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Posted on Sun, Jan 29, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

A changed world for seniors

By Robert Faber

Editor's note: Robert Faber writes occasional columns for about aging, politics and other issues.

The world, it is a'changing. We all know that. We’ve seen it ourselves and we had it verified by the lectures of Bob Dylan, but the speed and magnitude of the change is more dramatic than we seniors had ever imagined.

I was reminded of that still again when I put down my quill pen to send an e-mail notice to some friends that a meeting was to be held at my house a few weeks hence. One response, arriving at what seemed like moments later, was an apology for being unable to attend. He was out of town and wouldn’t be back for a few days, adding, "It's spring here in Beijing."

I know that for we octogenarians the marvels of the new world are far beyond our scientific backgrounds, rooted as they are in the Middle-Ages.

I know, too, that most seniors share my awe and utter confusion with those kids who spend all their days tweeting on Twitter and connecting on Skype and participating in all those many other mysterious rituals of the Internet Age.


Computers, with their Google-available information and the Internet's almost instantaneous circulation of world news, have made possible for senior citizens a rare and wonderful new environment.

Grafvision |

And maybe that's why God invented grandchildren, who seem to have come into the world endowed with enough understanding of the intricacies of 21st century science to help their internet-illiterate grandparents.

But please do not misunderstand me. My frustration is troubling and very annoying, but it is not altogether a surrender.

My inadequacies in the obscure details of the Internet Age slow me down and leave me increasingly dependent "on the kindness of strangers" (and grandchildren), but the upside of the new speed of life is that it allows us more time to search and savor the environment we still have.

For many seniors it is too late in the game to make their mark in big business or power politics or televised sports, so they assume the game is about over, that their moment in the sun has been blotted out by the gloom of their twilight. But lost opportunities of the past need not fashion their future.

The grand goals of youth may have been inspirational decades earlier, but the glories of old age respond to much more modest achievements. Doing the best you can, even in a very limited sphere, can be pleasurable, reassuring and readily valuable.

For seniors struggling in the vacuum of days without purpose there are still challenges without end. If physical action is what turns us on, for example, we have golf courses beckoning us from all across the landscape, and all with the promise of scoring a 98 after a lifetime of 105s. And as the seasons change and we object to looking for balls lost in piles of fresh snow, we can go indoors for tennis or squash or badminton.

Or we can go another route entirely and exercise our cerebral selves by more thoroughly learning the history of our nation, or by studying the ancient societies of Greece and Rome, or by reading antique scripts by long dead scholars — doing it on our own or with the aid of the vast inventory of classes and lectures available from the many experts in our midst.

But even more satisfying is the late-in-life potential of filling empty days with activities of significant social or humanitarian impact. All around us are groups devoted to the well-being of everything from lost animals to lost souls, providing us with unbounded opportunities to transform our spare and otherwise wasted hours into richly rewarding and productive lives of service.

Readily available, too, are the many opportunities to volunteer in teaching the illiterate young to read, or giving tutorial aid to youngsters needing help to graduate high school, or simply in finding a place in any one of the many service organizations that help define our town, such as delivering Meals-On-Wheels to some of our more needy neighbors.

In short, computers, with their Google-available information and the Internet's almost-instantaneous circulation of world news, have made possible for us a rare and wonderful new environment. And even for the technically inept senior population unable to take full advantage of all the Internet has to offer, very much more is still available.

There are enough groups and tasks and pleasures surrounding us in our later years to fill our days and our lives without ever, ever having learned the difference between the iPad, the iPod and the pea pod. Learning the details of this baffling new Internet hardware may put us no closer to the expertise of our children and grandchildren, but simply pursuing adequacy in this new technology could help fill our days — and at the very least might be enough to convince our kids that we are not yet altogether obsolete.

And maybe then we should begin to teach them the value of some of the goals and activities that their new technology seems to have replaced.

Bob Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at