Thursday 26 April 2018

Elderblogging and When a Senior Gets a Tumblr

Originally posted on Aging Online.

During the past several weeks, I’ve spent a bit of my off time researching the online activity of blogging — specifically how and where older people blog. The numbers might be bigger than you think. About 7 percent of people age 51 and up blog, according to the marketing and analytics company sysomos. If you focus on people who are more socially engaged, such as community volunteers, you’ll find even more bloggers, with as many as 28 percent of people 50 to 64 and 15 percent of people 65 and older writing and editing their own blogs (PDF from the Pew Research Center’s Internet American Life Project)

Image from sysomos

With more than a 152 million blogs on the Internet, trying to figure out who is “older” can be pretty hard. People don’t always identify themselves by their age and they certainly don’t use age-specific descriptions of themselves — i.e., calling themselves a “senior” of “Baby Boomer.” If the research is correct that people involved in real life organizations are more engaged online, that might indicate people congregate by their interests not their age. My mom, for example, is a huge reader of blogs focusing on the home, design and travel, and the blogs she reads span across many generations. Age doesn’t matter in that case because what connects those people is their interest and personal tastes, no matter if they are 29, 42 or 65.

To start my research, I turned to Ronni Bennett’s curated list of “elderblogs,” each of which is written by someone over the age of 50. This list is not comprehensive but includes a really great selection of well-written, frequently updated blogs.

  • One of the first things I noticed was the vast majority of Ronni’s elderbloggers are using the Blogger platform. I suspect this is because many of these people started writing several years ago and Blogger has historically been one of the easiest platforms to use. You can add features and change colors and design without a computer science degree.
  • Blog topics are incredibly diverse with a lot of the content focusing on personal anecdotes and experiences, from stories of walking the dog to coping with a painful hip injury. It’s not really possible to generalize what people write about other than to say their blogs reflect their lives, which make older bloggers a lot like younger bloggers and writers throughout time — writing about what they know.
  • Also interesting is how well written and how long many of the posts are — it’s clear these folks spend a lot of time carefully telling their stories.
  • Most seem to be written as hobbies.

It’s interesting to point out that with the rise of short-form writing with social networks like Facebook, long-form blogs have fallen out of favor with young people. Some of those young people have moved to Tumblr, which is growing incredibly fast and boasts 20 million blogs. Tumblr is a little like a Twitter/blog hybrid. What makes it different is its focus on sharing rather than commenting, especially sharing of multimedia like photos, videos and website links. Users create community by following each other and sharing posts they like with each other. If you decide to “follow” someone, their content is delivered to your Tumblr dashboard, sort of like a Facebook or Twitter newsfeed. What I have always loved about Tumblr is its simple layout for posting things, which boils blog content down to the basics. This to me is an example of how developers can create online experiences that are easy and cutting-edge for everyone to use. The trickiest part to figure out is how the community works. Right now, the focus seems to be on youth culture and Internet memes but it’s definitely got a steep learning curve because it’s not exactly intuitive.

I found just one example of a senior citizen on Tumblr: Johnathan Wolcott, a 77-year-old from New Haven, Connecticut. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure he’s fake. During the year in which the blog was active, the supposed Mr. Wolcott developed a huge following. In his “grandson’s” recent post notifying the community of Mr. Wolcott’s supposed death, nearly 500 users commented or shared the news with their friends. Sadly, part of the reason some people liked the blog, it seems, was because he didn’t seem to understand Tumblr or how his computer worked.

If you focus on the positive part of the story, the positive engagement between the fictional man and his readers, though, there is something interesting to think about. Tumblr is a social medium that makes it easy to break down silos and connect with strangers. Many people were supportive and seemed genuinely saddened when they learned of this character’s passing. He seemed authentic, a trait that resonates online. They wanted him to be real. Unfortunately, authenticity is easily faked online.

But what if he was real and someone taught him how to use his computer and Tumblr? The Internet has always been described as a tool to connect people. You don’t often hear it touted as a way to connect young and old, though. The assumption is that young people don’t want older people ruining their good time. Maybe that’s not nessecarily true. The only way to test it out for sure is to get the digital lives of all generations to intersect more. Maybe a few elderbloggers would be up for trying something new.


Image credit: teachingsagittarian

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