New Elderblog List
Dear Mr. President: Chained CPI

Elders, Modern Communication and Me

Remember what communication was like when we were kids? We had the telephone – often on shared party lines – hardwired into the wall. If we had something to say to anyone when we were away, we waited until we got home or, if time mattered, we found a phone booth.

The other option was snailmail, actual words in ink on paper sent through the post office. We didn't need to designate them “snailmail” back then; it was the only kind there was.

Nowadays, in addition to snailmail, there is email, instant messaging, tweeting, texting, Facebook, Skype and some other brands that are variations on these themes.

Most of all, there is the ubiquitous mobile phone which, nowadays, is hardly for talking at all. It's a GPS service, a game console, a camera and web browser. You can watch videos and TV, listen to your own music or to radio, scan a document, program your home DVR and, of course, indulge in the ever-popular texting.

(There are webpages devoted to long lists of more things cellphones can do including some that are hoaxes – extra, hidden battery power, for example, does not exist.)

The only time I can see that mobile phones are used for talking is at restaurant meals with a friends – often a beloved friends – whose phones continually buzz. “Sorry, I need to take this,” they say as they walk away from the table. And do again in a few minutes. And again. There seem to be a lot of emergencies during lunch and dinner these days.

Last week, I received an email from a long-time reader in Ireland named Anne Brew. She had been watching the video of a presentation I gave in 2007 on elders and technology:

”Do you still hate texting?” asked Anne.

“I'm 64 and a lot of my family don't live near enough to visit daily although I'd like to communicate with them daily. Phoning seems impertinent; it locks the person into talking to you when they might be at work, in the car, asleep. Texting has worked for me as a good alternative.”

Yes, I still dislike texting. The only possible use I can imagine for it is to let someone know I'm running late for our appointment but one could as easily make a voice call.

The phone keyboards – physical or virtual – are too small to be comfortable for typing longer messages and beyond “I'll be 15 minutes late,” well, call me unimaginative, but no other short messages worth sending come to mind.

Anne's comment that “phoning seems impertinent” is a surprise. Can that be true? After all, speech was the original reason for phones and there's something warm and comfortable about listening to a friend's voice, don't you think? And just as in the past, the callee is not required to answer or can say he or she is busy right now, so why not phone?

There are people with whom, via email, I make appointments for telephone chats, but there are at least an equal number – young and old – whom I call on whim, as do they. When there is no answer, leaving a voice message is as easy as it has always been and we get back to one another at our convenience.

What a terrible world it would be if the only time the phone rings is when it's spam.

Invariably, when this discussion has come up on this blog in the past, a number of readers sound defensive about Facebook. “I use it because that's where the grandchildren are,” they say.

Oh, come on. You can say it out loud without excuses. It's all right to like Facebook. I happen to dislike it (almost as much as Twitter). And that's okay too. I use FB only as an additional distribution channel for readers who find it convenient to read TGB that way. (Twitter too.)

What I find intolerable about FB (among other things) is the unceasing stream of short, out-of-context commentary and in particular, all the “likes” of this, that and the other. There is little value to the empty observation that someone likes this TV show or that photograph or book without knowing the reason.

Some people tell me blogging is old fashioned now and I should be doing this directly on Facebook along with tweeting short, pithy comments throughout the day about aging.

Throughout the day? I have a life, a life that after great effort on my part now involves much less screen time than in the past. More important, however, outside of “Fire! Run!” I believe there is precious little that can be said in under 140 characters that is worth spending the time to read.

No, I'm sticking with long form communication starting with unstructured telephone calls that meander from one subject to another and last until we feel we're done. Full-length blog posts too – to read and to write – with whole sentences, paragraphs and developed thought.

And so it goes each in our own way.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: On My Wardrobe in Retirement


"There is little value to the empty observation that someone likes this TV show or that photograph or book without knowing the reason."

But if you see that they 'like' it, you can open a dialog with them about it - or not - as you choose. I love FB for the opportunity to connect with people from my home town and school, whom I might not otherwise have contact with. It allows me to see many videos, photos, stories, news and items I would never have the chance to see without it.

"Anne's comment that 'phoning seems impertinent' is a surprise."

Ronni--I might not use impertinent, but I do feel that phone calls are more intrusive than other forms of communication. It takes a stick of dynamite to make me dial/key push a telephone. I will walk 1/2 mile to avoid calling.

That said, I have never had texting enabled on my Smartphone - nor, the Internet. Subconsciously, I guess I feel that if someone wishes to hear from me - they will call me. Illogical, I know; but, it's embedded in (what I call) my brain.

At least with email and blogging, folks may decide whether it is convenient for them to pick up my message - although - I'll have to admit that many seem so addicted to the screen that they are obsessive about picking up those communications.

The more ways we have of communicating, the less real communication takes place. It is hard enough ensuring that good communication takes place, face-to-face, let alone through any other process.

My son told me that many young people today don't even have a computer of any sort...just a tablet or phone and do most of their communicating for work or personal through text,tweet or instagram. A whole new world for the young...different, yes, but totally intriguing to me.

I still remember my grandma's phone number (MI8-0540), nearly 60 years after her phone was disconnected.

The black bakelite phone, complete with party-line access at no extra charge, sat on the side of the cabinet to the left of the kitchen sink.

The handy location allowed her to eavesdrop on the partyline while she peered through the window over the sink at the neighbors' house, just in case they were doing aznything interestimg.

At the same time, she was washing the dishes,while my breakfast was cooking on the gas stove across the kitchen.

I have a cell phone on my kitchen counter...I must remember to charge it one of these days.

I'm mostly with you on this Ronni........but I do love Skype with the grans & FB too for the cute videos. Otherwise, I don't do any of the other especially Twitter. But there is one thing about phoning that really irritates me & that's "call waiting." I hate to wait while a friend/relative checks to see if the other call is more important. I'm at the point where I'm going to tell "call waiting" folks that I'm going to hang up! Dee

It just goes to show that we really are all different! I have no interest in games or music on my iPhone but I really do love a good heartwaming conversation with a daughter of an evening, by text, semi colons and all. One of them said she gets a fright when I phone, assuming it must be bad news!

I'm afraid that for us it has come to this: only time the phone rings is when it's spam. I'd say that's true 95% of the time. I've blocked so many numbers, my phone won't let me block any more.

The only reason we even keep a home phone is so that the elders in our family can call us and we can call them. Our kids rarely call. But at least we cut the cost down by losing our land-line and getting phone service via voice over internet.

Am with you all the way, Ronni. Have never texted and friends know better than to text me. You can't beat a good old fashioned phone call, although I have to admit, Skype with webcam is coming a close second.

I have a question.

But first: I agree with what's said here. I hate the idea of texting (and paying to text), but my daughter no longer answers who phone most of the time, so I'm beginning to feel if I'm going to communicate, I have to text.

Yes phoning is intrusive. Human relationships are intrusive.

My question: Would anyone here please recommend the best kind of laptop or tablet (?) for an older person with some finger arthritis and vision problems? For use while in hospital.


Well, I for one agree with every single thing you say here! My daughter tried to teach me texting, and when I saw the process I immediately knew I didn't want to do it. I stopped going on Facebook because everyone's perpetually happy days and nights left me depressed that mine are not so cheery. I'm holding out on my cell phone that does nothing except make phone calls. I do not want or need a telephone that can go onto the Internet. When I leave my house it's a welcome break away from my desk. Sure, there have been times that it would be convenient to see what's playing at the movies while I'm on the bus and could get myself to a theater if I knew the schedule, but big deal. I'm a blogger and I'm as much of a computer whiz as I was a typist back in the day, and that is good enough for me.

Oh, yes, the grandkids do remain a problem: they only text, and so rarely respond to my emails. We love each other despite it all.

TracFone,just a Fone, no apps, works for me! Only my
family members have the number. Only my Mom, 102 yrs old, calls me. Not every day.
Others connect via email.

There is no contract on my Fone, it is all prepaid.

The "Social Networks" are not
for me. Prefer to play music on my Awesome Arranger Keyboard, or just sit holding my "Significant Other", my big beautiful Clyde Cat...and
watching PBS TV. Actual THINKING is another favorite
think to do!!!!

They all have a value, but I'm not keen on any aside from e mail and I was a convert almost immediately. I love seeing words in print! I abandoned a land line to save money, but my cell isn't smart. I'll admit I've wished it were on occasion when I'm out and would like to get directions or check a price.

I'm with Dee on 'call waiting'. Aside from true emergencies, there's no more effective way to make a person feel like they don't matter as much as the next call.

What I find removed from all our instantaneous communications is the opportunity for reflection and contemplation. I find the considered opinion is more often more reasonable and less just a knee-jerk reaction.
Our political discourse would benefit from such time for consideration, i think.

There is always a sense that elders who do not text or take up other new kinds of communication are Luddites and worse: old people who can't/won't keep up and who thereby prove they are out of the loop, doddering old fools.

But I wonder why we seem to be expected to adopt young people's technology and not vice versa.

No one ever suggests that the young ones who don't telephone or email should adapt to their parents' and grandparents' way of communicating.

New is not, by definition, better - something old people have far more experience at learning (the hard way over many years) than young people yet have. We might be on to something when we find texting as conversation to be too tedious and unfulfilling.

Skype is fine. I enjoy it. But hardly anyone I know - young or old - uses it much. So except for one or two people, it mostly sits there taking up space on my computer.

The kids have largely abandoned Facebook. They are using other methods. Facebook is for the parents and grandparents now.

I loathe Facebook -- am only on it, and Twitter, because some people encounter my blog that way. Also, I'll occasionally tweet if I'm at something that is in the Tweet-stream, like a demonstration.

But, unlike Ronni, I like texting. My iPhone allows me to enter texts by voice as well as keyboard and it has learned to interpret my messages pretty accurately (or has it trained me? we don't know.)

I got into texting when I was traveling for work. A phone call home was a full scale interaction. A text could be silly and mundane without interrupting if the recipient was doing something more valuable than learning I was confronted with a eating a sea bass with the head still attached!!

That sort of thing works well for me -- texting goes mostly to my nearest and dearest.

I have to agree with cop car and many other comments on this post, Ronni. I love fb for the games I play Words withfriends and others, as well. I enjoy connecting -briefly - with the friends and finding it an outlet for comments that come to mind. Phone calls - are most welcome - if anyone wants to talk to me. I don't call anyone other then my family because I have been insulted on more then one occasion - when someone said - what do you want or why did yu call me...these were I guess not my if you want me - just call. I also use the Trac phone system and it is just fine for me. Text - how with those little keys - I would need the Jitterbug and who really cares....if you want me JUST CALL.

Unless one counts the occasional comment here on TGB, I don't do social media in any way. (I understand the media, but I'm just not social). But I will give Facebook credit for making life easier for those who are into it: clicking on a "Like" button is much less exhausting than typing out "I really enjoyed all of those kitten collages you reposted today".

Thanks for the timely topic, Ronni. Surely we have crossed the border into a (brave?) new world. Phone calls are now considered an intrusion bordering on rudeness. And email is already passé other than for business and work. If I need to communicate with young people, I text. If I want to know what's going on with my relatives I check FB. I've also read that many young people cannot read cursive so that handwritten letters and documents may as well be in a foreign language. I am trying to keep up with it all, but I can't believe that the enthrallment to technology is not changing the nature of human consciousness.

I cancelled my FB account after being hacked by opening a fake FB e-mail. I know, I know - I should have been smarter, but there you are.

I am all thumbs when I have to use the small keyboard on my Kindle and I would hate texting.

If it is intrusive when I call my kids they can take a message on their cell phones and call back when they are not driving or are busy elsewhere. I have no need for anything other than my captioned phones and my computer.

And I find it rude if someone takes a call when we are having lunch. Unless it's an emergency the caller can leave a number and the luncheon guest can return the call when we are no longer chatting.

Therefore, Ronni, you speak for me.

I detest Facebook for the way it uses people and abuses their privacy. I publish to it and Twitter only as a convenience to my readers. Not being a social person at all, I do not text. My cellphone is carried only as a convenience and safety measure when I'm away from home. My home phone is verging on being more of a nuisance than a convenience, with all the telemarketing calls I get, and I'm seriously considering paying for a new, unlisted number, after which I'll give out only my Google voice number. If I didn't feel a landline was essential for safety purposes (911) and extensions necessary for convenience, I'd discontinue the service completely. It has become that annoying (2-5 telemarketing calls every day).

I very rarely call anyone. Something about being a shy introvert makes me feel that any call to someone will be an intrusion. I firmly believe that good manners require you to ignore or postpone phone calls in deference to any person actually in your presence.

I love email but believe there are still situations that require snail mail. Important business matters come to mind. And I still consider handwritten thank you and bread-and-butter notes a must.

I agree with Jeri and largely with you, Ronni, as well. I hate cellphones and the high-volume yakking and whatever else many people feel free to do with them everywhere (including while driving!). Still, I have one and use it when necessary. Same for Facebook and Twitter. I don't text. I do email. I'm not a total technophobe, but neither do I need every whiz-bang new gadget or "app" that comes along.

In my opinion what is being lost to ever-advancing technology is the ability to put sentences together (i.e., write) in the English language. That will be viewed as a great loss generations from now, I believe, as future historians try to decipher our legacy.

I wonder what the world will be like 20 years from today? The rate of change seems to be increasing. I'm scared, but of course I'll be 85 then (if I live so long) and might not try to keep up so much. I do predict that this blog will still be in operation :)

Going to totally disagree with you about texting. My Dad, 93, is hard of hearing and can't negotiate the telephone very well anymore.

Texting is perfect for us; and, although we are 500 miles apart, we text every day. This kind of communication would be impossible on the phone.

I love my iPad for the email, Skype (I live internationally), FB (and its texting), blog and internet contact. My cell phone is just a phone but I do a little calling and texting as necessary on that. I wonder where it's all heading but figure I should keep up until I can't. Mostly I love to read and write.

Like Cop Car, I find the telephone very intrusive. Yes, it is an essential piece of equipment and yes I enjoy chatting to friends and I talk to my daughter on the phone for two hours at a time, which is wonderful (and works better for us than Skyping because Skype tethers both parties to their computers whereas cordless phones allow multitasking). But I much prefer scheduled calls to impromptu ones because then I can arrange my day to include them. For a writer, there is nothing worse than having the creative flow interrupted by the shrill, demanding voice of a telephone.
Email, for me, is the best invention ever. And I enjoy social networks too—including Facebook—because there, as with email, I get to decide when to interact and when to stay in my quiet cocoon.
Texting can be useful in certain situations but why anyone would actually choose to spend their entire day squinting at a four-inch screen and typing with their thumbs on keys the size of rice grains I cannot fathom.

I am with you, Ronni. I neither text nor tweet or Facebook. Blogging or email works for me.

re: Facebook -- when the execs there stop hiding their billions overseas, I might consider it but probably not.

Ronni, I share or did share your feelings about Facebook to the extent that about 18 months ago I deleted my account only to "enlist" again a few months later simply because everyone - or almost everyone - is on it. I have found one Facebook use that does send me into praise of Facebook. In December, my younger son took his life. One of his friends set up a Tribute Page.

This to me, is better than a headstone, an obituary in a leading newspaper. This is what his friends, his generation felt about him. And being on Facebook it keeps on keeping on. It is a great comfort to me. When Facebook is used like this, I am all for it.

I was slow to take it up but I quite enjoy texting now. Mostly just keep in touch with the kids, arrange meetups, and organize family long distance phone calls. I used to be into email, I still use it but not to the degree I did in the past. My favourite form of communication is talking, face to face. All this other stuff is a substitute, IMO, and substitutes are useful by times. I inherited my dog from my son and I like being able to text a photo of the dog to him, it's very immediate and satisfying.

How can I view the video of your presentation on Aging?

Thank you.

It's linked from my About page (link to that in upper left corner) or click here.

It's probably way out of date.

Sheila Silver Halet--Clarification: I don't do FB, although I did for a year or two. I don't like how they play fast & loose with other peoples' information.

Jeri Reilly--Some of us are from an era when, if we had a phone at all (our first phone "number" was a long and two shorts), it was for use in emergencies or for "important" stuff. Many years of my life, I've had no phone at all (as "recently" as the 1980s). I never thought that I was important enough to make phone calls just for chatting, I guess.

One advantage of texting that has not been mentioned (or - did I miss it?) is that, in an emergency situation, texting may get delivered where a phone call might not. It takes less bandwidth/less power to get a text message to a repeater. (Similar to, in the old days, when we hams used continuous wave radio signals rather than amplitude or frequency modulated modulated signals to get through in an emergency, on low power.)

My son, who has 2 daughters in college, tells me that texting is going the way of all mail before it and being replaced by twitter. I'm not sure how that works, but I am sure I don't want anything to do with it. I've thought from its beginning that twitter would do serious damage to western civilization.

One of the most wonderful new ways of communicating I know is one we used during the holiday season. One of my sons and I live in the western U.S and my other son and his family live in the east, but we were able to chat as if we were in each others' living rooms with a xbox app. It's similar to skype, but better. We could see my eastern son's whole family sitting in their house while we talked (using a humongous tv screen) and they could see us sitting in my western son's house. I highly recommend it.

I must say, I do agree with most of what you write, Ronni.

However, I do hesitate now when I think about calling a phone number and will choose to text in many instances, or do nothing.

In the old days, we called 'home phones' and there was comfort knowing that the person can answer or let it go to an answering machine. If someone wasn't home, they didn't get the call until they got home and listened to their messages... maybe.

Anyway, now that everyone has their cell phone in their hand, I'm worried that my ring-tone will be going off in the middle of a class/concert/conversation, etc. etc.

I know it's not MY problem - they should shut off their phone, but it does make me stop and think, "Should I text instead so I don't seem 'impertinent'"???

This is such a good conversation. I really appreciate your honesty. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

I'm with you, Ronni. I'll take a well thought out handful of paragraphs over a blurt of 'omg' and misspelled incomplete thoughts any day. I still don't have a smart phone, just a dumb one, and I rarely use that as it is. Let's hear it for quality over quantity!

I do not want to be controlled by a phone (or device) of any sort - it is there to serve me, not the other way around. Observing the world nowadays where it seems that a lot of people do opt to be controlled by their phone/device (can't leave home without it, sorry must take this call during a lunch,...), I do suppose I am the odd one, but I'm comfortable with that.

Reading the comments, it seems that we elders have embraced the technologies that suit our needs and eschewed those that don't. Hurrah for us! We are adaptable and wise enough to consider the pros and cons. In my case, combine some soft-voiced friends with my increasing hearing problems, and texting has become a tool I use in some cases. I Skype chat every work day with friends in my same field of work, all of us working from home, and my grandchildren go through periods when they Skype call me quite frequently and others when they don't. Worried about privacy concerns, I held off using FB until our town was swept by wildfires two years ago, destroying more than 1600 homes and causing many of the rest of us to be evacuated for days. FB was the only way to get reliable news about what was happening while we were evacuated, whether our house still existed and when we could return. I did so value the renewed contact with old friends, but I encountered so much unexpected vitriol directed toward groups of people, those with different views or lifestyles, that I grew dismayed. It wasn't directed at me, but it was as if FB erased the conventions of normal human courtesies and allowed people to say things that they would never say when speaking face-to-face. I decided that, whatever I might gain from FB, I lost more. I'm off. I see no need to tweet my daily activities or off-the-cuff thoughts to the world. Others of us will employ a different mix of technologies, for different reasons.

We live in an age of distraction. Sometimes it seems that the secret purpose of many of our new technological gadgets is to hijack our awareness. As a result, the mind is trained to behave in a hyper-active manner, and loses the ability to focus, concentrate, or contemplate for any meaningful period of time.

The ideas of "long form communication" and "meandering conversations" are wonderful. Meaningful thought and conversation requires continuity, focus, clarity, and imagination. Short, isolated burst of thought might be good to share an information bits and bytes, but certainly does not support quality of thougt.

I have even noticed that some people seem to difficulty reading anything longer than a few paragraphs. New technologies can foster a feeling of impatience and an unfortunate need for immediate gratification. This impairs our quality of thought.

I do make use of various technologies and I will learn new ones as they come out, but I am also on guard to prevent myself from having my mind pushed and shoved into too many different directions.

And indeed, there is the danger of over-communicating and having a great deal to say about very little.

Note to SHELLEY... My recent 7wk hospital stay was made more bearable with my iPad. One huge, inexplicable problem: the hospital blocked TGB and many other unlikely candidates for censorship. Still, that's probably not common. I find the keyboard very easy to use and the expandable screen makes reading easier. Most videos and movies can be seen full screen and often there's a " Reader" option on the address bar which just shows the text on the screen. I don't use it, but Siri voice search is available too. Hope this helps and that you have a very short stay!

Having your cell phone on (and answering it) during a restaurant lunch with ME is not going to be appreciated. How rude!

The comments to this entry are closed.