Third Age Pursuits

JRP Reflecting

Reflection – written , December 24, 1997

I’ve always believed that information technology is bringing us closer to a universally connected world. Dr. Mary Furlong, the founder of SeniorNet, is turning that vision into a commercial reality with her latest project, Third Age Media, and its flagship web site, . I recently spoke to Nick Nash, one of our college interns in Somers, New York, about my interest in Mary’s work and Third Age Media.
Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

Q : You’ve often talked about how Mary’s first project, SeniorNet , has made a big impact on the way senior citizens collaborate. How did she get started on her new venture?
A : Just a couple of years ago, Mary got the idea after she saw how tremendously active and interested seniors are in the Internet. She created a business called .

Q : How did you find out about Mary’s work?
A : About three years ago, a couple of my staff colleagues went to a TED conference, and heard Mary Furlong give a talk about SeniorNet . They were very impressed by what they heard, and urged me to get to meet Mary. I initially met her through email, and about a year later I met her in person. Since then we’ve become good friends and we’ve met at a number of industry conferences and retreats.

Q : What do you think about , and the on-line community it has created?
A : I’m pretty excited about it, personally. For one thing, I’m over 50 myself, so I feel a natural affinity to the group. I really like the flair of Third Age. I don’t think anybody likes to think of themselves as a senior citizen. The web has created three incredible new opportunities for “e-business” – content, commerce, and collaboration. is a great way for people to get involved in all three of those dimensions. I’ve registered there myself, and have been personally taking advantage of some of the content. In particular, I love the video Third Age Media produced about Ruth Ann Bortz, especially because of her running interests and her accomplishments – winning the Boston marathon in her age group (the 60s). I’ve run four marathons myself – the Marine Corps Marathon three times and the Philadelphia marathon once. Knowing how challenging my first marathon was at the age of 36, I can really appreciate, and have great respect for someone running the marathon in her 60s. Now that I’m in my 50s, I’m still an active runner, but due to knee surgery, where I had to give up a lot of cartilage, I’ve had to give up running the longer distances – but I’m always hopeful that there will be an artificial knee in the future that will be just as good as the real thing.

Q : How does the Third Age web site tie into your vision of a universally connected world?
A : I think it’s the quintessential example of people using the new medium to communicate and collaborate. One of the things I find very interesting is that the number one reason given by people over 50 for logging onto the Internet is that they’re looking for something new. is really providing a way for people to continue to build relationships and expand – and exercise – their mind, and stay young forever.

Q : Third Age Media says it is trying to bring senior citizens together into on-line communities. Are sites like really helping senior citizens to form new relationships?
A : Definitely. And the older a person gets, the more meaningful that is. A person who may be in his or her 80s or 90s that may have shared a close interest with a friend for may years, and then loses that friend, is often distraught. And, in the past, they’ve often had no way to replace that common interest. With the Internet, you can’t replace that person, but you can replace the sharing of that interest by discovering someone else who may not be in your local community, but may be thousands of miles away. Through the power of the medium, you can rekindle that sharing. Another thing I think is exciting – as the medium becomes more natural, through the evolution of composite media, including audio and video and VRML – is that it will be possible for seniors to see their grandchildren on-line during the holidays, or any time for that matter.

Q : So the Internet is bringing people together. Could you give an example of how this is happening?
A : Here’s a really dramatic example of this: Recently there was a quadriplegic who began to experience medical difficulty, and there was no one at home to help this person. He was able to put out an SOS. through a chat session over the Internet. A woman 1,100 miles away who knew this person through the Internet, and realized the problem, was able to make a phone call to local emergency people who were dispatched to help him, and quite possibly saved his life.

Q : It looks like the number of senior citizens on the Internet is rising. What are they interested in? Are they on-line consumers? Are they primarily web surfers? Or do they spend most of their time in chat sessions?
A : It’s all of the above. It turns out that right now, 19 percent of people on the Internet are over 50. About half of them have been shopping. And about half of them have been involved in investment activities. I think the key thing here is that as a demographic, people over 50 have time and they have money, and in many cases, they have a desire to form relationships. All three of the dimensions of e-business that we talk about – content, commerce, and collaboration – are very meaningful to this group of people.

Q : Is a “U.S.-only” club, or is it reaching out beyond national borders?
A : It’s definitely an international phenomenon. Because of the availability of the Internet being greater in the U.S., it is more U.S.-centric right now, but I expect that to change.

Q : What are some of the big challenges that remain to getting seniors on-line – and how can we address them?
A : I think it’s partly awareness, and of course, this is increasing, through advertising, through other media, and also through “First” and “Second Age” relatives. Another factor is that computers are becoming easier to use, and are increasingly sold bundled with Internet connectivity – you take them out of the box, and in minutes you’re connected. In particular, the Aptiva has made great strides in making this simple.

Q : How has IBM been involved with getting seniors on the net?
A : IBM has had relationships from the beginning with SeniorNet and Third Age , and as a company, we’re very interested in supporting seniors, for a number of reasons. For one thing, IBM – unlike many other companies in information technology – has been around for over 70 years. We have a huge number of retirees. So collaborating with SeniorNet and Third Age has been sort of a natural relationship. In fact, half of the volunteers who helped SeniorNet train seniors to use computers and the Internet have been retired IBMers. Personally, I’ve been very impressed with Mary’s vision and her personal commitment to this set of people. It long preceded any commercial interest and remains very real and personal.

Third Age Media has produced a series of mini-documentary videos about senior citizens rediscovering interests and exploring new careers. These videos have been converted by IBM from a VHS video tape to Bamba and Bamba for Java streaming video files. With the Bamba for Java format, no plugin is required. Just click and enjoy! I often get asked whether the Internet as a new medium will reduce people’s desire to get together in person or whether people will just sit in front of their Internet connection and never go anywhere. Thanks to sites like, the web is doing just the opposite. I discussed this issue in Getting Physical a recent Reflections entry.

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Getting Physical

JRP Reflecting

Reflection – written December 10, 1997

I often get asked whether the Internet as a new medium will reduce people’s desire to get together in person or whether people will just sit in front of their Internet connection and never go anywhere. I don’t think so. Here follows a few examples. ThirdAge ( founder and CEO Mary Furlong told me that this “senior” community site has now been in part responsible for 14 marriages. I stopped by ThirdAge and met with Mary and her management team. She took me for a tour of the Multimedia Gulch in downtown San Francisco. New Media companies abuzz with activity. Bicycles in the lobby of the second floor. Computers on saw horses with wooden doors as a desktop. We had a small roundtable to talk about the future of the Internet and new media. We also watched a video tape which profiled some “seniors” and their activities.
I recently learned about a Web site built by a group of students at Sachem High School in East Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. They learned about my Web site and sent me an email. We had a few exchanges and then the students asked if they could visit IBM . A few weeks later a yellow school bus pulled up in front of our Advanced Internet Technology laboratory in Southbury, Connecticut with a few teachers and a group of a dozen students who call themselves the Web Slingers. We had a wonderful afternoon getting to know these great kids, showing them through our lab, giving them demos of technology we are working on. Their eyes were as big as saucers when they saw our SP2 supercomputer Web servers. We were excited too about their enthusiasm, their questions, their knowledge. Could all this be duplicated on the Web? I don’t think so.
A few weeks ago I got a new home gym (you can see a picture and related things on my Running page and decided I needed some wall pictures to help me learn the position of some of the exercises. I searched around the Web using Dogpile and found a tremendous amount of information but not the pictures I was hoping for. I left a posting at one Web site and quickly got a suggestion to visit another site. I visited that site and learned about another. I was getting warmer. The trail led me to the Global Health and Fitness site. Bingo. Pictures of exercises; video too. I posted a message and within the hour I got a reply from the proprietor of the site, Chad Tackett. Chad told me all about the offerings of the site, suggested exactly how to get the pictures I was looking for, and encouraged me to subscribe to the Global Health and Fitness program for $49 per year. I exchanged several emails with Chad; asking questions, getting fast answers. He said that as a member I could email a question at any time and get a reply. I checked out his curriculum vita and looked around the site a bit. I was quite impressed and subscribed. Then I noticed on one of Chad’s emails that he was based in Portland, Oregon. Turned out I was going to be in Portland the following Monday to visit an IBM customer so I asked if I could perhaps stop by and meet Chad. I had already gained respect for him and it occurred to me that putting the name and the face together would be a good idea. Chad said that not only could I stop by but that he would give me a workout at the real gym he owns in Portland. He further offered to develop a custom exercise program for me that I could then take back and use with my new home gym. After a full day on Monday I got a ride to Loprinzi’s Gym in Portland. It has been there for 50 years. I hadn’t been in a gym for many years and it was a colorful, real as it gets, experience. I changed into gym shorts and had an exhilarating hour of learning exercises tailored to my goals. I put pictures of Chad and Loprinzi’s Gym in my photo gallery.
I changed back into business clothes and rushed off for a flight to San Francisco to give a keynote speech the next morning at the Technologic Partners Personal Technology conference. Before my talk I got to meet Eric Savitz from Barron’s Magazine and after my talk I ran into met Sam Perry from Reuters. Putting their stories together with faces, gestures, and a short conversation makes the subsequent stories more meaningful. From there to Project World in Santa Clara to give a speech. Hearing the 500+ person audience laugh at some of my humor and having an engaging Q&A session with them is a hard to beat experience. After the talk a woman I had met years earlier in Moscow came up to say hello.
All this in one week and it is only half over! Will the Web eliminate “in person” interactions? I don’t know anybody who loves the Web more than I do but, no, I don’t think people will give up on meeting in person as a result of the new medium. There is too much that would be missed.

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Running with Mozart


Reflection – written August 17, 1997

While on vacation during August (1997) I was out for a run one day. It was a lazy three mile jog and the heat and humidity were not pleasant. I was carrying a Sony SRF-M70 FM/AM Walkman Sports radio. Normally, reception in the mountains where I run on vacation is not very good, but I happened to stumble into an NPR station that was playing classical music (my favorite). The recording that was being broadcast was something I had never heard before. It was a delightful flute sonata. Although I had never heard it before, I could tell it was by Mozart. It was unmistakable, as is most of his great work. As I was running along the hilly country terrain in a sweat, I was thinking about how it is that Mozart is such a popular composer.
I don’t know all the numbers, but I believe that the works of Mozart are the most popular of all music. Maybe Andrew Lloyd Webber or Garth Brooks will surpass him but they have a long way to go if they do. Mozart has been performing since not too long after his birth in 1756! I was pondering why he has lasted so long. I think the answer is not only in his brilliant compositions but also in the fact that his works have attracted the great performers of the world to play them. When great soloists like Itzak Perlman, Pinkus Zukerman, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Vladamir Horowitz and countless others want to play his music and when great conductors like Lorin Maazel and Neville Marriner and so many others want to conduct his music, it begins to be clear why Mozart’s music lives on. Personally, I find his music to be extremely pleasant.
Note: Hal Higdon – On the Run had an interesting story called Mozart and the Marathon – Running to the Beat.

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Chef Wannabe

JRP Reflecting

Reflection – written August 9, 1997

Over the years I have thought about being a gourmet cook at home. Just never happened. I am much better at tinkering with my various gadgets than I am at tinkering in the kitchen. I have some very good friends like Fernand Sarrat, CEO of Cylink, and Harry Brawley, entrepreneur on Mt. Desert Island, Maine , who are superb gourmet cooks. In spite of my lack of skill in this area, I nevertheless get the urge every once in a while to prepare dinner for the family and tonight was one of those occasions.

There are no menus for any of this. Totally on the fly, make it up as I go along, approach. I love pasta so that is always a part of my preparations. I started out by making a sauté of veal in olive oil , pepper and lemon juice. I then cut this into small pieces and added it to a couple of jars of sun dried tomato sauce. I added some fresh mushrooms I found in the refrigerator. For pasta I used a pound of rotini. I always add some olive oil to the water to keep the pasta from sticking together and then cook it for just 6 minutes or so. I usually make a salad but tonight I made two vegetables .

First was brussels sprouts. These can be disgusting to some people but I have always liked them. I sautéed them in olive oil with lots of onions and through in some pepper, parsley, paprika, garlic, and a few other spices I don’t recall. The other vegetable was fresh corn on the cob from a local farm here where I am vacationing. Since I had our two large pans tied up with the sauce and the pasta, I decided to do the corn on the grill. Lucky decision. I did five ears. Takes about 20 minutes in total at a low setting and turning the ears every five minutes. I sprayed some PAM artificial butter on them. They were really delicious. For wine we had a 1990 Chianti Classico Riserva by Castello Di Brolio. It was good but not great.

After dinner I put the pasta in the refrigerator so tomorrow we can add some Miracle Whip and make a nice pasta salad. Likewise, I added some tarragon vinegar to the brussels sprouts to make that into a cold salad.

Some day I am going to take time to learn more about cooking. Who knows, I may even start using recipes!

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Meeting with the President

JRP Reflecting

Reflection – written July 20, 1997
My journey to Washington started out on Monday evening, July 14, when I boarded the Delta shuttle. It was a harrowing trip that had to be restarted the next morning. I arrived at the National Press Club where IBM was hosting a planning meeting for all of those meeting with the President and the Vice President. This club is a venerable Washington institution, where presidents, would-be presidents, prime ministers, kings, and the like hold press briefings and press conferences. It was amusing to note on a flyer in the elevator that the special Club event that week was a training program on how to use the Internet!

The “pre-meeting” was hosted by Jerry Berman of the Center for Democracy & TechnologyRoger Cochetti, IBM’s Washington-based Program Director for Internet Policy & Business Planning, reviewed the schedule and we spent some time sharing our view points on the important issues to be discussed in the meeting withVice President Gore. There was amazing consensus. It was a great opportunity to renew some old friendships and make some new ones.

We went as a group (about 25 of us) over to the Old Executive Office Building, the ornate 19th century office building located next to the White House that houses the White House staff. After going through a thorough security check, we went to the Vice President’s office, where we were led into a Baroque like conference room that the Vice President uses for his official meetings. Soon, Commerce Secretary Daleyand Vice President Gore arrived and our discussion began in earnest. A little later, the President arrived and we got into a broader discussion about the Internet and its role in our society. All three officials showed a significant depth in their understanding and support for the role of the Internet in making our society better.
Following the group meeting with the President and Vice President , we all went to a small auditorium in the same building where there was a large group of reporters and members of Congress. In this public and highly publicized event, the President and the Vice-president both reported favorably on the dialogue that we’d had and the heads of the National PTA and of America OnLine both addressed the important issues facing all of us as we deal with the question of how to make the Internet more friendly to children.

Resulting press coverage

Official White House Coverage:

“Family-Friendly Internet” Links

First Amendment

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