If you don’t know about Ronni Bennett’s blog – Time Goes By: what it’s really like to get older – you should.
It’s one of the most consumer-centered sources of information about aging on the Internet. For the most part, it’s written by people experiencing this stage of life firsthand, not those studying or writing about it from a distance.
Bennett was a longtime journalist before she ran into what she calls “a wall of age discrimination” and ended up forcibly retired. The blog expresses her values: Drop the pretense, tell it like it is, and steer clear of advertising and sales pitches.
Bennett describes the site’s genesis this way:
“It was launched in 2003 after I had spent seven or eight years on a personal research project to find out what it’s like to grow old. There wasn’t much good news. From the popular press to scholarly and medical journals, books, government, advocacy groups and NGOs, one message stood out: aging equals decline, disease and debility. No one had anything good to say about it.
Refusing to believe that my future would be that sad and bleak, and since no one else was was doing it, I decided to write about what it’s really like to get old. I had no illusions then that there would be much audience for such a loser topic but in time, I was happily proved wrong.”
If you spend time on the blog, you’ll find an abundance of riches. In addition to regular posts from Bennett and other contributors, there is a carefully compiled list of blogs by and about elders – a gold mine for reporters. There is Bennett’s touching description of her mom’s final illness and death, a subject that all kinds of writers have been tackling recently in various publications. (More on this later in another blog post)
And there is a weblog, the Elder Storytelling Place, where people can share their day-to-day experiences with humor, tenderness, practicality, or any other approach that seems fitting. I especially like the way Bennett introduces this section:
“Among Carl Jung’s seven tasks of aging is to find meaning in one’s life and one way to help in this task is to pull together, piece by piece, one’s memories – great and small – into a coherent storyline. In doing so, there is a natural shift of our attention inward, says Jung, leading to the removal of regret and to reconciliation. In telling our stories we not only fulfill Jung’s task for ourselves, we pass on the wisdom we have gained to those who listen or read.”
I thought of Time Goes By this week when I encountered the media buzz accompanying a new initiative called “Get Old,” funded by drug giant Pfizer and supported by advocacy organizations such as the National Alliance for Caregiving and Easter Seals.
The centerpiece of this project is a new website, www.GetOld.com. In press release speak, the site is touted as a “first-of-its-kind online community” where “people can get and share information, add to the dialogue, and contribute to the growing body of knowledge” about aging.
I imagine Bennett might object to that description. And I’m darned sure she’d object to Pfizer’s sponsorship of this venture as well. (See her recent post, “No Way to Treat a Crabby Elderblogger,” if you have any doubts.)
It’s a savvy move on Pfizer’s part, aligning itself with all those consumer organizations, adopting an attitude of listening to people with an open, curious mindset, positioning itself as a company that helps people live longer and enjoy new experiences. But do not deceive yourself for even an instant: The goal here is to bolster the Pfizer brand and, ultimately, sell more of the drugs that the company links so effectively with longevity and quality of life.
If you have any doubts, see this Pfizer-sponsored video on the company’s “Smart Marketing Page” for the “Get Old” campaign. (I must be getting old: I’ve never encountered a Smart Marketing Page before. I use caps here, as in the press release, to emphatically express the importance of such a page.)
Maybe all the participating consumer organizations have received assurances that no cleverly disguised sales pitches will appear on www.GetOld.com and that all information deriving from this project will be unbiased. But, fellow journalists, do you trust that will be the case? And why did so many stories about this initiative ignore that issue and swallow the Gallup & Robinson survey results – the news peg in the press release designed to secure media coverage – hook, line and sinker?
Bennett sent me some comments about the “Get Old” site after I let her know I was writing this post. I’ve edited them below for length.
“Mostly I object to the website. What a disaster. It violates just about every established guideline for useful, readable, entertaining websites, so much so for elders in both design and content that it’s an insult to us.
As you undoubtedly know, individual elders age at dramatically different rates than people in younger stages of life so that sometimes an 80-year-old’s decline – as in eyesight, for example – can be no more than that of a 50- or 60-year-old. Other times, a 60-year-old can have aged as much as an average 80-something. This also applies to one’s emotional, intellectual and psychic development.
So to section the website by age makes no sense at all, especially when they encourage readers to register their ages so that they can, as the site states, “provide you with stories and information that are relevant and customized for you.” It just doesn’t work that way when talking about elders.
Long before old age, by 40 on average, the majority of us wear reading glasses. But Pfizer has made the text so tiny on their section-front pages, there is no way to know the subject of the item before clicking on it and, even then, the topic is often unclear.
As people age, their eyes have trouble distinguishing between certain colors when they abut one another: red/orange, for example, and blue/green. Yet Pfizer – on that awful “jumble” page of unreadable topics – mixes blue and green boxes that too many elders will blend together.
The site fails aesthetically from page one; there is nothing inviting there, nothing engaging, nothing to pique anyone’s interest. It’s badly conceived and executed.