Ollie's Personality Problem
SXSW Conference Part 2: Other Panels and Ambience

SXSW Conference Part 1: ElderBlogger Panel

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Thank you, Frank Paynter, Cowtown Pattie, joared and Mary Lee Fowler for filling in so beautifully while I was away. And thank you everyone else for all your terrific comments. Geez, I might go away more often now that I know TGB goes on just fine without me.]

It was a quick trip to SXSW in Austin and back: fly a day, spend a day, fly a day. But the “Respect Your ElderBloggers” panel and whole lot more were worth what has become, in recent years, the unfriendly skies. Travel seems to get more difficult and unpleasant every year.

For those of you who might not know, SXSW (South By Southwest) is an established and venerable conference straddling the film, music and interactive worlds. The three sections appear to keep unto themselves, and my short visit was concentrated on the interactive sessions.

My panelmate, Lori Bitter, is “entrepreneur, poet and catalyst” (that’s what her business card says) for the Mature Market Group of JWT. She not only has a vast amount of facts and figures about elders on the tip of her tongue, she brings understanding and empathy to the topic. I’ve learned a lot about many aspects of aging doing this blog, but Lori really knows this stuff and makes it easily understandable.

Lori also has a lot more public speaking experience than I do so in addition to panelist, she acted as moderator - to my relief - and I think we were a good team. To use a sports analogy, Lori was the reporter, I did color commentary and together, we made the business case for corporate outreach to the elder community that will grow 20 percent of the U.S. population by the year 2030.

If you are a regular of reader of TGB, you’ve heard a lot of what we presented: blogging helps maintain and even increase cognitive agility. As social networks shrink with age, when mobility may become an issue, online friendships support emotional well-being. When people are active and engaged, they are healthier - and that pays off for elders and for the whole country - even literally, in dollars saved, especially when we face a healthcare crisis and shortage of physicians.

With the right computer equipment and programs, much routine health monitoring such as blood pressure, heart rate, prescription adjustments, questions for physicians- can be done over the internet freeing up hundreds of thousands of doctor-hours for patients who must be evaluated in person. And that benefits people of all ages.

But it takes a lot of work and cooperation among business, technology, the healthcare industry, community groups, insurance and pharmaceutical companies and more. The question, of course, is: now that we have the idea, how do we make it happen?

The ElderBloggers panel was one of five at SXSW produced by Blogher whose founders wisely made it a point from the first Blogher conference last summer to include the audience from the getgo of the presentation (more about that tomorrow). So Lori and I threw that big question to the attendees and got lots of interesting feedback: A sampling:

In teaching elders to use computers, sign up with gotomypc.com which allows you to take control of a computer from anywhere and help fix problems that newbie elders run into.

Dell has a touch screen monitor to help those with arthritis problems.

In developing computer hardware for elders, a lot can be adapted from utilities already designed for those with disabilities, and another person noted that “ageless design” would be good idea for all equipment.

Start a small program within a small community as a pilot project and showcase. (One jester noted that my upcoming move to Portland, Maine (64,000 population) might just be serendipity in this regard.)

Another good suggestion is to partner with a college.

It felt like we were just getting going when the hour was up and Elisa Camahort suggested that those who want to further the conversation keep in touch by email. A preliminary list of attendees’ email addresses is here. Please send me those I’ve missed which I’ll add to the list, and I would like anyone else interested who didn’t attend the conference to feel free to join in - we need all the ideas we can get.

Because I was in front of crowd, I wasn’t doing the best note-taking I’ve ever done and I’m hoping others who attended will jump in the comments below and add other ideas that came up that I’ve missed.

At the beginning of the panel, I quoted a comment Millie Garfield of My Mom’s Blog had recently posted to TGB, and her son, premier videoblogger (vlogger) Steve Garfield, made a video of that part of the presentation. He’s posted it on his vlog for all to see. Meeting Steve in person for the first time felt like re-meeting an old friend.

Another attendee, Raines Cohen live blogged part of the panel and posted it in the comments of my Elderbloggers story from a few days ago. Raines intends to start a blog soon about the elder co-housing movement, which I’ve been meaning to learn more about. No more excuses; Raines gave me a book about it and happens to be a neighbor here in the Village.

Elisa Camahort has published as excellent recap of the entire panel on Blogher.

Those three postings will give you some more flavor of the panel and I thank both Steve and Raines for their efforts - I hadn’t expected it and it was a nice surprise. Pete Beck has a report on his blog too, and Belinda Acosta wrote a good piece in the Austin Chronicle (scroll down halfway to 3.12.2006).

Blogher co-founder, Jory Des Jardins posted this note about the panel (emphasis is mine):

“There is so much opportunity for computer hardware/software companies if they decided to focus on elderblogging. This isn't a market that won't use computers; they won't use computers that are too complicated. Whoever can create tools for seniors will benefit from a growing piece of the Blogosphere…I wish more tech companies were there to get the message.

I agree; I do too. Attendees were more activists and curious than corporate honchos who can make things happen. But it takes time and work to start a movement and the panel/audience at SXSW was an excellent start.

Some thank yous are in order. First, to the Blogher divas, Elisa Camahort, Jory Des Jardins and Lisa Stone - most obviously, for inviting me to be part of one of their SXSW panels, but also for their constant support of elderbloggers and including our interests in their endeavors.

Equally responsible for the higher visibility of women at this conference is Hugh Forrest who runs the Interactive portion of SXSW. He wanted more women involved, the Blogher divas responded and SXSW was much more gender balanced than most tech conferences .

SXSW Part 2 - Other Panels and Ambience


Welcome back. Your post makes me wish I lived near my friend (85) in Nevada. She was curious about blogging but didn't know where or how to begin.

Welcome home Ronni!! Your friends did a fine job,but I missed you . :)

ronni, exciting to read this. have already sent your post and elisa camahort--that was fascinating--on to local women's group. glad to issues of pre-boomers being addressed. many elder women i've met do not need special equipment as much as ways to overcome fear of the machine!

Idea for your pilot project: activities directors at retirement communities, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities: train the trainers!

This is really exciting; so much potential!

Our community has some really active computer groups for "seniors" (we'll have to educate them on that term.)

At least 4 retirement communities in the immediate area that would be prime candidates to promote, though know some of them are already doing some things on a somewhat limited basis.

Those same communities have long term care residents in their skilled nursing units. The patients may have their own computers in their rooms;a few have. Some of these people who are much less ambulatory, would really benefit from computer use.

Looking at lots of 1:1, many volunteers, and magical planning for funding.

The issue is always the money, so need a marketing approach that shows the benefits to attract new residents.

Lots of thoughts, challenges and opportunities.

I watched part of your panel discussion from a clip at Steve's site...you were wonderful Ronni...engaging, friendly, funny. I know it went beautifully. I've gotten calls from Jory periodically throughout the days she's been at the conference, and expect to get a full update when she gets back. Kudos to you Ronni... -Joy

Thanks for this update report! I feel like printing it out for my mother who is living alone right now and want to at least get her started on emailing.

thanks Ronni -- as i think i wrote, your panel was a breath of fresh air among the "what's the latest and greatest web app" panels. lots to think about, i really enjoyed it.

Thanks for keeping us posted, Ronni. I watched Steve's video and wished I had heard the rest of the story!

Glad you are back Ronni. We missed you. But you sure put together a super replacement team. Thanks to all the pinch hitters.

There's an Elder College here at Univ. of S. Maine in Ptld. that would be a logical place to try putting together a public/private partnership to teach/encourage elder-blogging. Certainly a drawing-card for Portland itself as a place to live; something to think about.

Great blog. I am a worker at an assisted living facility in Portland. Would very much enjoy getting some of my friends into this. Affilitations with Portland West and Maine time banks also would be useable in my facility.

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