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Mainstream Media Discovers Elders Online

Without ever having produced a podcast or vlog (yet), I somehow got myself quoted in The New York Times this morning in a story by Keith Schneider about how elders are using audio and video to tell their stories online.

It was nice to discover that Cab Calloway’s daughter keeps a website about the music of her father called The Heartbeat of Hi De Ho. And the 79-year-old, British, YouTube star, Peter Oakley, is featured making an excellent point about the age of internet users:

“After retirement I became interested in computer and graphic design and attended local colleges to learn,” Mr. Oakley said. “I found that there were facilities within the Windows operating system that would do this, and with the ‘help files’ made my first video.

“I don’t really know why I uploaded it. I guess just to see if I could learn how to do it. The media picked up on it and highlighted the fact that an old man could or would do such a thing — invade a site that was the domain mostly of the young. Actually I had no idea that it was.” [emphasis added]

Now, can we finally put to bed that old stereotype about old dogs and new tricks?

Media and cultural assumptions notwithstanding, elders are here by the millions doing everything younger people do online and telling the stories – great and small - of our lives, creating a rich archive of what life was like during the second half of the 20th century on into the 21st.

Imagine the future now, when someone wants to know about, for example, 1950’s style. A current Google Blogs search returns 33,000 links. World War II – 315,000 links; Vietnam War – 119,000 links. Even Howdy Doody gets 5,000 returns. And those are just blogs – real people talking about real events, times and places they have been witness to.

History is written primarily about leaders, politics and wars. But I have always wanted to know if and how the Romans brushed their teeth or what kind of toys medieval children played with, how Victorian women survived summer in all those petticoats (is that why they fainted a lot?) and if my mother went hungry, actually missed meals, growing up during the Great Depression.

Many of the stories on this and other elderblogs that garner the largest personal response in comments are about how we lived at different times in our lives and if Peter Oakley is any indication, there is a hunger for the stories of real-life people, of what it was like in “the olden days” that we have lived through.

Which is a nice lead-in to the new Elder Storytelling Place blog. Today’s entry is from Mick Brady about his childhood in upstate New York. We eagerly await your story submissions too. They can be about yesteryear or yesterday. Fact or fiction. Real or almost real. Funny, serious, happy or sad. Tell us your stories.


Happy b-day a few days ago, Ronni. How did the Romans brush their teeth? I know that Turkish people told me that during the Crusades the x-ians saw them "brushing" their teeth with sticks that they had chewed frayed at the bottom to use to clean their teeth and the x-ians thought they were cannibals, eating their enemies. The x-ians hadn't inherited (if at all) the habit of caring and cleaning the teeth.

This was told to me to illustrate the point that the Ottomans were more refined and educated at that time.

You are doing a wonderful job with the storytelling project.

Good going on the NY Times quote - the author picked a good 'un!

As a history nut, I find these personal stories that detail with the Average Joe's experience to be my delight.

Yes, it is important to note the leaders and such, but the nuance of history lies in these little nuggets of everyday life.

Ronni, this is really really wonderful stuff, and of great interest to the nonprofit board that I serve: www.TwilightWish.org, and http://twilightwish.blogspot.com/

I suggested to the Executive Director Cassy that she drop you a line, and I featured your "Elder Storytelling Place" on our blog. We get a fair number of "tell my story" type wishes from seniors...

In the past, historians have always subscribed to the notion that the winners get to write the history, or make the laws or determine who gets access to the knowledge. Isn't it great that we now live in an age where anyone can write their history according to their own perceptions...and there is the highly remote possibility that it won't get lost in this great age of overwhelming information?

I have a hard time thinking that the 40's and 50's were the olden days but I guess they must be. My experience were unusual even for the 40's as I grew up in a logging camp 9 miles on a dirt road from the main highway, went to a one room school, cooked on a wood stove for 9 months of the year. The other 3 months I lived with my Grandmother in a city of 14,000 where we had indoor plumbing.

I was born in the depression years to two uneducated immigrants frm Italy.What I learned from my miserable childhood was no one should have children onless you can care for them properly.No way do I want to tell my story. I'm the youngest of six children Love,Vera

Seems that lately mainstream marketing is beginning to recognize elders as a cash cow. I'm seeing more and more silver-haired women and men either featured in TV commercials, or inserted prominently in the background, whether or not we actually need the product or service.

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