New TGB Feature: Where Elders Blog
A Home in Portland, Maine

Elders and the Changing Blogosphere – Part 2

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you missed it over the weekend, a new feature has been added to Time Goes By: Where Elders Blog. Get a peek at the places people blog and please join us by sending a photo of your blog space.. The announcement/instructions are here.]

Last Friday in Part 1, we discussed the changing blogosphere - specifically that attempts to monetize blogs leave many so cluttered with ads they look like newspaper inserts for K-Mart, and that social media sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. are luring bloggers away from more thoughtful and entertaining posts to quick shots of “what I’m doing now”.

The comments expand on the point and Virginia DeBolt of WebTeacher had a particularly interesting thought:

“Our electronic lives are being packed into more and more compact devices, such as iPhones or Blackberries. When everything is small and wireless, and keyboards are reduced to something you search one fingertip at a time, then things like Tweets take the place of blog posts. Everything is abbreviated into a text message. Our individual interactions with the electronic world increase, therefore we attempt to make each individual interaction briefer.”

Virginia is on to something regarding the medium being the message. It’s damned hard to expand on a thought with any depth or even tell a joke while trying to tap quarter-inch-wide keys.

Taken a step further, the question becomes: what does this do to our minds and attention spans? For 60 years, television has trained us to concentrate only in eight-minute bursts and try to hold that thought during three minutes of disparate commercials. Remember that show, Short Attention Span Theater? It was hilarious, but the underlying premise made a serious point.

Now, our miniaturized technology is further reducing our thought processes to 140 characters, and watching movies or news on a two-inch phone screen diminishes our worldview dramatically.

For several reasons, few old folks are likely to abandon blogging for iPhones or to follow the younger generations to MySpace and Twitter in numbers that matter.

  • Many elders are just getting started with computers. There is a learning curve for those who were not born with a mouse in their hand
  • Declining eyesight and motor skills preclude some elders from using miniature devices
  • Elders are less inclined to need to be in 24/7 contact with others that miniature devices and social media sites almost demand
  • Elders have less desire than young people to follow the latest fads
  • Many technology-savvy elders are just discovering blogging, attracted by the opportunity to share their stories and make new friends. (Elders are the fastest-growing age cohort online.)

Among Carl Jung’s seven tasks of aging is “determining the meaning of one’s life.” As David Wolfe brilliantly explains that at his Ageless Marketing blog,

“Life meaning among the young is framed by styles of appearance, language, material acquisitions, and social affiliations in the quest for a solid footing in the external world...

“However, the search for life meaning undergoes a major shift in the second half of life. Whatever people’s material success, many find less and less meaning from “things.” So, they begin to look inward rather than to the outer world in their search for life meaning.”

One way of doing that is putting order and coherence to the events of our lives and blogging is an ideal forum for telling those stories. Listen to Dr. William H. Thomas in his book What Are Old People For? on the subject of information and storytelling:

“Adults and elders alike confuse expertise and information with wisdom and stories…In the life of a healthy community, stories actually matter more than information. They are also far more durable. Stories are told only when they can be heard, heard only when they are told. They come to life in the moment of their telling and then make a place in our memories…

“Storytelling is one of the pleasures of life, its sweetness is enhanced when the story is used to transmit a bit of wisdom…Technical information, useful as it is, has little or no wisdom to it.”

Whether elderblogs can claim to transmit wisdom or not (I have found much wisdom in many), they provide an unparalleled benefits for elders.

As we have discussed here in the past, as people get older, their social worlds can shrink. Children and grandchildren may live thousands of miles away. In retirement, there is no longer the daily interaction with colleagues, nor the easy opportunity for making new friends at work. Old friends and relatives die. And sometimes, mobility issues keep elders from getting out and about as easily or frequently as in the past.

And although it is a new phenomenon, the friendships forged through blogging become as important, close and caring as with our in-person friends. When I left my home of 37 years in Manhattan in mid-2006, to live in Portland, Maine, the first year would have painfully lonely without my blog friends.

There are other important benefits for elders in blogging. At least one study reported at the Eide Neurolearning Blog has shown that blogging keeps minds from stagnating by promoting, among other things

  • critical and analytical thinking
  • creative, intuitive, and associational thinking
  • a combination of the best of solitary reflection and social interaction

For all these reasons, elderblogging is not only here to stay, it will grow even while, perhaps, younger people gravitate to shorter venues, smaller devices and other changes that will ensue. I hope some of those younger people will reconsider longer-form blogging; I would miss their voices.

Or, perhaps it takes getting older to appreciate the pleasures of contemplation – private and out loud on our blogs.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Kay Richard recalls a episode of sweet revenge in Smokin' in the Garage.]

Comments

Good stuff. You finished with this... "the pleasures of contemplation – private and out loud on our blogs." Too true. I blogged for a year, privately, before venturing on-line.

And here, on Planet Orland, in a galaxy far, far away, intellectual leanings are discouraged by the local population and so the world of blogs (Real opinions!) is my salvation. You can only talk about the weather so many times!

You are so right, Ronni! The Blogosphere is great for us elders for all of the reasons you've cited! I just like to write but the friends I've made in almost twenty years online are such a blessing! The only problem is getting around to visit all my friends!!!!!!!!

As many of my friends who visit this site know, I am hearing impaired. Keeping in contact with old friends and making new ones via the computer has been my salvation.

The real problem I have with text messaging is that the kids no longer know how to spell. Their shortcuts become the way they always spell a word. It's comparable to the way the calculator has taken away the need to do math problems. What will happen if the electronic devices go kaput during a crisis?

Wasn't one of the origins of blogging to create a conversation? A conversation is between two (or more folks) not as in Twitter, one message sent out to dozens (or more). The blogosphere has enough room to allow for conversations to exist and develop amongst those of like interests.

Let the short span talkers do their thing. Us elders will enjoy the conversation that occurs where 2 or more of us are gathered, especially here. Thanks Ronni!

I must say I agree with Darlene about the electronic devices going out when least expected.

Have you ever been in Burger King when the electricity goes off and the kid behind the counter can't figure out how much change to give you when you spend $4.99 and you hand them a Five?

Blogging is one good way to get away from abbreviated text messages and sound bites into some real longer-form self-expression. That's why I advocate life story writing for seniors, and those stories can be shared via blogs as well as in books and videos and tape recordings.
Seniorwriter

Ronni,
I hadn't thought about it before, but the idea of looking at the meaning of my life really brings what blogging means to me into focus. It explains why I share family stories, my children's photos, ponderings, poems, pictures and YouTubes I like, the news in my neck of the woods. All of those things reflect on who I am and how I got here.
Making friends is such a major bonus that I can't even begin to imagine how much different my life would be if I gave up blogging.

I belong to an on-line support group that I was content moderator for for absolute years. I posted a lot there, but when I started blogging I found it so much more satisfying. Here I can talk about what I want to talk about, not just the issue the support group dealt with.

I saw twitter, the box is sometimes alongside other blogs, but even when it's good friends, I don't care to know what they are doing all day long. I blog for ideas and about them.

Although I do enjoy reading a couple of journaling bloggers, I am not one of them. When I share my daily life, it's because it fits with an idea that I want to illustrate or a photo I'd like to share. That's what I like about blogging. It has room for both kinds of writing and on my list of daily visits to various blogs, some journal and some expound on ideas.

Your meetings with other bloggers have sounded rewarding and I have enjoyed reading about them. For me, I have yet to actually meet any of the bloggers I read but know the power of internet friendships. I have several good friends, some from as far back as 10 years ago now, who I have met for real but who live a long way from me. Through messenger, sometimes with webcams added, we keep up on each other's lives and ideas.

Only a few of my friends have an interest in reading my blog or any others. It is a medium that maybe has more appeal for those who write or wish to write.

I've enjoyed these entries on the changing elder blogosphere. But something is pecking at me a bit. While I don't like the idea of ads at all either, I will say I want to be careful of something that could, perhaps, be seen as a sort of elitism. I'd give anything to make my livelihood blogging, particularly considering some difficult life circumstances. It is wonderful when one can just blog and create social connections via such and do so while the realities of life are adequately met. But that is not the case for everyone. And most particularly, certainly not for older, single women in this country (aren’t they statistically the most likely population here to live in poverty?).

I'd rather put up with a few ads than have the elder blogosphere shun those who need the money. People have been getting paid for sharing their lives and their ideas for a long time via the writing and purchase of books. Why shouldn't it be acceptable for those who write in the blogosphere to do likewise? Just as paid authors' books are also available for free in the library, so are most blogs free for the taking - one does not have to lay out cash to enjoy and partake.

I'm a ridiculous idealist at heart, and would prefer money have little to do with anything. And despite all I've said so far, I do indeed have my own limit with the number of ads on a blog page, and will indeed avoid those that have what are, to me, a ridiculous and uncomfortable number. Let's just be careful, and let's keep in mind those who struggle with less.

Stella
(who has an adless blog)

Veyismere. You've hit upon a sore note for me. Honestly, the text messaging/twitter "set" (the twenty-somethings) no longer make sense to me. It's as if they're communicating and, as you pointed out, thinking in a different language. As an anthropologist, I'm fearful of this generation (they're the ones who started those elder hate groups on facebook), though am comforted that my younger friends in Ghana are still able to think critically and in full, thought-out arguements.

My sister blogs. She's 26. I have NO IDEA what she is talking about. Her blog has something to do with the Olsen twins and America's top model, and she writes blog entry titles like "listen to this, my bitches!" I kid you not.

The question I have is this: how do we bridge the communication gap between elderbloggers and the twitter set? Can we reinstitute an appreciation in elder's stories, or are their brains too byte-eyezed to even try?

I blog from all over: at home, at work, during vacation. No one spot. I love cruise ships since most now have an on-board Internet cafe. You can blog from any ocean worldwide!

Ronnie: your readers might benefit from this tip. Not all laptops were created equal. My laptop is called a "Desktop Replacement Machine" (DRM). It's all the power, large screen, and large keyboard, crammed into a laptop shell. So the screen and keys are both big, not small like on the tiny laptops. Fewer cables to connect than a desktop. My DRM is heavier than a tiny laptop, but I don't carry it around much. Next time you visit a Best Buy store, ask a sales person to show you a DRM.

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