I gave myself one task per month to prepare
for the terrifying job of being old until I die.
I was confused, but I was committed.
Adapt my housing for old age
Get my finances in order
Establish an exercise regime
Audit my eating habits
Commit to hobbies
Make two new friends this year and every year
Banish ye oldie voice
Learn a new skill this year and every year
is a terrible phrase: Align happiness factors
Be who you are
Come to terms with old age and death
That was the plan, you can call it obsessive
call it silly or selfish neurotic excessive
misguided or negative
but hey it was systematic
and a plan gives you power, a sense of control.
You can’t control death and it’s coming regardless
but you can get to grips in advance with small things
so you know
you can still be yourself and the boss of yourself
you’re getting the gist, keeping up with the play
making decisions and having a go—
all precious and familiar things
that slither away as you grow old.
I’m continuously searching for data about older bloggers, and yesterday I discovered a 2006 study from the Pew Internet & American Life project titled Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers. Now, 2006 is 12 years ago. To an older person, that’s like yesterday, but in internet terms it’s a lifetime. Their findings are fascinating. (By the way, the Pew sample was 233 people, roughly comparable with our 220. and biased in some ways, as was ours.) Let me share a few surprises from this report.
1. Personal blogs were by far the most common in 2006
The Pew Internet Project blogger survey finds that the American blogosphere is dominated by those who use their blogs as personal journals. Most bloggers do not think of what they do as journalism. (Pew/Internet 2006)
So in 2006, the personal blog ruled. The topics analysed were as follows — and hey, no mention of travel or makeup or ageing:
“my life and experiences” (37%)
politics and government (11%)
entertainment-related topics (7%)
general news and current events (5%)
religion, spirituality or faith (2%)
a specific hobby or a health problem or illness (each 1%).
other topics: opinions, volunteering, education, photography, causes and passions, and organizations.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know the distribution of blog topics in 2018? I can’t imagine how one would get this information, given that there are millions of blog posts every day, and a blog is not necessarily attached to any one platform such as wordpress.com or Facebook.
2. The blogging population in 2005–06 was young
The following demographic data comes from two surveys of internet users conducted in November-December 2005 and February-April 2006, and the sample (n=7,012) was much larger.
The most distinguishing characteristic of bloggers is their youth. More than half (54%) of bloggers are under the age of 30. (Pew/Internet 2006)
According to Sysomos, by 2010 the average age of bloggers may have been even younger; they found that 73.5% were under the age of 35. Does that mean that older bloggers are a small minority even now? If you can find any later statistics, please tell!
3. In 2006, 55% bloggers used a pseudonym
In our Older Bloggers Survey, roughly 12% included their full name or first name in the blog title. I’m not sure how many include their full name as part of the information they provide on their About Me page. So I can’t state how many of the older bloggers in our sample use a pseudonym without further research. I wonder what the facts are?
55% of bloggers blog under a pseudonym, and 46% blog under their own name. (Pew/Internet 2006)
4. In 2006, most bloggers spent less time blogging than they do today
This result from the Pew Internet study is confirmed by subsequent research into the general population of bloggers. As for the older bloggers in our 2018 sample, only 28% spend 2 hours or less per week writing and publishing their blogs, 32% spend 3–4 hours per week — but exactly the same percentage (10%) spend ten hours or more on their blog.
59% of bloggers spend just one or two hours per week tending their blog. One in ten bloggers spend ten or more hours per week on their blog. (Pew/Internet 2006)
5. In 2006, bloggers cited very different blogging platforms
Pew/Internet asked bloggers what tools they used to build and display their blogs. Gaze on this snapshot of times past and wonder! Blogger: Blogspot are a bit like wordpress:org: wordpress.com (or vice versa—set me straight, somebody!). I guess “something else” included wordpress. So Squarespace existed in 2006? These platforms are still in use except for Microsoft FrontPage.
What devices do older bloggers use for reading and writing blogs?
Laptop and desk computers are favourites for both consumption and production, but smaller devices also have their devotees.
Q. 10. Where do you usually read blogs? Choose one answer, even if you sometimes use a different device.
on a mobile phone: 12%
on an iPad or other tablet: 17%
on a laptop or desk computer: 72%
print blogs on paper: 0%
Of the 20 people who commented on this question, 13 indicated that they used more than one device to read blogs. Examples:
It’s close to 50/50 between a laptop and my phone. Some days, it’s almost exclusively my phone.
All the first three, don’t print.
Bloggers said they selected which device to use for reasons of comfort, convenience, and accessibility, for example:
I like to be comfortable, as I would when reading a book or newspaper.
I read some on my desk top computer. Depends on how accessible the blog is. It may be easier to read on an iPad.
While about 29% of older bloggers were happy to read blog posts on a small device like a smart phone or tablet, only 8% used small devices for writing and publishing. The vast majority produce their blog posts on a laptop or desktop computer.
Q. 11. Where do you usually write and publish your blog posts? Choose one answer, even if you sometimes use a different device.
on a mobile phone: 3%
on an iPad or similar tablet: 5%
on a laptop or desk computer: 92%
Comments on this question make two things clear. Our sample of bloggers choose their devices for well-defined reasons, and they are willing to experiment.
“Even if I type a post on mobile, I rarely publish on mobile. I like the laptop function better.”
“I love my MacBook Air for its good-size screen and keyboard, and elegance and ease of use”
“Mostly because I have problems with my hands, typing on small places…actually I have a lot of problems with my hands, although I do know touch typing from early 1960s typing school”
“iPad is too small and slow”
“Easier to do on a bigger screen”
“It’s easier, I think, on a laptop. But I’m going to use an iPad when I travel overseas in August.”
“I am beginning to trial writing and publishing using a smart phone.”
Reflecting on these two questions purely from personal experience, I think these results make good sense. In fact I may be a typical older blogger in this respect. I personally find my iPhone fine for reading and commenting but impossible for posting (big thumbs, small keyboard, small type, small screen); I find the iPad Pro nice for reading, a little dangerous for commenting and impossible for posting; and my laptop is absolutely fine for any WordPress activity including publishing. No surprises.
What channels do older bloggers prefer for their blogging?
WordPress dominates as the preferred channel for our respondents, but here too, older bloggers are exploring, changing, and experimenting.
Q. 12. Which social media platform do you use for blogging? Choose one answer.
Another blogging platform, e.g. Blogger, Typepad, Medium: 10%
I presume the dominance of WordPress in the answers to this question partly reflects the dominance of WordPress on the internet in general, and partly the fact that many respondents learned about the survey right here on Write Into Life, a WordPress site. I assumed the results would favour WordPress blogs, and so I asked just one over-generalised question on this topic, which has left me hungry for more information.
Comments help to fill out the picture. Some older bloggers use multiple social networking platforms or have changed platforms. (Later questions in the survey make such behaviour appear to be fairly common.)
“My first blog was with blogger called Nutty Notes. I switched to WP for my second and subsequent blogs and love the platform.”
“Has worked okay for me, but have considered moving to another — definitely not FB or Instagram.”
“Am also now exploring Medium”
“I now use Micro.blog”
“I also post on Facebook and Linked In”
“I use Blogger but then IFTTT posts it to WordPress for me and then it goes to Facebook, both my private page and my business page.”
I would like to know much more about the social media activities of our group. This was a difficult question to frame and a difficult one to answer, for at least six technical or lexical reasons:
Blogging takes place not only on dedicated platforms like WordPress.com, Blogger and Medium, but also on Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, LinkedIn, Reddit, and many others. Not many Facebook posts, for example, are blogs, but it happens, and 3% of our respondents use Facebook for their blogs.
Blogs are often contrasted with social media. Yet for millions of people, their blog is primarily that, a social medium.
The border between blogging and microblogging can be fuzzy, as people write extremely short blog posts (a photograph, a 3-word quote) and extremely long ones on Facebook.
Other blogs (many thousands of them) are for in-house consumption, as part of what was once called an intranet.
A blog can be defined by its technology, which enables anyone without technical skills to create a website and interact with others online. So what’s technically a blog is in some cases a filing cabinet or database, and it may not be on view to the general public.
The WordPress content management system is widely used to make blog-free websites, or websites which happen to include a blog: an organisation’s blog may seem completely different from the personal sites of older bloggers.
So you see why I may have asked the wrong question. Regardless, we got some interesting results that could be explored further
My personal conclusions: older people feel comfortable with a blog
Older bloggers tend to feel comfortable on WordPress or Blogger
Older bloggers have their reasons for choosing a blogging format instead of, or as well as, other social networking channels.
I think about this quite a lot. I am about to commit a coarse generalisation based not only on the data in the survey, but also on numerous comments from you, gentle readers, on this blog, and also in real life. In real life I talk a fair bit about the Older Bloggers Survey and consequently I get many unsolicited comments. I know that if I’ve got this completely wrong, you will tell me: please do!
I think plenty of older people feel a bit like I do. To me, blogging on WordPress feels like a comparatively calm, stable, steady, controllable environment. You have room to write long posts like this and freedom to write tiny ones. Blogging takes place in a community that is, on the whole, kind and encouraging. Although a baffling number of bloggers apologise for missing a regular posting date, it really doesn’t bother most readers how often or regularly you post or visit their blogs. You can keep track of other bloggers without religiously reading every word they write. You can write a blog for your own sweet reasons and never read a single one, you can commit wholeheartedly to the community aspects or remain aloof, you can use your blog like a megaphone or a hermit’s cave—in the blogosphere, there’s room for everyone.
What older bloggers say they don’t like about other social media channels
Many people have told me they find Facebook frenetic and manipulative, and they hate being bombarded by ads and political propaganda and news. Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram may seem fly-by-night and hectic to an older blogger. LinkedIn doesn’t seem to arouse negative feelings, but it’s a network for professional and career purposes; retired people may remain there out of inertia, I suspect.
When older bloggers consider any of the numerous other social media networks and potential blog platforms, they’ll either feel comfortable or not, for a similar range of reasons. Intuitively we’re probably sensing whether or not it’s a safe place for us. Exploring social media is an adventure, but if a place feels unsafe or otherwise threatening, we won’t stay long. (Nobody has told me this: it’s just what I think.)
Speaking for myself, I use Facebook casually as a writer and to check up on certain family members. I’m still on LinkedIn but I wonder why (since I have sold my company, ceased contract work, and have no desire for a new job). I use Twitter randomly except in earthquakes. I can see the charm of Instagram but may never dig deep. Blogging suits me best, because I’m old.
I began a never-ending literature review
I read and I studied
and the news kept coming
and the books piled up
and the waters got muddied
you wouldn’t believe the research out there.
For decades now the ageing horde
has been a coming thing
looming and glooming and secretly booming
and while I’d been dreaming my life away
had worked it out, indeed they knew
what we had to do
(and trust me they were doing it too).
We can all of us, no most of us, no some of us
live longer yes, that happens anyway
but simultaneously collaterally
be healthyish and happyish and cheap to run
and maybe even useful
for nearly all those scary bonus years
or so they said.
We were doomed to live long
we could choose to live strong
it was all up to us no mostly no partly
our choice or so I thought they said.
Science had the answers to my fiddle-faddle fears
so I’d thought I’d do a boot camp for my bonus years
take a year to focus, point my laser mind
at certain smudgy areas
where Rachel could do better.
I was very much alive
I didn’t feel old but the facts were there
I was yes I was going to die sometime
but maybe not suddenly, maybe not soon
so I dedicated twelve months of my life
to being old, to knowing old
to feeling old, accepting old
I would have my year of being old
and then I would be sorted, then I would be fine.
I wasn’t anti-ageing
(which surely means pro-dying)
but my all-time self was out of whack
and needed a test and a tweak and a twiddle
I wasn’t at the end and I wasn’t in the middle
the years ahead were an obstacle course
and I needed to train and to strategise.
An onslaught of earnestness
swept away the vicar’s daughter
not as in save-the-worldism
but as in do-your-bestism
and so I planned my boot camp for the bonus years.
MP3 recording of this poem
Poem, recording and photo by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0. Please share, with my name and a link.
That’s right: it’s OK to blog without reading or commenting on other people’s blogs! There’s no law against it. It’s fine.
My last post was about the frequency and time spent by older bloggers on writing a blog vs. reading and commenting on blogs. As you saw, respondents had very different habits, and some never read other blogs or commented on them.
I hope this post will help if you struggle to read all the blogs you follow, if you feel anxious or overwhelmed or even guilty for not reading and sharing enough. You’re not alone: many people in our survey indicated that they feel this way.
I’m here to tell you that you can stop right now—stop feeling worried, I mean, not stop blogging. Do it your way.
If you are (like me) pretty committed to reading what others write in their blogs and comments —and it’s obvious that I find your comments fascinating—then it can be hard to understand why anybody would say firmly, “I don’t read blogs” or “I don’t comment.” After all, you understand the blessings of a dynamic online community, and the delight of discovering a kindred spirit or a “friend” out there in the blogosphere. For you, at least half the point of blogging is the social side. You feel puzzled and maybe even a bit indignant at the idea of just doing your own thing online.
Yet not commenting is extremely common. That is pure speculation on my part, but I state it boldly based on information from ManageWP.com:
Here’s an incredible fact: together, you published more than 660millionposts on WordPress.com in 2015, and made more than 655 million comments.
Surprise surprise: the ratio of posts to comments was virtually 50:50 in 2015, and I doubt this has changed very much. Now, it’s unusual for a blog post to have only one comment—it’s far more likely to have zero comments or several, don’t you think? This implies that the vast majority of blog posts have no comments at all; which in turn implies that the majority of bloggers don’t comment. I deduce that:
many people blog but don’t read other blogs
many people read but don’t blog
most bloggers don’t comment
Since I began researching this topic of older bloggers, I have become less and less and less judgemental. Sure, we have common guidelines such as don’t be mean, don’t tell lies, don’t promote your own blog on somebody else’s, and so forth. But apart from these basics, everyone finds their own niche, their own style, their own goals—and yours are rarely mine.
But why would any blogger deliberately avoid reading and commenting on blogs?
There are many reasons for deliberately deciding not to read or comment on other blogs. It’s not caused by a character flaw. Let me gently suggest nine reasons, all of which are true of certain people I follow. They’re related to time available, other pressures, and the purpose of the blog. You can doubtless think of many others.
A blog may consist of highly academic long articles by someone who has a full-time job and blogs in his own time.
A blogger may be very ill or recovering from a serious illness.
A blogger may have a disability that makes blogging extremely demanding.
A blogger may spend 40 hours per week researching high quality information, gathered not from other blogs but from primary sources such as reputable medical or legal government reports. She is performing a public service already, without chatting online.
A blogger may have thousands of followers and get hundreds of comments each week; if she began to answer those comments, the high quality of her blog would drop—and high quality content is exactly why she has thousands of followers.
A blogger may be so chronically introverted that just to publish anything is a triumph; to engage with readers would be just too painful.
A blogger may use her blog exclusively for creative self-expression: readers are genuinely irrelevant to the writer.
Some bloggers have lives apart from blogging, so they tell me!
Although you and I may relish online social interaction, no personal blogger needs to justify a choice like this.
Many thanks to the readers who raised this topic—you got me thinking!
My mother said that seventy years
is plenty of years and after that
you’re a nuisance a mistake
you’re a burden to the state.
So when I hit seventy I noticed the date
but mothers are allowed to be wrong about stuff
some of the time, that’s fair enough
and the seventies turned out to be
a sweet spot, at least so far, at least for me
until I looked around and all I could see
was other old people trotting along like me
and I thought Uh oh, you mean there’s more?
But how much more? To be precise
how many years am I meant to live?
the average woman of my age
will live to 84 but hey
I’m not average (nobody is)
so give me a number, do me the math.
So Google found me a questionnaire
that I trusted to offer a pretty good guess
and I answered 40 questions
and I waited for the verdict
with existential angst and strangled breath.
“Based on your answers you are likely to die
at the ripe old age of 99.”
And I said No, that isn’t me
I could almost imagine being 83
but 99 I’ll never be.
Let’s try another questionnaire
a better one a proper one
let’s do the Mayo Clinic one
I’ll fudge the truth and get the truth
and surely I’ll die in the flush of youth.
Now what does the Mayo Clinic say?
Oh shit I’m heading for 98?
I stormed away from my stand-up desk
and flung myself with all my soul
into the sulk of the century
the ultimate apoplectic huff
short of actual apoplexy
for which you need a dodgy heart
and while I raged, my heart chuffed on and on
like a good old puffer train.
Two days later I settled down and I said to myself,
Well bugger that, it’s just a guess
and I might die the week after next
but it does make a certain sort of sense—
life expectancy on the rise
me with my excellent Girl-Guide habits
my good nutrition and education
me with a home and superannuation
me with phenomenal life-long luck
of lucky time and place and genes
it’s not so freaky to believe
I could survive to 99
whether I like it or not.
If so… if so…
I’ve still got a quarter of my life to go
so I’d better get my ducks in a row.
I thought I’d die in a rocking chair
everything normal for a few more years
then a sudden sit down and a quick let down
and that’d be dying done and dusted.
But now I have to brace myself, face the facts
face my fears and the bonus years
the years and years I never chose
and make them as good as I can.
I knew all about old people
you see them everywhere
but in a million years I never dreamt
one day they would be me.
We asked 123 older bloggers a series of questions about their blogging habits—not just their writing habits, but also their patterns of reading and commenting. Our results, in my opinion, confirm a finding by Pew Research Center last year: that older adults who do use social media tend to view the internet in a positive light, and to be highly active and engaged.
Habits of reading and commenting on other blogs
Regardless of age, most bloggers are pretty keen to get readers and followers and comments on their own blogs, and this applies to both marketing and personal blogs. So we wondered how committed to online social interaction our older bloggers were. I was keen to find out how much time our respondents spent reading and commenting on other people’s blogs.
Question 6: Approximately how many blogs posts do you read in a typical week?
This was only mildly informative, because some blog posts are just a photo or a short quote, while others are long reads. For the record, here are the results (percentages are rounded):
Read fewer than 25 posts per week: 42%
Read 25–50 blog posts per week: 34%
Read 51–75 blog posts per week: 9%
Read 76–100 blog posts per week: 3%
Read 101–150 blog posts per week: 4%
Read more than 150 blog posts per week: 7%
In comments, the situation became clearer.
Ten respondents made it very clear that they were there to blog, not to read other people’s blogs. Some explained why they didn’t read more. Examples:
“I don’t read blogs. I write a blog.”
“Very seldom come across a blog that I care to read regularly.”
“I unsubscribe from any blog that posts regularly more than once a week.”
14 comments showed a commitment to reading and commenting on other people’s blogs. Examples:
“I try to read all those I follow — not always successfully.”
“I read 25-30 a week, mainly to keep up with the bloggers who read and comment on my blog.”
“I respond to all who comment on my posts as well as some special interest ones.”
The largest group of comments consisted of 16 people who either said their reading varied week to week, or cited lack of time and other commitments. Examples:
“It varies week to week. Some days I read 20 in a day, other times nothing.”
“It really depends on the time available.”
This leads us to another group of 5 bloggers who struggle with the perceived need to read and comment on other blogs. Examples:
“I don’t know how to navigate this medium”
“It’s so hard to keep up with all of them!”
“It can be overwhelming since I also try to comment regularly. But, it’s hard to decide who to unfollow… and I keep adding more.”
Question 7: Approximately how long do you spend reading and commenting on blog posts?
What is startling about this graph, to me, is not that 30% of older bloggers spend 2 hours or less per week reading and commenting on blogs, but the fact that 11% estimated that they spent more than 12 hours per week on this activity. That’s a serious time commitment to the social aspect of blogging!
This question was a difficult one to answer, as comments made clear:
“Again, sometimes I don’t do it, other times I can spend up to 5 hours or so.”
“It’s hard to differentiate between reading comments on my blog and commenting on others, It’s all in the same mix, especially when using the app on a mobile device.”
“I try to keep a balance between spending too much time reading other people’s blogs and doing my own writing. I love supporting bloggers so I make an effort to read as many as I can.”
“Friends will comment on how much time it must take to write a blog. I always say it’s not the writing, it’s the reading of other blogs!”
Commitment to writing and publishing their own blog posts
To be published online is, by definition, the purpose of any blog, rather than social interaction, and here we can make some comparisons with marketing blogs.
Question 8. How often do you blog?
I was very surprised to see how many of our respondents published as often as once a week or even daily. The following graph shows the answers from our survey of older bloggers:
Compare the above with the results from Orbit Media’s 4th Annual Blogger Survey below. According to this 2017 survey of 1377 bloggers, our older bloggers are more than four times more likely to publish a blog post daily than the Orbit Media bloggers. I’m assuming that the blogs in Orbit Media’s survey are mostly marketing or professional blogs, and that the bloggers are on average considerably younger than our “older bloggers.”
Bear in mind that our survey is not directly comparable with any other, especially as we don’t have a figure for “2–6 posts per week” as Orbit Media does. Even so, our figures indicate a heavy commitment from a substantial percentage of older, non-commercial bloggers.
Q.9 Approximately how long do you spend each week preparing and publishing your own blog posts? (Choose the best answer.)
The figures (rounded) are as follows:
0–2 hours per week: 28% (33 responses)
3–4 hours per week: 32% (38 responses)
5–6 hours per week: 13% (15 responses)
7–8 hours per week: 11% (13 responses)
9–10 hours per week: 6% (7 responses)
more than 10 hours per week: 10% (12 responses)
It seems that most older bloggers in this survey do not stint on the time they spend creating and publishing a blog post. Let’s compare their answers with some data in Orbit Media’s survey of 2017, below.
Orbit Media’s 2017 survey focused on the average time that bloggers spend writing their blogs, and they found that the average blog post takes 3 hours and 20 minutes to write. Again, that’s presumably for marketing or professional bloggers.
I suspect that patterns that appear in our Older Bloggers survey are fairly similar to those from Orbit Media. In itself, would that be surprising? After all, we are the same individuals that we were when we were at work five or twenty years ago, and maybe we just carry on with similar habits of work.
It’s late and I’m not good at arithmetic, but I have a hunch that the average blog post by our older bloggers took a little longer than 3 hours 20 minutes. Let’s not go nano over this, because our sample is comparatively small. But my personal guess is that older bloggers take a little longer on average than younger people to create and publish a blog post.
Maybe that’s because we are more dedicated. Or maybe it’s just because everything takes us a little bit longer…
I’ll be back with another instalment of the report this Friday. (The pressure! The pressure!)