“We live in a changing world. Multi-modal communication is a fact of 21st Century life. And in the context of the developed world, that means no one need be socially isolated— irrespective of local or global geography. It means the condition of physical or mental health, or socio-economics, is less of a determining factor to engagement and acceptance, than it once may have been. As long as one can write well. “
This paragraph was in the middle of a post I wrote a few months back about the importance of writing well. The post focussed on teaching kids to write well as a process of empowering them to participate fully in a changing society. The core theme of the post was about people finding themselves at a great disadvantage by not being able to communicate effectively in an electronic environment.
Recently, I was chatting to a group of older people about my teen Writers’ Groups. Sometimes I can get carried away by my passion for teaching writing, and this particular occasion was no exception. But at a lull in the conversation, one of the conversation participants told me that he really wanted to learn to write well. I was surprised.
The man told me he was about to retire from working life and wanted nothing more than to write his father’s life story. I thought that was a fabulous project for him to embark on and told him so. He then explained the barriers he faced. He was mid sixties and had a background in science so had never really learned to write in the style necessary to write memoir or narrative. He said that for the last 45 years of his life, he had not written much at all.
The conversation turned to other barriers facing older people as they left the workforce and a big one that seemed fairly common among the group was the use of technology. They could mostly use email, but as one woman said, hardly anyone emails anymore; instead “...they SMS (short message service) and DM (direct message), IM (instant message), PM (private message) and AM (???). I asked what AM was, and amid a lot of laughter, was told it didn’t matter because none of them knew what any of the Ms meant. And that was the problem— they couldn’t communicate with their families anymore because people rarely used the phone to talk, no one could read their handwriting because it wasn’t “a standard font”, and email was passé.
I’ve been going over and over this conversation in my head now for weeks. And I realised that I’d been so focussed on providing services to develop teen writing so that young adults could become effective social participants that it had never occurred to me older people were equally as vulnerable. I had written about barriers to technology for people before, in the context of literacy and democracy, but had not necessarily considered the plight of older people specifically.
But it’s true. The speed at which technology is not only developing, but is integrated into everything we do is mind-boggling. Even for an early adopter, like me. Just when you have a handle on a particular piece of technology, it’s obsolete and the next edition is out. But what has all this got to do with writing?
Back to my group of older Australians, “writing has changed so much since we were at school,” they said. “That even my basic written expression alienates me from my grandkids.”
It’s true, I suppose. Technology has changed the way we write in so many ways, leaving whole demographics confused and disoriented. So what am I doing about it? I am broadening my focus and as requested by my group of older friends, I am starting a Writers Group for Seniors.
Interested? Drop me a line!