blog messages, her newspaper, website, special interest subscriptions, her alert notifications and even Twitter and Facebook information arrive in her email inbox or RSS feed – all contained within the same email program page.

So with one click on the icon at the bottom of her laptop screen, Crabby has instant access to all incoming messages of every kind. No running around the internet to half a dozen or more websites, no passwords, no scrolling through unnecessary tripe to get to something useful or interesting.

(NOTE: Crabby has Facebook and Twitter accounts only as automatic distribution centers for this blog and The Elder Storytelling Place blog. Otherwise, she does not use them, does not visit the sites. It's too time-consuming for no satisfactory return.)

What is so convenient about email is that it is universal. Social media, on the other hand, is proprietary so some people Crabby knows are on Facebook, some on Twitter or or Google+ or Flickr or Instagram or LinkedIn or StumbleUpon or the hundreds of other such services.

No, thank you. There are only so many hours in a day, so many websites that can be visited and Crabby has favorites that contain reliably compelling information and writing.

You know, it's young people's job to be contemptuous of adults. Fortunately, most of us outgrow it and Crabby suspects that once the students who now sneer at email as an old person's game get out into the world of work where email is almost universally required, they will see its value and, eventually, even the benefit of thought beyond the abbreviations of textspeak.

They will realize then that using email doesn't mean the need to give up texting, etc. One just needs to learn when each kind of communication is appropriate and when it's not.

Email isn't going anywhere.

At The Elder Storytelling Place, Harry Lowenstern: Of Mice (and Men?)


I sure hope it's not going anywhere...whatever would I do with all my different and very useful email addresses. I love Twitter and am very, very active on it, however it does not take the place of email or old fashion phone calls. I don't even know how to text, rarely have cell phone on. We use it for calling out only.

I hate Twitter. I'm too long winded for their format and Facebook isn't much better. I can and do text a little just because the younger people in the family prefer that to making a phone call or emailing, so I do what I have to do to keep in touch. I just hope email sticks around as long as I do but in my world, the younger people are not using it much. It's Facebook, Instagram and texting.

I am always baffled when elders comment that they have to Twitter (or whatever)to their grandchildren or they would lose contact as the grandchildren don't do email. So if grandma "didn't do Twitter" the grandchildren would just cut off communication? This suggests that the grandchildren have no interest at all in staying in contact with their grandparents and that the effort is only being put forth by the grandparents. How sad.

SusanG, You took my breath away with your comment on the state of communicating between so many grandchildren and their grandparents. My grandparent friends kowtow a lot, and they just sigh or occasionally voice their concern and hurt to the parents. I don't know what it was like when I was a grandchild in the forties and fifties. Did my grandparents have to chase me for a connection? I like to think not at all (indeed, the opposite) though I'll never know because I am now the older generation!

"Twitter" is ridiculous. You still have to punch in an address and type a message. Why not just call and leave a voicemail. Have people lost a reason to talk to one another? Unfortunately, communication like language is dynamic. It will change as need see's fit. If something isn't used, it will disappear like Chaucerian English. Texting is icumin in.

I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment, but your last sentence gave me a "famous last words" premonitory shiver.

I'd like to keep email, but even I have stopped reading mine. Most of my friends, those in their 60's through 80's now use facebook.

The demise of email actually doesn’t surprise me at all. Too much time involved as already noted here and no word-count restrictions. And let’s not forget that many schools are now opting to drop cursive writing from their curriculums. And it won’t surprise me in the least if ‘printing’ its self is soon a thing of the past. After all… who needs it anymore (I mean besides you and me)?

You no longer need to know how to print an “a” for example. You just need to know how to recognize the symbol for an “a” on a keyboard or screen. In fact it would seem that ‘words’ themselves are in for a rough road ahead with all these acronyms flying around. Of course, for us older folks, when we are trying to decipher some of those damn things a couple of them like ‘wtf’ do come in handy!

I’m personally just glad that even though my bus hasn't arrived yet for my departure, at least I’m old enough to be at the station waiting on it – ticket in hand!

How the social guru's touted the end of books when eBooks arrived. "Get your NOOK, get your Kindle or you are not going to have access!"
Well books haven't died. But the NOOK and Kindle are growing and now the Kindle Fire rivals anything I've seen in the new stuff. But I have to tell you, since I subbed in an ALL computerized elementary school where every student had there own ipad with keyboard, IT IS A NEW WORLD. Language is changing, sentences are incomplete, "alien" has arrived...."read my lips...ohh, I don't have any lips!!"
We older seniors are valuable but a part of a past that hardly relates to the new world. No kidding, you haven't lived until you stand in a classroom that has NO TEXT BOOKS and no pencils and no paper and no old monstrous computer in the hands of the teacher and the office, but is "in the cloud and in the hands of each student who can take pictures of you, report you, critique you, send flash-grams home, take their own roll and follow plans that even the legislature can access! My hell. It isn't "coming", it has arrived. Seriously, students are losing the language and grammar you and I were taught, and they cannot speak like you and I did and do. I guess it's ok. Just dramatically different.

So far I have resisted joining Facebook or Twitter, because I already have a blog.

But book marketing articles keep extolling the benefits of social media as a way to sell books.

I just sent my first text message to a radio host. The topic was wasteful spending by school boards.

That gave me an idea. I'm going to take my book downtown to the radio station and give a free copy to the radio host.

Better than text messaging!

Hey, whatever happened to writing a letter with pen and paper? I remember spending days in elementary school learning cursive writing using real ink and a real ink pen!

BTW: Last time I saw a 10-cent phone booth was in parking garage downtown Portland in the 50s - right next to 5-cent ice filled coke machine. I am afraid those days are gone too.

Has anyone found a public phone in their neighborhood?

I too am a grandparent of five high school and college kids. And the parent of two 50 year old adult kids. I bet I have seen one (or less) email messages from any of them. But I do go over to FB and see what is going on - and never interfering! (Perhaps what is expected is I should.)

I send an email - to nearly anyone and can anticipate it will a day, or three, before I get a response. Some of the time - never!

It is indeed a rapidly changing world we live in. I need to hop on the train before I am left at the station. Whoops, there it goes . . .

Who rides trains anymore?

Does the expression "Stop and smell the flowers" seem applicable here?

You can always get from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time but by putting speed as a priority so much gets missed in the view and the subtleties that only a slower rate will allow.

If you want to communicate with Gen X or younger, you will have to learn to text, and do that instead of emailing. That is the way they communicate. At least the Gen Xers in my life do. If you need an answer ASAP then you text, for sure. My email has become a chore to maintain everyday. Too many ads. Too few real messages. But I agree that it will remain essential. I don't know how it will evolve in the future.

Sometimes I wonder if literacy will end up with something like the Middle Ages, where the only people tending language will be small enclaves of (older?) people writing real letters on email, reading real books that have length and depth.

As someone who was called by her friends the last of the 18th-century letter writers, I am still mourning the loss of real letters. Which I continue to write, at least to a good friend in England who does not like the computer. She actually writes her letters, with a PEN. I don't go that far, am grateful for the computer, have been ever since the time when I had to type my dissertation and use carbon paper and retype pages with mistakes.

I have embraced email, however, although I tend to write letter-sized emails. How else would I keep in touch on a very regular basis? [the letters to my English friend are far too rare, although I love writing them]

But I have succumbed to texting, aside from hating yet another noun being turned into a verb. It is the only way that I can rapidly catch the attention of my daughter and two granddaughters. But what I write consists always of CHECK YOUR EMAIL. Otherwise, they don't. Ever.

You have hit on a lot of buttons in me, Ronni. I am grateful to have a forum to say some things. And to read the always interesting responses.

I'm with you all the way Ronni, but I think we're on the losing side. Personally, I still prefer phone calls or face-to-face communication to email.

Recently, the Times had an article about "stickers" -- cartoon-like characters that eliminate the need for any words while messaging.

I tried Facebook and the only thing I used it for was to send URLs of political articles. Then a hacker invaded my Facebook and infected my computer. I closed my Facebook account and haven't looked back. I don't tweet or twitter as I haven't been interested enough to even explore that site.

I can count on one hand the times my grandchildren have sent me an e-mail. It's usually at Christmas to give me their wish list. But if they aren't interested in keeping in contact with me I am not about to accommodate them by using Facebook to find out what they are up to. Call me Crabby Old Lady #2.

By the time Email dies I will probably be dead too, so I am one of the old fogies who didn't keep up with the new way of communicating and I am glad that I don't have to.

Fascinating subject and fit for some pondering today in particular. Tonight I facilitate a group of Boomers on the the subject of "Social Media and Aging". Should be a lively discussion don't you think.

When I was a grandchild (40s-50s), and my grandparents lived 1500 miles away, I saw them maybe once a year. I didn't know them nor did we share our lives. It seems that the computers have opened up a line of communication, in one way or another, for generational relationships to develop and thrive.

With my first grandchild arriving this fall, that will give me about 5 years to catch up! Am not on any social medias, by choice, but notice my handwriting, due to age, some arthritis and no use?, has gone downhill, so email is easier and welcome.

But for intimate, meaningful conversing, give me face-to-face or telephoning. I cannot imagine it otherwise.

I will continue to use email for lots of things, but I also text. But frankly, it often takes more work and time to back and forth texting then speaking directly to the other party. However, my daughter-in-law never answers her phone, but does respond to emails and texts.


I stopped writing letters many years ago, not because I didn't like to, but because no one else was writing them. I think there was a shortage of goose quills, but I'm not sure.

I don't text, tweet, facebook, or do windows. Email's fine.

Looking on the bright side, as Ruth-Ellen says, " grateful for the computer, have been ever since the time when I had to type my dissertation and use carbon paper and retype pages with mistakes."

Amen! I remember those day and worked in offices with typing pools with many women (always women) typing long lists of technical stuff before the days of word processors.

If a typist made a mistake or if the list were later changed, she would have to start over from scratch.

At some point a tape was introduced to cover over a typo. That meant that a poor typist would sometimes hand back a page with so many errors and so much tape that the page felt like cardboard.

I don't miss those days at all.

I use texting for practical communication, items like "Coming home now" or "pick up milk?" Fortunately, I can dictate to the iPhone so as not to futz with the annoying mini-keyboard.

I use email for person to person communication, both practical and, I hope, sometimes a bit deeper. What is being lost for a lot of people is the ability to carry on more complex communication in writing.

What I love about blogging is that I'm learning, even after nearly 10 years of this, to be a better writer, a more precise communicator, than I was when I was younger.

I live in Italy so I check into FB to follow my daughter and nieces but email is how I do business and communicate anything meaningful. May it last.

I hate texting, mainly due to the fact the teeny-tiny keyboard is a chore to use! But I DID discover that I have voice-to-text and can just speak my text messages. Ahhh!

I was once a serious letter-writer, finding handwritten correspondence wonderful. I wrote to average people, inmates, shut-ins, other writers, artists...all over the world. I embraced email quickly and still love it. But anything on the computer and/or electronics seems impersonal. I still love handwritten (in cursive) letters, but rarely find anyone else interested.

I did want to pass along these two links regarding cursive writing (a shame it seems to be going away!).

What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

What Learning Cursive Does for Your Brain

I'm with Darlene (good on yer, gal). If they don't want or respond to emails, that's it - no communication. Luckily, most of my friends are of a similar opinion and love emailing, where we can develop ideas and ramble on. And we all abhor text speak so no tweeting going on there.

I never know what my nieces are doing if I don't look on their Fb pages; they don't respond to emails so I don't bother any more.

With really close friends, we love to video-Skype - and then follow up with an email....LOL.

It's depressing to witness the decline in the written and spoken language. I think I saw it all when I sat in a room with people texting one another in the same room!

I love ALL social media and use it daily. Most of my social media is announced through email on my phone.

I can pretty much stay connected all day long, and I do on most days. I turn the phone off at night and then catch up on everyone's life the next morning. I am always amazed at how most people do their posting at night, while I am sleeping.

My former students stay in touch via FB, and when they need something, many private message me. I love staying connected with young people this way.

I love a good cursive letter, but because of bad handwriting I have been typing, then word processing correspondence most of my life so I eagerly embraced email as just a more efficient way to write letters. I am far too long-winded for twitter and, anyway, spurn it for its perceived banality. Facebook is simply an enigma to me. I visit my son's massive postings sometimes and one of my grandsons has some cute photos, but on the whole, Facebook to me seems like the equivalent of sitting through a session with someone's photo album or scrapbook---mildly interesting at first but it soon becomes difficult to suppress a yawn. Texting, as Ronni and others have said, is fine as a convenience for quick notes but fails completely in the communication category. And, oh yeah, I hate skyping or iPad's "Face Time" because I can't stand seeing that old lady down in the corner while I'm trying to concentrate on the handsome young man who is talking to me.

So here's my vote for a moratorium on social media for communication. We should have stopped while we were ahead. Email is the only technology which offers a means of full and honest communication. Facebook lets us put (pun intended) a good face on it and is hardly a realistic view of our thoughts and feelings. Anyway, with only texts and tweets, where will the historians of tomorrow be when they are trying to put together a picture of who we really were and what we did as well as the tragedies and conflicts of our lives.

I'm with Ruth-Ellen, who uses texting to tell people to "open your email, dammit" (the editorializing is mine). I think we elders need to insist on email "letters" from our children and grandchildren. This works quite well for my 21 year old grandson, who always sends me a nice, long newsy email right after I send him a $200 check.

Given the brief formats and lack of privacy and security on social media, I can't imagine any business being conducted on them. For the same reasons, I won't use them except to publicize my blog. I do a little texting to my son, but only because I can do it from my computer via Google Voice. I'm too impatient to use a cellphone keyboard for anything notable; a call is easier. Anybody who wants to reach me knows to use the phone, email, snail mail, or face-to-face conversation.

BTW, someone above mentioned they didn't like email because of all the ads. There's no need to endure ads with email. Gmail filters the spam and AdBlock catches everything else.

Madeleine K., can I ever relate! In the early '70s I worked for--perish forbid--a nuclear energy company. Nuclear was the coming thing and the late 30-ish male bosses thought they knew it all. They didn't, as history continues to show. We females (as in "my girl will get the coffee") were there to type it all in quintuplicate, complete with arcane chemical formulas. I don't miss those days a bit!

As far as email goes, I'll probably die before it does--if it does. I think its imminent demise is greatly exaggerated. I have FB and Twitter but they aren't my go-to methods of communicating. Email is direct and quick, plus it's usually in some semblance of the English language. I wonder sometimes if language as we know it will survive. Young people who consider multitasking a virtue (although studies have shown that it actually decreases efficiency), have no attention span and don't know how to put a sentence together probably won't consider it important.

I think this entire issue is very sad and scary. I think the phrase "Use it or lose it" is very appropriate here in that if we, the generation that still has it (learning and knowledge and ability to think and communicate, etc, etc, etc.), lose it, we become no better than the idiot young who never learned anything to use so have nothing to lose. You may be able to continue writing your blogs, Ronni, and we may be able to continue reading them, but we won't be able to comment in any meaningful way. Instead of AATK, we'll be AAK, if we even still have one, or else we'll develop FBOCD. OMG!

What I DO hate about email, and any kind of computer typing (at least on macs & iPads) is what they call "predictive typing" and what I call "putting your computerized nose in my business." Unless you want to make inadvertent, sometimes embarrassing and sometimes funny, errors in your messages, you would be well advised to go over your message carefully before sending it to see what your computer decided on its own that you MEANT to say (thank you, HAL).

"One just needs to learn when each kind of communication is appropriate and when it's not."

Ronni, that sentence of yours pretty much sums up what skillful communication is about, and what it always will be about. Facebook is good for tracking activities of friends and family. E-mail is good for more detailed or thoughtful communication. Twitter might be ok for pretending you are in touch with your favorite film star or athlete. Phone or personal conversations are musts for intimate stuff.

The art in the science is making the right choices, as you point out.

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