By Anna Limontas-Salisbury
Friday, May 23, 2008
Older women are chatting, keeping up through social networking sites, blogging about the politics and asserting their online place. One 72-year-old blogger objects to this article being written by someone under 60.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Naomi Dagen Bloom may take issue with this article.
In her blog, A Little Red Hen, she just might express the objection she raised in an e-mail exchange: that the writer isn't over 60.
If she does, it will be just another way that this 72-year-old blogger advocates for other women of her generation, who are rapidly making up for lost online time.
Since launching her site in March 2006 Bloom has been covering composting for urban dwellers, the state of U.S. politics, the risks of HIV for women over 50. Recently the retired psychotherapist, who lives in Harlem, directed readers to a list of questions that women over 55 should ask their doctors.
Not long ago she shared the story of the knitting contest she did not win. Apparently the Yarn Garden, of Portland, Ore., returned her carefully packaged submission: a guide for knitting your very own pouch for a single, sealed condom.
Women over 65 are the least likely of any U.S. group to be online, according to the Washington-based Pew Internet Project's December 2005 study of how women use the Internet. Only 21 percent of women 65 and older use the Internet, compared to 34 percent of men in the same age group. And older women are far less likely to be online users than women between the ages of 18 and 29, of whom 86 percent use the Internet.
Ronni Bennett, a 66-year-old retired journalist who set up a blog in the late 1990s to collect her aging research, is one of the pioneers. "I'd collected all this research--thousands of pages and tons of books and magazine articles--and I wanted a place to organize it. So I put it on a blog."
Today Bennett's site, Time Goes By, is something of a hangout for bloggers 50 and up.
Bennett says "elderbloggers"--her term--are like any other group meeting online.
Visitors to her site use the comments section to share retirement tales. People write about what they did earlier in their lives, travel plans, turning skills into income opportunities and reclaiming their identities from the demands of a career.
She estimates that 250 sites join hers in the online community of elderbloggers, with women vastly outnumbering men.
In a survey of her contributors and visitors from a few weeks ago, Bennett found 40 percent saying they will continue to blog indefinitely. Another 36 percent describe themselves as "passionate" or "addicted" to blogging.
Women in their 60s and over are going far beyond text entries.
My Mom's Blog by Millie Garfield, for instance, is loaded with graphics transmitted by the 82-year-old's son Steve Garfield, a videographer. "From his computer he puts up the photos that relate to my post," she said. "I can't do that."
Garfield is one of the oldest bloggers, according to the Ageless Project, a Web site that Joe Jenett, 57, who designs sites for networking, has maintained since 2001.
Garfield's blogs focus on Medicare, winter life in Florida, movie reviews and rants about consumer products that don't deliver.
In a series of "The I Can't Open It Videos," she displays a product that doesn't work and son Steve comes to help. In the video "Fabulous" she demonstrates why a spray cleaner does not live up to that name. She squeezes the trigger, the cleaner bubbles at the nozzle, and nothing happens.
Then she and her son switch places with the camera and she films him while he explores what's wrong with the bottle.
Garfield says she and some of her friends are keeping up with each other through instant messaging and social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace.
Recently she signed on to Twitter, a site for "micro-bloggers" based on an in-house corporate communication service. It lets users send each other "tweets"--or short updates up to 140 characters--that get posted on blogs and broadcast to e-mail groups.
While Garfield has her son to help her, Sue Katz, a 60-year-old writer, relies on Internet tools, self-instruction and workshops.
Katz says she never uses her blog--Sue Katz: Consenting Adults, which focuses on sexuality--to discuss personal matters. "If I did I'd end up whining about wasting eight hours trying to reach a real technician at Dell or about the scratches on my library's talking books."
"When I first started out, I researched the various blog providers until I found the one most geared to people who know nothing about HTML," she says, referring to hypertext markup language, the code used to format Web sites.
By using the blogging service Typepad she said she now feels confident adding graphics. Like Garfield, she uses clips from Flickr and YouTube on her blog.
"For my New Year's blog this January, I found a brilliant clip of the tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers as teenagers and I posted it as a present to my readers--as a counter to all the bad news in the world."
Katz doesn't believe that women over 60 need separate conferences or classes on Web technology. But she said many need help boosting their traffic and learning how to make a living from their blogs.
Last year Katz attended a workshop at Boston's annual Women Action and the Media conference, which focuses on developing networks for women to focus on social change. She heard about a variety of tools and communities that bloggers can attach to their sites to gain attention, like Digg and Del.icio.us.
Digg is an online community where participants can post videos, blogs or news and the community votes on what they like best. Del.icio.us is a social bookmarking Web site to maintain your favorites in one place.
"That's one of the great things about the Net, that it bridges difference and connects people in unexpected ways," Katz said.
Anna Limontas-Salisbury, who turns 43 this year, lives in Brooklyn. She is currently attending the CUNY Graduate School for Journalism where she is learning to tell stories across the media spectrum. You can find her first storytelling attempts in video and podcast at the New York City News Service. This summer she will be sharpening her video skills with the production crew at Brooklyn Independent TV- Brooklyn Community Access Television.
This story, part of our New Writers Program, was funded by the McCormick Tribune Foundation.
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Pew Institute, "How Women and Men Use the Internet" [PDF format]:
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