Elders and the Government Shutdown
The 2008 Oldest Old Project: Saul Friedman

Elders and Online Friends

In an age when the word “friend” is used as a verb and too many people attach self-worth the number of Facebook friends they have, what in the world can the idea of friendship possibly mean? Especially online?

As I often note in these pages, social isolation can become a problem in old age. If we are retired, we lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace, children and grandchildren may live far away, old friends sometimes move to another city or state or – how dare they! - even die.

And, our own mobility may become limited. That doesn't always mean physical disability or having to give up driving. In my case, evening social engagements are hardly possible at all anymore due to a relatively recent disruption in my circadian rhythm that even has a name: advanced sleep phase disorder or ASPD.

There is no need for detail about it today (I wrote about here). It means that for the past couple of years, I have been unable to stay awake past 7PM or 7:30PM. With great effort, I can occasionally push it later but there is not much point since my brain is on hold except for trying to resist sleep.

In addition, elderbloggers and blog readers are more likely than many younger people to be full time caregivers which limits in-person social time. Others may have moved to a new city themselves and be – as yet – without new friends.

So all of those are among the reasons I believe that the internet arrived just in time for our generation(s) to develop a new kind of friendship that opens – quite literally – a world of possibilities for human connections that can prevent loneliness, expand our horizons and help us form bonds that can be as close and nurturing and intimate as our in-person relationships.

Before I began blogging ten years ago, I would not have believed that. But now, at least half the people I hold most dear I have met through this and other blogs and half of those I have never met in person.

But that doesn't diminish the connections I feel.

It could be, too, that being at a physical remove is an advantage, especially in the beginning. Instead of the sometimes awkward small talk about weather we are stuck with when we are introduced to new people, on blogs we have a ready-made conversation with areas of common interest.

And there is plenty of time – well, space – to speak in complete thoughts which contributes to understanding one another better. Millie Garfield of My Mom's Blog wasn't entirely joking many years ago when she said what she likes most about blogging is “no one interrupts me.”

In-person conversation is always jumbled with a lot of crosstalk and there's nothing wrong with that. But as we first encounter new people in blogs, the medium itself allows us, even encourages us, to be more thoughtful in both writing and reading – and that helps foster friendship.

Nowadays, there is hardly a difference to me between in-person and online friends. They are equally precious.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Thomas Moore: Nil Illegitimii Carborundum


I have very dear friends that I originally met online. I have often said I really don't know what I would do without them. I am very active on Twitter and have met many delightful, smart, caring people there of all ages. Also, have got to meet several in person. Love doing that.

Love this post, and agree that online media such as this blog, FB, and other venues afford us with basic tools (device, connectivity, savvy) near-limitless chances to seek, stumble upon, socialize, and stay connected, informed, entertained, empowered. I treasure my online friends whether we have met in real-time, will meet, or probably never will.

A note on advanced sleep phase disorder or ASPD that I, too, experience though have not been officially diagnosed. I missed your earlier post on the topic, and was glad to follow the link here. I find annoying that many otherwise pleasant people don't hesitate to make insensitive "jokes" or snide remarks as though we choose to nod off just when they are stepping out. Oh well; what do they know and what should I care?

End of comment written in Tel Aviv and posted to Portland, OR, and beyond!

Earlier this week my daily converstions with a friend on the opposite side of the country were interrupted by her mail server going bonkers; and I said so in my blog, which she reads daily. Among the other problems she was dealing with, she came up with a new (to me) email box that was working and we resumed our conversations. I did wonder how long she would patiently wait for me to write, after our several times a day routine. She didn't have to wait at all...so we continue to have the back-fence conversation across the miles. I've new friends that have developed entirely through my blogs.

Great post, Ronni... I do feel like I 'know' you (and like you) because of your wonderful blog!

"No one interrupts you." What a perfect conversation! Trying to interject a thought in a conversation these days is exhausting. When I was young, we were taught not to interrupt -- that was a long time ago!

Simply wonderful new friends indeed. One grows sweet peas while working at the PO, and another has retired from a wonderful career and now received her Masters. Without the web I never would have met them. Or you. :)

In addition to wonderful new friends, like Ronni, I've found that blogging also changes old friendships. A number of people I've known tangentially for years -- perhaps they came into my orbit by way of my partner or in work circles -- have turned out to be blog readers and so we've grown much closer. All quite wonderful.

One thing I've found through Facebook is that casual acquaintances have become real friends. By seeing their thoughts and postings on FB regularly, I realized that we had a lot more in common than was evident at a first. So in the end, several FB contacts have led to deeper connections, which is very satisfying.

I've chatted with a number if on-line friends for around 15 years, even talked by phone to a couple, but actually visited one in real life in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in July of 2012. I had a great time and intend to visit others in the future.

Based on personal experience, I'd like to caution that no one assume an online friend will also make a good real life friend. There's so much that doesn't come across online, or isn't allowed to come across, or that no one thinks to mention (personal habits, lifestyle, eccentricities, relationships, etc.). Your mind tends to fill in the gaps and you form an idea of what a person is like that may not be at all accurate. Enjoy online friends for what they are, but be wary of making unwarranted assumptions about what they are like in real life.

I envy you all your ability to make friends online. I tend to back off for fear of presuming too much and thinking there's a friendship when the person is just being polite. And I'm also a little afraid when someone seems to me to be coming on too strong (e-mail after e-mail in a day, say). I'd love it if any of you would elaborate a little on how, in your experience, the back-and-forth process goes.

As you know, Ronni, my husband passed away this year and without my computer friends to "Talk to" I do not know what I would have done.

I have a fairly large family in the area, but none of them is even close to my age. I am the last of my generation in this family and rely on my on-line chums for comfort and conversation.Without them I would truly be alone when it comes to subjects that elders enjoy talking about like the "olden days".

I read your posts every day and what you write about is exactly what I want to talk about with someone, and that someone is mostly you.

I don't always comment but,believe me,I seldom miss a day of your companionship.

I never know what I will find when your page opens. It could be a serious subject along political lines or it might be Henri II and his French accent making me smile.

Whatever I find I enjoy, and I thank you and any of my other computer friends who may be reading this for your friendship and love.

I really believe that the friends that I have made through blogs and the Internet saved my life.

Most of you know I am hearing impaired, very old, can't walk or stand for long and am virtually housebound. I also live alone with all of my family in other states.

Life would have been very dismal for me without the computer and friends I have made through the Internet. Now I am happy, love my new friends and have a social circle, even though it is a virtual one.

I respectfully disagree with Pied Type. I think I know my Internet friends as well, or perhaps better, than my live friends. Who you are cannot be disguised for long when you divulge your interests, feelings and life style on a blog or by e-mail. I think that we learn how people think and what their interests are by their writing. Some friends we meet face-to-face are either embarrassed to divulge what they really think or are adept at hiding it. People are more apt to disclose their thoughts and feelings in the safety of the impersonal internet.

I have met a few of my blogging friends in real life and was never surprised or disappointed. They were exactly as I had imagined them to be and were just as wonderful.

Ooops! I didn't mean to say that I lived alone WITH all of my famiy----. I meant to say that I live alone BECAUSE all of my family, etc.

One word can change the meaning. Sorry.

I've had an opportunity to come to know many different kinds of people by blogging since I retired. I've come to care about them and a big part of my early morning is seeing how they are today and what they are doing.

I like you, too! I feel that you know me and I know you and if it is more superficial than it might be if we saw each other (early in the day!) in person, it only happened at all because of the internet.

It's reconnecting with old friends and making new friends and keeping up with the news... it creates community and I love it.

Your post today
especially meaningful to me.
As I heal from a horrible
fall - it seems those who write to me online, comment on my blog and encourage me are number more then
actual visitors to my isolated setting and most family is spread far away...

I agree. Without the web I'd be almost entirely isolated. With it I can still use my skills and share knowledge gained over years of research. I can present at conferences I cannot physically attend and work on papers with researchers anywhere in the world.

I can talk to friends and family and I can post pictures of my cats on-line. must stop cat now in lap LOL

I agree that online friends are just as important as in person friends. I love being part of the elder blogging community. It is wonderful to have so many people to travel through these elder years with. Many thanks to Ronni for sharing her skill and talent in bringing so much wisdom (and fun) together. Love to Crabby!!

love your blog, I read it daily. As a senior with a ill spouse I am home too much and without much social contact outside the home. My online friends allow me to reach out to many around the country and abroad. While I correspond with many whom I have not met in person, I feel that I know them as well as I know some in my town. A little "distance" is probably good. We can be friends without irritating each other.

What an interesting post and comments - I started reading your blog Ronni because I was searching for a "community of minds - something I had missed since retiring - and I have loved both your post and all the comments and learned so much about American politics and life in the process - I live in Australia.
However I haven't made any effort to reach out and make new friends - not sure why - I love emailing my long time friends but I think I should soon start broadening that circle because I certainly believe the internet is a lifeline for elders.
Many thanks for making me think - again!

Actually one of my best friends is Google.Who answers my questions at odd hours is knowledgeable and is always there. My computer is good company but nothing can replace long lost friends.

I agree with Pied Type that a degree of caution is good. Some years ago my wife and I developed what we thought was a tight little circle of e-friends. We played an on-line game together and exchanged comments while doing that and also came to exchange e-mails. The whole thing collapsed when one supposedly trustworthy group member started hitting on several women in the group. I have found good friends on the web, but now I take it slow in turning acquaintances into friends.

I look forward to Ronni's post as soon as it comes in, and find the comments of equal interest. However I share the reserve of PiedType. Online conversations are thought provoking and on a level I seldom find in casual conversation. This is life enriching, and a wonderful way to start the day.

I live in a remote rural area, with little access to a compatible community from which to draw friends, so online connections, especially through email and skype, are the way I experience much of my social support. Nothing, however, substitutes for the face-to-face occasional delight of hugs and excited-to-be-with-you interaction that includes being interrupted! :)

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