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Aging and Blogging

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Ronni Bennett
Blogger, "Time Goes By"
Tuesday, August 2, 2005; 11:30 AM

Ronni Bennett, author of the blog "Time Goes By," was online Tuesday, August 2, at 11:30 a.m. ET to discuss her experiences with getting older and writing about it in her blog.

If you'd like to share your own thoughts about getting older or if you have any questions about blogging, feel free to bring your own experiences to the table and to ask Ronni Bennett about her own.

Explaining about her blogging, Bennett says on "Time Goes By":

"In my private hours now -- age 63 at this writing (March 10, 2005) -- I am excited about exploring what getting older is really like. There is precious little information available in popular writing that is not negatively focused on disease, debility and decline. But 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."

Bennett worked as a producer in radio and television for most of her career. As part of her television career, she has produced local morning programs and spent a decade at The Barbara Walters Specials and 20/20 on ABC Television. She has also written scripts for such documentary series as The 20th Century and Biography.

In 1996, Bennett moved on to the Internet as the first managing editor at cbsnews.com and then as director of content and Web best practices for several other Web sites.

Bennett has made her home in Greenwich Village since 1969. She was born in Portland, Ore., and spent her later teen years in Sausalito, Calif. She has also lived in San Francisco, Phoenix, Houston, Minneapolis and Chicago.

A transcript follows.

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Vienna, Va.: How did you learn to create the blog? How did you manage to get such a high profile? Also--how do you feel about so many folks knowing the kinds of things most of us express very privately, in a journal?

Thanks!

Ronni Bennett: Re learning how to blog? I had worked at Web sites for ten years before starting, so I knew a lot about creating web sites. And, I read a lot of blogs for a long time before I started. But you don't need to do that. There are many blogging services that make it easy for people who know nothing about creating web sites.

You can find out a lot about how to blog at wikipedia.org, then search the word "blogs" or "blogging."

I'm a strong believer in excellent content to draw readers. I've been doing Time Goes By for 18 months and only in the past few months has my traffic really jumped as more people have found the site.

Everyone has different privacy boundaries and you need figure those out for yourself. I always ask myself, would I care if this were published on the front page of the Washington Post with my name attached?

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Fort Worth, Tex.: There are 45 million people in the U.S. over the age of 60 and 117 million over the age of 40 -- and a very underserved group at that. Scientists tell us that people, on the average, live 7.5 years longer when they have a positive self-perception of themselves and the aging process in general.

How does blogging fit into this equation? Can blogging be a tool to overcome the stereotyping we have learned and internalized for years upon years?

Oh, and let me say that "Time Goes By" is a must read for me every day.

Thanks.

Ronni Bennett: Thanks for reading TGB. I appreciate it. Reading older bloggers' sites are an excellent way to improve one's self-image. If you haven't - check out the people on my "older bloggers" list at my site. Altogether, those folks - who may not be writing about age precisely - still tell us more about what getting older is really like than all the experts put together. At least I think so.

Blogging is also an excellent tool for keeping one's mind active. A study was done about how blogging improves critical thinking. I don't have the link right now, but here's a list of what they discovered:

Blogs can promote critical and analytical thinking.

Blogging can be a powerful promoter of creative, intuitive, and associational thinking.

Blogs promote analogical thinking.

Blogging is a powerful medium for increasing access and exposure to quality information.

Blogging combines the best of solitary reflection and social interaction.

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Guixi, China: Actually, I am only 20, but someday, I forgot when, my cousin saw me, he said, wow, Danw, see how have you changed -- you had a round face when I parted last September, but now, you have a "mother-like face." I had a complex feeling then -- is this what you call "becoming old"? I do not reject that, but is it the cost to grow up? I mean losing what used to have or used to be?

Ronni Bennett: For everything you lose in aging - which is mostly physical - energy, slowing down in general - you gain so much: understanding, knowledge, and even you're really lucky, some real wisdom. I've enjoyed every era of my life, but I'm so much more comfortable with me and happier at 64 than at any other time in my life. I also know me a lot better, much more comfortable in my own skin.

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Arlington, Va.: Instead of sitting around "blogging," you should be outside exercising!

Ronni Bennett: You're right about that :-) - and I get out and move around a lot too.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you feel you're learning from this? Are you finding what you thought you'd find? How has blogging affected your life? Thanks.

Ronni Bennett: I started the blog to find out what getting older is REALLY like because no one was writing anything about aging except disease, debility and decline. I knew it couldn't possible be that bad, so the blog was started to investigate that.

I'm finding a world - literally people from many countries besides the U.S. - of older people who prove every day that this era of life is as rewarding, exciting and fulfilling as every other era. U.S. culture is so youth-centric that there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Age discrimination in the workplace, general ageism - bad jokes that reinforce the belief that old is bad. The age and beauty police urge us to undergo surgery, use poison injections, etc. to remain faux young people. I refuse to do that and more and more people are joining me in that belief at the blog.

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Anonymous: Can you tell us more about blogging? Is there really a "community"? If so, what's it like in terms of scope and people? Thanks.

Ronni Bennett: There are thousands of communities in the blogging world. Many are centered around shared interests - anything from politics, to knitting to model trains and...getting older.

There are many regulars on my site that have become real friends, no less friends for being distanced physically. As you recognize some of the people who regularly leave comments on your blog and something they say resonates, you begin emailing too and really getting to know one another.

I think for people who are old enough that they can't get around well anymore, whose older friends may have died, whose families live far away, blogging is a godsend of creating real community and friendship.

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Waynesboro, Va.: Why should it be so difficult and such a burden on family when one decides to give up driving a car? Public transport is a huge failure outside metropolitan areas.

Ronni Bennett: Most cities are hugely deficient in making it easy for older people who don't drive anymore to get around. This must change, and I have hopes that as the baby boomers (78 million of them) begin to get older, there will be a big enough pressure group to change things.

Meanwhile, my favorite author about older people, Dr. William H. Thomas, has discussed some excellent new ideas for multi-generational housing for older people that help make it much easier for old people to live full lives. His book, if you're interested, is "What Are Old People For?" I highly recommend it.

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Arlington, Va.: What is getting older like for you? Is it what you expected?

Ronni Bennett: I didn't know what to expect (which is why I started the blog). And although I know more now, it's not enough. After all, I haven't ever been this old before.

What I most appreciate is that I'm "smarter" than I've ever been. There are a lot of mistakes I don't have to make anymore. As I said somewhere else here, I know myself so much better and makes many day-to-day things and interactions with people easier.

I know when to say no now, which I had a terrible time with when I was younger.

I learned that nothing very interesting happens at the party after about 11PM, so I can leave and get a good night's sleep without missing anything :-)

My body may have slowed down, but my mind - contrary to what they tell us all the time in the media - is faster and sharper than ever before. I make connections between disparate ideas more quickly and easier. Perhaps that is a function of the experience we all collect in the decades we've lived.

Did I answer this well enough?

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Cleveland, Ohio: Ronni,

Aging creates the opportunity to develop wisdom. Is wisdom an important concept for you and the world? Do you think about wisdom-your own or others? How does blogging help create collective wisdom and birth action?

Thanks.

Ronni Bennett: Yes, I think about the wisdom of all older people - the experience and knowledge we've collected that is so valuable, and how little it is tapped because of the ageist culture we live in.

Until the last hundred years or so, all cultures recognized that their elders were the keepers of tribes'/communities' knowledge and they were revered for their wisdom and advice they could contribute to the society. Now (unless you're a senator, I guess) we are brushed aside and made invisible, never consulted on what might be best for our communities - whether that community is our town, neighborhood, country.

We need to change this.

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Washington, D.C.: I am attempting to put together a Web site for older individuals interested in blogging. However, I have experienced some difficulty in finding older individuals that are willing to actually write. Would you say there is a certain type of older individual that is willing to express themselves via this medium? Do you have any advice for ways to attract older individuals that are willing to blog.

Ronni Bennett: Start with the Older Bloggers list on my blog (http://www.timegoesby.net). I've vetted these over a long period of time (and continue to add to the list) and they are the best - whatever different subjects they are writing about of all I've looked at.

Many people - not just older ones - are shy about writing for the web, even commenting on web sites is hard for them. Mostly, they're afraid to appear stupid, but I'm here to tell you that no one who's ever commented on my blog or anyone else's I read has said anything stupid.

The good news is, if you can talk people into starting, that you get over the shyness about your own words in public within a couple of weeks.

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Manassas, Va.: Just wanted to remind people that aging is unavoidable, but retiring, and having a full life physically, intellectually, and emotionally is a choice. Martha Washington said, when she and George went back to Mt. Vernon, that they felt like little children let out of school for the summer. That's how I feel much of the time. I do what I want to. Glad you're telling people that ageing (aging?) is rewarding. Thanks!

Ronni Bennett: As we used to say in the sixties, Right On! And I can't remember who said it right now, but: "Getting old isn't bad, if you consider the alternative."

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Houston, Tex.: Hi Ronni, Wondering if the Blogher conference had any/many other bloggers there of the mature persuasion and, if so, were you of like minds on the issues related to aging?

Ronni Bennett: I was so pleasantly surprised at the number of older faces at Blogher. For those of you who don't know what that is - it was a conference I attended last weekend in California for women bloggers who don't get the exposure online that men to (what else is new?)

It was such an exciting, illuminating conference that I didn't get to talk about older blogging much, but I'm lobbying to run a session at next year's conference that I want to call "Generations" about what older and younger bloggers can learn from and teach one another.

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Lunch Break: I just tuned in during an early lunch break. I am 29. Can I learn a thing-or-two from the TGS Blog. Where can the Blog be found? Thanks!

Ronni Bennett: One of the most gratifying things about my blog is the number of 20- and 30-somethings who regularly read it. At the Blogher conference, a lot of young women sought me out to tell me how much they like my blog. I write for the 50-plus audience and I'm not sure what those young folks are getting, but I'm am abashed and pleased.

The site is at: http://www.timegoesby.net

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Arlington, Va.: Thank you for answering my question about what it's like to get older, and yes, you did answer it. One more for you - are scared to get older? Thank you again.

Ronni Bennett: I've been scared about getting older all my life. The culture does that to us with hundreds of messages every day that young is good, old is bad.

I can't take credit for this, it just happened: I'm fascinated with getting older - my own experience as it goes along and everyone else's I meet. We're different, if we pay attention to our inner voices and not the media, and I'm having a wonderful time seeing how I've become more tolerant, less impatient, more understanding of people who disagree me - except for those who insist that old people are useless :-)

Even in a culture that wants everyone to look young unto death, I wouldn't consider cosmetic surgery; I'm too interested now to find out how my looks will change as the years go by.

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Anonymous: Ronni, You are not yet old. You are 63.

Ronni Bennett: Tell that to all the young hiring managers who thought I was hot stuff in a pre-interview on the telephone while I've been looking for work during the past year, and whose faces dropped when I walked in for the face-to-face interview looking like their grandmother or mother. Mysteriously, the jobs had been filled overnight and they "forgot" to call me.

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Anonymous: Hey -- what is so special about you? Every person born ages right from the beginning. And, 63 is not exactly ancient. I know a number of people who are 63 or GASP even older who are working, who are engaged in life, who are not spending their private hours contemplating the inevitable.

Ronni Bennett: There is absolutely nothing special about me. If you mean by "inevitable" that I'm sitting around thinking about death, no. I'm thinking about what it's like be an old person since no one in the media will talk about anything except disease, debility and decline. Old age is a whole lot better than that.

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Alexandria, Va.: How is a blog different from a chat room?

Ronni Bennett: Chat rooms are "live" talk in that people carry on a typed conversation like this one in real time. Blogs are like having your own op-ed column. You publish a real Web site of a kind called a blog (there are services that supply the software, many are free) and people read and comment on what you've said.

Does that answer the question?

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New York, N.Y.: As my friend, you have helped me immeasurably in getting the basics of my blog set up. I haven't gone public yet, as you know. One question I have is about frequency of posting. How often do you find one has to post new comments in order to keep readers coming back, and finding new ones?

Ronni Bennett: If building up traffic is your goal, most experts believe you need to post every day - or at least five days a week. These don't need to be long, but the content needs to be compelling, something interesting whether it is your own thoughts about whatever your blog is about or what you've read or whatever, or linking to something online that you find interesting with a sentence or two about why other should read it.

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Pownal, Maine: The conventional wisdom about blogging is that it is very personal, like a diary, and that definition, I'm sure, turns many people off to blogging. They think it's something akin to "navel-gazing." Your blog, however, maintains a crucial balance between external news, research, and facts about aging, and your internal explorations. How did you carve out and maintain this balance?

Ronni Bennett: I use small personal episodes from my life as jumping off points to discuss larger issues about aging. A personal story can often illustrate a point that is otherwise just an intellectual exercise that doesn't relate very well to life.

BTW, in my session at Blogher titled "How To Get Naked" - about revealing personal information online - the question came up about isn't this kind of blogging (now called "identity blogging") just egotism? One of my panel members answer, "With the first word you put on your first blog entry, it's egotism." Everyone in the room laughed.

There is nothing wrong with it.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I am a regular reader of Time Goes By, and blogger of 7 months, and I must say I have learned a lot about age discrimination. It has raised my awareness and made me more sensitive to this issue. As a person in my starting to be late 60's I appreciate Ronni's personal stories and professional research-based articles. I think I learn something new, or am able to identify with some aspect of what she is writing about almost daily.

Thanks Ronni and keep it up for all of us!

Ronni Bennett: Oh, thank you, Philadelphia. I'm so pleased.

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Fort Worth, Tex.: I wonder, what age would most of us consider being a benchmark for a qualification of "old"?

And age is such a relative thing. I have a friend who is 93 and to speak with her, you would place her physical age at about 45. Then, the flipside, I have friends who are not yet 65, and they behave as if they were 105.

Ronni Bennett: As you note, people physically age at wildly different chronological ages. That can be genetics, health problems and probably attitude. I used the cutoff of 50 as my the audience I am at because U.S. culture begins to think of people as old at at about 50. Though I want to point out that studies show that age discrimination in the workplace begins as young as 40 for men and 35 for women.

My question is - does that mean the culture finds us acceptable adults for only about 15 or 20 years?????

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Washington, D.C.: It's interesting to me that many older people complain about age discrimination. While I don't doubt it goes on, you should also be aware that reverse discrimination happens to. I'm 29, and always have people ask how old I am and condescend to me, saying that I should let their 25 years of experience teach me how to do a thing or two. It's annoying. I believe both older and younger workers would gain valuable insight if they would just not see each other as adversaries.

Ronni Bennett: I have two things to say about this:

1. Age discrimination is a terrible problem. As awful as it is for those who suffer it, the country, corporations are losing vast amounts of knowledge and experience that we need.

I wrote a long piece on my blog awhile back about the advantages of a multi-generational workplace. For the past ten years, I've worked on web sites where I was the oldest employee and most others were at least 20, often 30 and 40 years younger than I am. We learned from each other every day. They had fresh insights; I have experience and judgment. Together, we could save the world, heh, heh, heh.

2. You know, I looked like I was 15 until I was 30 and it was really annoying that no one paid attention when I had an opinion. All I can say is that it goes away, quite naturally as the years pile up.

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Manassas, Va.: Well -- I can't say that I'm "interested" in seeing how I look as I age. Maybe I'll be a purist someday like you. But I've been noticing some pretty bad cosmetic surgery recently. Scary! Also, forget the interviewers who rejected you. You're doing SO MUCH good with this wonderful, fresh theory about aging. More good than you'd be doing in some job for which you have to be interviewed! (So now I'm giving you advice? Oh dear!)

Ronni Bennett: I'm laughing out loud. Now if I could just get paid for this blog :-)

Thank you, Manassas

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Alexandria, Va.: Quote from Bruce Catton:

At Sixty-Two

"Just sixty two? Then trim thy light

And get thy jewels all reset;

"Tis past meridian, but still bright,

And lacks some hours of sunset yet.

At sixty-two

Be strong and true,

Scour off the rust and shine anew."

Ronni Bennett: That's terrific. I love it.

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Washington, D.C.: Comment: My philosophy (at 27 yrs. old) is that aging is the result of a person destroying all the natural systems internally and externally surrounding their existence. When you begin to care for these systems---emotionally, spiritually, physically, and yes, environmentally---the devastating effects of aging will decrease and the positive outcomes of a happy and healthier life will dramatically increase! I think of aging as pollutants invading all my systems that must be destroyed!! When we can began to understand and respect how these systems are all interconnected we will not take our precious delicate lives for granted anymore.

Ronni Bennett: You sound like you've been following the methuselah debate - treat aging as a disease and we can cure it. I suspect mother nature has a few surprising tricks up her sleeve about that...

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Anonymous: I am 72 years old and during the last two years my health have declined considerable. It seems to be arthritis but after 6 MRI and a lot of experimental drugs I cannot find an answer or real relief. I do not exercise anymore but would like to if I was physically able. by this I mean long walks, aerobics weight lifting, but I don't seem to be able to do any of this on a regular basis. My arms and legs have become flabby and I seem to be gaining weight, but I do not know what to do? Any suggestions?

Ronni Bennett: Aging brings inevitable physical decline, which I believe we must accept and adjust to, so some degree.

But this sounds serious and you should continue to consult physicians who can best advise you on what to do.

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Ronni Bennett: This has been excellent. What terrific questions. If you have any further questions about how to start blogging, you can email me from the link on my blog: http://www.timegoesby.net

Thank you all. I've had a great time.

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