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An Elderblogger at Gnomedex

When, several months ago, Chris Pirillo invited me to speak at the seventh annual Gnomedex, I was surprised – and proud. As a two-day, single-track conference, there is room for only about a dozen presenters. How did elderblogging get included in such a small mix?

But Gnomedex is not your ordinary tech conference with multiple sessions at once, many of them given in deeply esoteric techie-talk that escapes my limited understanding. As Chris explains on the Gnomedex website:

“While technology brings us together, technology at Gnomedex is ancillary to its role in our daily lives. Software, hardware – it all boils down to experiences, personal and shared…”

As I thought about the truth of that and his invitation, my surprise (but not my pride) diminished. After all, when I tweaked Chris a year or more ago about using “senior” in one of his BLaugh cartoons instead of “elder”, he immediately switched. And in subsequent conversations, Chris revealed his deep interest in elders in relation to blogging and online in general.

But then, on the morning of the first day, I was confronted with a flight of the most elder-unfriendly stairs (especially hauling my way-too-heavy laptop) I’ve seen since Machu Pichu:


Few people – even young ones – were using those forbidding stairs and I found an elevator to whisk me to the conference floor where I settled into a table, hooked up my computer and was soon listening to Chris’s opening remarks:


The speakers who preceded me were daunting. While some thought Robert Steele’s keynote made him appear to be a political crackpot and I thought he crammed too much information into 45 minutes, his overall message was important. Although Guy Kawasaki’s presentation on evangelism was practiced and canned, it was packed with great tips for me in promoting the cause of elder technology. Plus, his charm is irresistible.

Darren Barefoot spoke on using our skills, power and influence for good in the world and I liked his parting advice: “Be the best ancestor you can.”

There were others before it was my turn, but I’m not experienced at public speaking, so growing nervousness overtook by ability to concentrate. Soon, video of all the presentations will be online and you will be able to judge them for yourselves. Meanwhile, here is a still shot of me on stage via Rachel C.


As I approached the stage, Chris and his wife Ponzi welcomed me so warmly and were so encouraging that I didn’t dare let them down. As to what I said, Joared at her Along the Way blog has an excellent recap. Particularly gratifying is the gradual turnabout of the young people who were live chatting on the streaming video page – from “Who is this old woman?” to, eventually, “She is cool.”

Part way through my presentation, someone asked if I had seen an iPhone yet. The audience laughed when I said I had not, and Chris popped up on stage with his own which, I believe, was a recent birthday gift from Ponzi. In person, the iPhone is as cute as it is on television and its touch screen works with a satisfyingly snappy response. Then, Matthew Gifford asked Chris to show me the keyboard.

In two words: Im Possible. The attendees laughed again when I said that. Each letter is about the size of and as close together the type on this blog and I am not built with enough patience to work out how to use it. Plus, a different keyboard is required to add symbols and punctuation such as a slash and colon in a URL. Who at Apple thought that is a good idea?

The geekiest of geeks and those who must have the latest hot gadget before everyone else will love it. As I said, it is cute and alluring, but my bottom line: whatever your age, I don’t think the iPhone, particularly at its price, is ready for prime time.

In the end, my intention was to grab the interest of the technologists, programmers, evangelists and influencers in attendance to empower elders by creating hardware and software that is easy for old computer newbies to understand and accommodates fading eyesight, reduced motor skills and coordination. I think I succeeded…

The Aftermath
Gnomedex is a friendly conference and for the rest of my stay, more people than I could count sought me out to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation.

Some really good news: people from HP and Microsoft (both Gnomedex sponsors) were enthusiastic and genuinely interested in speaking with me further about implementing some of the suggestions I have for improving computer use for elders. As that develops, I will keep you updated.

Joshua McKenty, a terrific young technologist who lives in the beautiful town of Victoria, B.C. and even knew the name of the Chinese restaurant I like there, says it is not much of a stretch to create an “elderbrowser.” We will follow up on that soon too.

When Andrew McCaskey, who is the producer and host of Slashdot Review Podcast introduced himself to me, I was puzzled as to why I know his name; I knew I’d never met him nor seen his podcast. It turns out his father’s name is Andrew McCaskey too and there is a link on the Elderblogger List to his blog, Topic, which I recommend to you all.

And I was most pleased to spend a lot of time with my new friend Stan James who is the founder and CTO of Lijit, another Gnomedex sponsor. (See his blog search engine in the upper right corner of this page; you might want to try it too.) It took me the entire two days of Gnomedex, but he will probably be happy to know that I finally can pronounce Lijit properly; it does not rhyme with widget as I thought – it rhymes with legit.

There were many more people I was pleased to meet and talk with and I’m sorry I can’t name them all here although I am sure some will turn up in future posts on TGB.

As I mentioned above, joared did a magnificent job of summarizing my presentation. Frank Paynter of listics has a good collection of links to commentary on my appearance and as he notes, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave me a nice mention. Others who might give you an idea of the presentation include Tris Hussey, writing at One By One Media, who headlined me “uber elderblogger” - I like that!

David Risley of PC Mechanic has an excellent overview and some opinions of his own about my presentation and technology for elders, and Scott Rosenberg of Wordyard has some nice things to say too.

Overall, Gnomedex is the best tech conference I’ve attended. The topics presented were varied and compelling in keeping Chris Pirillo’s philosophy of making “technology ancillary to its role in our daily lives”. I got a lot of new ideas, met smart, interesting people and I was pleased to see more grey heads than I expected.

It was exhilarating to find so many people interested in elders and elderblogging and most of all, Gnomedex was loads of fun thanks, I believe, to Chris’s and Ponzi’s enthusiasm for everyone attending (presenters and attendees), their unflagging good cheer and the hard work they do in making the conference flow smoothly.

Can you tell I'm glad I attended?

[There are not many people who get to know a great grandparent, but Darlene Costner did and she tell us about this indomitable woman in Stories of Gram Norris at The Elder Storytelling Place today.]


Sounds awesome, Ronni! I'm so glad that your trip was fruitful and that you had a good time. Even more, I'm glad you showed them we elders are a valuable force in the Blogosphere! Great stuff!

intrigued and looking forward to further posts. next read joared post. her lively, on-the-ground report was in sync with how many of us less-techy elderbloggers might respond. will be passing both posts along to elders who have interest in web development with our demographic in mind. thanks!

Welcome home. I bet you were a fresh wind blowing through that conference. I'm looking forward to reading your summary.

I just finished reading Joared's recap and am really impressed with your presentation, Ronni. Thanks for helping to change young minds about elders.

I responded to Joared's post by wishing that hearing impaired solutions would be considered by the techs. I miss out on so many good videos because they don't have closed captioning. Maybe in time they will realize that there is a need to solve that problem.

I think the producers over at Ellen and Oprah ought to be paying attention here -you'd be a great guest!

Kudos to you, Ronni, and many thanks for being a terrific spokesperson for us all...

Ronni, Thank you for the link and mention. Your talk was eye opening, I'm glad that I met you at Gnomedex and that you spoke!

Ronni, it sounds like your presentation will bear fruit for some time to come. Good on you.

I suspect you blew them away, Ronni!
One thing I heard about the iphone that isn't so small is the monthly invoice. If I understood correctly, each item (text message or cell call) is put on one page by itself. I saw on TV about a bill that came in a box - it was so big! 330+ pages!

It all sounds wonderful Ronni. They were lucky to have you as a speaker. I'm so glad you enjoyed it all.

Wonderful post. I heard more about Robert Steele tonight from some folks I respect at the Extreme Democracy meeting at the Texas Forum. The noise from the Gnomedex conference from the would-be thought leaders was that the guy was a crackpot. Tonight I heard differently, and your post seems to support a more tolerant view (which makes sense to me because Chris has been pretty sharp about who he invites). Here are a few links I gathered tonight:

Thanks for filling us in on your experience and I'm glad you liked it!

Way to go Ronni!! You've cracked the barrier--a prima example of gathering and welcoming the cross-pollination of cool brains, no matter the age. It's all about collaboration and problem-solving. This excites me no end. Can't wait to see your session!

So glad to read your account of the Gnomedex experience. You've given me many new links to read.

I'm really enthusiastic that so many tech people are following up with your ideas. Clearly you presented the elder cause in a manner that has earned respect across generations. I'll look forward to your periodic updates as future developments unfold.

Input from elders to you regarding feature needs, such as Darlene mentioned above, likely is information the technical people can benefit from receiving. Perhaps, Ronni, you will increasingly be a central collection place for such ideas to add to your own.

For someone who doesn't profess to be a public speaker, you certainly looked and acted professionally. I don't think I could have held my own in such a large group setting as well as you did, but then I'm not a professional speaker either.

I'm pleased you and others found my Gnomedex blog post of interest. My decision to write that recap was quite sudden and was prompted by wanting to share my impressions of what was happening with the attitude of your audience as evidenced with the T Flash Commenters.

Oh noes! I have teh elderz in my Internets! Does that mean I can catch ageism? Will penicillin protect me?

You SHOULD have been proud, Ronni! Way to go!!

I've attended lots of tech conferences and tend to enjoy them. There's usually a bit of the feeling in the air that something new and exciting is coming.

Not to rain on the parade, but... I'm a bit sceptical that those showing interest in making blogging easier for elderbloggers will follow through. A few decades have passed now where the 'techies' COULD HAVE made computer use, in general, a whole lot easier for everyone - but they haven't. At least, not in a timely manner. I guess that's not where the money is.

But - maybe, with all of us baby boomers coming along and speakers such as yourself at conferences - maybe they'll speed things up a bit?!? That would be GREAT! And YOU would have influenced it! Cool!!!!

Such an interesting post! I'm still looking forward to seeing your presentation. :)

About lijit! I was willing to try it, but it won't work on
Hope they'll fix it.

Very interesting! I hadn't even heard of Gnomedex. I'm glad that you had a chance to speak there; I know you spoke at BlogHer once (when I was not there), but this year's BlogHer conference was certainly lacking in any mention that we Elderbloggers exist. I was an interested spectaator, but mostly, I felt like an outsider.

Thanks for representing us so well!
Marlys of "Never too Late!" and "Write your Life!"

I AM SO EXCITED FOR YOU and so very proud to know you. Sounds like a great presentation and an amazing time!!


Hooray for you, Ronni! What an exciting time! Can't wait to see what comes out of all this.

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