When I started studying ageing 20 years ago, the popular press was concerned with advising readers how to hide indications of age like wrinkles and sags.
Almost all the more useful information was written by and for academics and little of that could be classified under the subtitle of this blog, “What it's really like to get old.”
Nevertheless I persevered, digging through the impenetrable jargon of the ageing industry professionals, making notes of what mainstream media ignored.
Not long after I started sorting those notes into the beginnngs of this blog, a breakthrough book on ageing appeared, What are Old People For?.
I was thrilled that the author spoke about ageing in a positive sense, that a professional in the field supported my belief that growing old couldn't possibly be as bad as everyone else made it out to be and is, in fact, fascinating, important and fulfilling.
The writer was/is a renowned geriatrician named Bill Thomas, a man who was revolutionizing the nursing home business with new ideas in elder living and caregiving called Green Houses and the Eden Alternative. (You can get an overview of those initiatives and more about Bill at Wikipedia.)
It wasn't long after the publication of What are Old People For? that Bill agreed to a two-part interview with me for TGB (you'll find it here) and for awhile Bill was able to find time to write TGB Geriatrician columns for this blog.
In doing all this and more, I have gotten to know Kavan Peterson who for most of these past ten years has been the producer and editor of Bill's website/blog, Changing Aging, and as things happen on the internet Kavan and Bill have become my friends.
Now I suspect long-time readers of Time Goes By may have had enough of my repeated reminders that the internet is, for elders, a modern miracle – not just for fun, information, knowledge and communication, but health too. As I frequently note:
”When we stop working, we lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace. Old friends and relatives die. Others move away. Over time the capability to get out and about easily may wane so our social lives shrink, often dramatically.”
And as new research studies tell us almost weekly, social isolation can lead to loneliness, depression and early death.
But for current elder generations, the internet arrived just in time to help alleviate that problem. I'm guessing but I don't think I'm far off to say that these days more than half my friends are people I've met on the internet and some of those are as close and dear to me as in-person friends of long standing.
It's a new kind of friendship, this long distance, email, Facebook, Instagram, Skype, texting sort that we have now. The media likes to make fun of how old people are confused about technology and don't know the first thing about it.
Maybe so, maybe they are right about our misunderstanding the nuances and undoubtedly they are right about most of us lagging behind on the latest cool apps.
But particularly given that we are not digital natives as everyone 25 and younger is, an amazing number of old people are using the latest gadgets.
Pew told us last year that among people 65 and older, 77 percent have cellphones and 59 percent use the internet.
Using all these new-fangled tools, it is amazing how deeply friendship can grow and flourish in the ether of cyberspace without us ever having met in person.
MEETING INTERNET FRIENDS IN PERSON
As much as I believe in the genuineness of internet friendship it is, without question, a substitute. I've met 30 or40 cyberfriends in person. Some of those were an enjoyable few hours and sometimes, as happens in “real life,” meeting face to face brought us closer than before, enhancing and strengthening our friendship.
It has been years that Bill and Kavan and I have talked of meeting in person. Last week, we finally had the opportunity.
Bill is currently on his Age of Disruption tour throughout the United States, described on the tour's website as an
”...incredible journey into a new and highly disruptive understanding of age and aging that has the power to inspire positive change for members of the audience and the communities in which they live.”
Last week, the tour arrived in Portland, Oregon, near my home. Bill and Kavan were able to make some time for the three of us to visit together for the first time in all these years.
It was the best moment of my week. Nah, that's not true. It was the highlight of my month. At least that. There's nothing like face-to-face time with special people you have come to care about as much as those you knew first in the flesh.
I hardly ever remember to take my cell phone anywhere with me, let alone a camera so thank god, Kavan had his cell phone and a “real” camera, too, to mark this event I had so looked forward to and on Sunday, Kavan posted this photo of Bill, me and him together to his Facebook page.
It was an occasion I had anticipated many times and it felt like we had always done this together – sitting and talking and letting the conversation wander around. You know, the way it should be with people who are old and comfortable friends.
Isn't it the best, how internet friendships can blossom.