By Jennifer L. Huget
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, August 2, 2005
July 25, 6 p.m.
While sitting by the pool this evening, sipping a martini after a long road trip, I got a call from my editor. He'd like me to do a story about blogs -- Web logs, online versions of personal journals -- specifically, blogs by, for and about older people. He wants the story for this special aging issue of the Health section.
I don't know much about blogs, beside that they are blamed or credited for influencing the last presidential election and that, just like cell phones, they seem to matter a lot more to other people than they do to me. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever seen a blog.
Anyway, he e-mailed me links to a handful of Web sites hosting such age-related blogs and told me to look for more and tell him what I find.
I will start tomorrow. For now, I will savor this martini.
July 26, 8 a.m.
I've been tooling around the blogosphere, and first: Who knew all these older people were so wired? My mother, nearing 80, doesn't know a mouse from Mozilla. My mother-in-law, neither. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 31 percent of people over 65 have ever gone online. So where did this crop of computer-savvy old folks come from?
And yet: these "older people" we're talking about? Apparently I'm one of them: Some of the sites are aimed at baby boomers who have barely entered their forties. Uh-oh.
July 26, noon
In my first sweep through the world of elderblogs, I see that some are highly personal musings, like traditional journals, that focus on the bitter, the sweet and the practical aspects of growing older. Some are digests devoted to the science of aging -- and to medical measures to forestall the process. Some are forward-looking; some, nostalgic. Some are offshoots of other entities: A Web site geared toward the 40-and-up crowd features a blog where such folks can swap stories; a site hosting blogs of all kinds includes the occasional older-person blog. Some are magnets for midlife online commerce. Some blogs are fun, even inspiring, to read; some are insufferable.
I could, like lots of bloggers, just go on and on about my personal responses to these senior blogs. I could, you know: It seems as I grow older myself that I have new insight into and appreciation for the complex workings of my own mind. . . . But then, that would place this blog squarely in the insufferable category.
July 26, 6 p.m.
Whether your attitude toward aging is apprehensive, clinical or celebratory, the world of elderblogs has a site for you. A site at www.thirdage.com is run by "an online media and direct marketing company focused exclusively on serving the needs of midlife adults -- generally those in their 40s, 50s and 60s -- and those who want to build a genuine relationship with them." The company's tapped a dozen experienced bloggers to get the ball rolling, but everybody's welcome to make their voices heard.
Another senior blog that's an outgrowth of a bigger organization is Bifocal News, at http://www.seniorcitizens.com/weblog/gossipcooler.html , "a daily blog about growing older. We keep our eye on those matters that affect our health, finances, and spiritual well-being." This one's a bit dry: it's mostly book reviews, without a lot of personality. If this is how Bifocal News views aging -- well, let's just say we don't see eye to eye.
July 27, 6 a.m .
If your goal is to avoid aging altogether, check out http://anti-ageing.us/blogger.html , a site run by something called "anti-ageing.us." (Lots of sites only vaguely identify their creators, which makes it hard to judge the quality and authority of the material they present.) On this site, dedicated to "researching ways to extend human lifespan while improving quality of life via science and medicine," you'll find postings of health-related articles imported from other sources. It's a lot to wade through, unless you're really obsessed. But there are some useful tidbits: one blogger, for instance, includes a link to "add a Flu Tracker alert to your desktop, and be informed as soon as the flu appears in your area."
More of the same over at http://longevity.scienceboard.net/ , a blog "dedicated to unraveling the secrets of longevity. The purpose of these discussions is to understand the mechanisms of aging and longevity in order to extend a healthy and productive human lifespan." Run by something called the Science Advisory Board, "an international panel of over 25,000 life science and medical professionals formed in 1997," this one also features articles -- lots of 'em -- about life-extension research.
I think these life-extension bloggers may be on to something: Reading these things makes every minute seem like 10. Perusing them won't help you live longer, but the time you spend will feel like an eternity.
July 27, 8 a.m .
There's not a lot of research about seniors and blogging, partly because the phenomenon appears to be fairly new and partly because blogger demographics are hard to pin down. (Who knows whether that 75-year-old blogger is actually a 20-year-old college student?) What data there are suggest that most bloggers are teenagers and young adults: According to Web-use research company Perseus Development Corp., more than 90 percent of blogs are created by people under 30. Which stands to reason. Who else has enough time on their hands to sit around blogging?
Oh, yeah. Seniors. Retirees. Empty-nesters.
July 27, 8:30 a.m .
Oh, God, more boomers. This morning I visited http://www.aginghipsters.com/ , "a source for trends, research, comment and discussion of and by people born from 1946-1964."
Created by New Jersey residents Jan Reisen and Peter Kooiker, the site includes original articles and other boomer-friendly material -- an Associated Press story about boomer-generation funeral planning, for instance. It's a friendly, low-key place to be.
So is Boomer Reflections, at http://www.boomerreflections.blogspot.com/ , offering "the random thoughts and reflections of an older edge Boomer generation guy. Subjects covered will include anything I think is interesting." But I'm mentioning it here mostly because the site represents a major blogging trend: starting out strong and petering out. This guy must have run out of random thoughts and reflections; his last posting was in November 2004.
Also posting at BlogSpot ( http://www.blogspot.com/ ), a master site where anybody (even me, even you) can launch a blog, is 48-year-old Andy Borrows, whose http://olderandgrowing.blogspot.com/ offers "musings on life and all its confusion, contradictions, richness and opportunities." I like this guy a lot: He has a pleasingly designed site with poetry, photographs and, yup, lots of musings. Doug Plotke at http://dougplotke.modblog.com/ (ModBlog is another blog-creation site) is a nostalgic fellow, sharing reminiscences about summer camp, soapbox scooters and playing marbles.
Andy and Doug are bloggers' bloggers: They have a real human presence, and they write from the heart. They have a female counterpart in Ronni Bennett, a 64-year-old former New York television producer who blogs at http://www.timegoesby.net/ . Bennett's site (which features a row of photos of Ronni, organized chronologically from childhood to the present -- you can watch her grow old before your very eyes) is the quintessential seniors' blog.
Here's a sample, written in March: "In my private hours now -- age 63 at this writing -- I am excited about exploring what getting older is really like. . . . I don't believe getting older could possibly be as bad as our culture makes it out to be. To the contrary, I find aging to be fascinating and even mysterious. I've never been this old before and I want to know a lot more about it. Since no one else is writing in any genuine, real-world way about the later years of life, I have taken on the challenge, and if the many thoughtful comments posted here in response are any indication we are, over time, lifting the veil on this mystery together, creating a remarkable record."
July 27, noon
I just called Ronni Bennett to find out why she blogs.
"I started blogging because the mainstream media does not cover getting old, except disease, debility and decline," Bennett said. Her site, to which she posts every day, features links to about 50 other older bloggers and so creates a kind of online community. "Most of them are not writing about getting older," Bennett told me, "but collectively they continue to prove that old people are vital, alive, intelligent and useful."
Bennett, who started her blog 18 months ago, was happy enough back then if she got six page views -- readers logging onto her site -- a day; today she gets as many as 4,500 per week. (Bennett's such a successful blogger, she spoke last week at a convention of female bloggers in San Francisco, at which the Third Age blog -- to which she's a contributor -- was being formally launched.)
"A lot of people as they grow older get socially isolated," Bennett said. "That leads to depression and early death. Blogging opens up a world of companionship, and it makes you eager to find out about things, read the newspaper, watch TV," which help make you a better, more informed blogger. Bloggers sometimes exchange e-mails, start corresponding directly and "become real friends," Bennett said. "And no less so for not being face to face. For older people, it's a godsend."
July 28, 10 a.m .
I had hoped to talk also with Millie Garfield, who at 79 bills herself as one of the Internet's oldest bloggers. Alas, she didn't reply in time for my deadline. Millie started her site, http://mymomsblog.blogspot.com/ , at the instigation of her son, video blogger Steve Garfield. Millie's site brings to mind David Letterman's mother's visits to his show: Somehow she makes her daily struggles seem funny.
Millie mixes it up: Her site includes her account of her love/hate relationship with the Boston Globe and of going to the movies in the olden days, but it literally comes to life with videos shot by her son, including the classic "I Can't Open It," in which she wrangles with a Tylenol bottle, a dental-floss dispenser and a shampoo container. I laughed; I cried.
July 28, late in the day
Just one last, nagging question: If getting old's really such a rich and rewarding experience, as these bloggers say, then why are so many of them (us?) sitting around in front of computers? Shouldn't we be out doing something more, well, vital with all that vitality?
Just asking. Please post your comments. ·
Jennifer Huget is a regular contributor to the Health section.