07 May, 2007

Never Too Old

Those with a passion for writing and who have time on their hands can always blog.

WEB logging – or blogging – may soon join line dancing, tai chi, bingo and gardening as some of the popular “old people” hobbies.

Blogs are generally considered the realm of the young and the restless, and of precocious or frustrated middle-aged citizens, who want to vent and be heard.

Recently, ABC Western Queensland featured a story about Olive Riley who, at 107, may be the world’s oldest blogger. Riley writes about her life experiences in her blog (allaboutolive.com.au), which includes her memories of witnessing the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and her experiences as a cook on a sheep station in western Queensland in 1937.

While there may not be many bloggers as old as Riley, wired seniors are slowly moving from the fringes and claiming their place in cyber space, negating the perception that web space is solely the domain of the young.

Blogs are online journals or bulletins where people post entries on topics that interest them. They offer links to other websites and blogs, photos and opportunities for readers to comment on issues or communicate with others.

A research exercise conducted by Microsoft’s MSN and Windows’ Live Online late last year showed that most Asians blog to express themselves as well as share their lives with their family and friends.

The research findings, published in Blogging Asia: A Windows Live Report, were based on an online survey of more than 25,000 MSN portal visitors across seven markets.

The report also showed that the Asian blogspace is fuelled by youth under 25 (56%), while those aged between 25 and 35 make up 35% of the total. Only 9% of Asian bloggers are over 35 – it is anyone’s guess what percentage of this comprises senior citizens.

The president of the fledgling National Alliance of Bloggers and prominent socio-political blogger, Ahirudin Attan, says, “Quite a chunk of the bloggers in Malaysia are not that young, I think. I am 46 and, in football, I would be considered a veteran.

“Other bloggers – like Nuraina, Shanghai Fish, Marina Mahathir, AKJ, Ahmad Talib, Zorro, Pak Idrus and Bustaman – are all above 50,” he adds, quoting other active local bloggers. Ahirudin’s blog can be found at www.rockybru.blogspot.com.

This, he thinks, is especially true of political bloggers.

Other senior bloggers who have socio-political blogs include theatre personality and radio deejay Patrick Teoh and Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang.

Indeed, according to the Blogging Asia report, at 20%, political blogs are among the more popular ones visited by Malaysians.

It isn’t surprising that socio-political blogs are a favourite with many seniors – they not only have the benefit of experience, but also, most of them had grown up in a very different setting, both socially and politically.

Senior bloggers, opines Ahirudin, are relevant in the blogosphere (regardless of what type of blog) as they have the benefit of maturity and experience.

“Seniors can show the way. They have the experience and the maturity. Usually they mind their language, and are concerned about profanities and sensitive issues, like religion and race. They speak their minds, are not fearful but constructive. They are fine examples of what responsible blogging should and could be,” he says.

Fun outlet

For retired civil servant Pak Idrus, blogging provides the opportunity to write, something he has always been passionate about. Being a retiree with plenty of time on his hands is another push factor.

“My dream is to write a book or at least, for a start, write a web log. I began surfing the Internet some years ago and discovered that starting an online journal was not easy. You needed some knowledge of computer language to get going and I was, at the time, computer illiterate.

“I kept on searching and eventually found several sites for blogging but they were all paying sites. Most of these sites offered free trials, which is how I got started.

“Then I chanced upon blogger.com which gave users free use of its basic site and charged US$5 (RM18) for its upgraded site where users can upload files and images,” recalls Pak Idrus.

Determined to get started on his blog, he was willing to pay the fee. For some reason, though, he was given free access to the upgraded site.

“Maybe it was my age ... they saw how old I was and decided to let me use it for free,” muses the 67-year-old retiree.

From then on, there was no stopping him. Now, four years on, he has his own very established blog (http://idrus.blogspot.com) where he shares his thoughts on a wide range of subjects.

“On days when I can’t think of what to write, I post pictures and photographs that tell stories of their own. After all, a picture paints a thousand words, right?”

Blogs, he says, provide otherwise voiceless Malaysians an opportunity to have their say.

“Can you tell me a better place to share your thoughts with others? Or can you find any better way of doing some creative writing?

“Other than writing a book or writing to the newspapers, there are no other avenues.”

Occasional blogger Alex Cheong concurs with Pak Idrus.

“I was frustrated because, on many occasions, my ‘letters to the editor’ to the mainstream media failed to get published.

“Blogging helps create another ‘institution’ in the public sphere, which was previously the exclusive domain of newspapers, radio and television.

“I saw blogging as a remedy. I became my own publisher.”

Cheong, 65, who also started blogging in 2003, learnt about blogging at a conference he had attended in Malacca.

“Among the subjects discussed were ‘youth expression tools’, including blogging. I chanced upon a report of the workshop proceedings that contained the names of some bloggers like Najah Nasseri, Dinesh Nair, Jeff Ooi , Aizudin and Jikon Lai as participants.

“I visited their blogs and was attracted to the idea of blogging,” he says.

In his blog (weekendblog.blogspot.com), Cheong pens his “thoughts and comments on things Malaysian mostly, and on the English Premier League and the world occasionally”.

Though he used to update his blog about twice a week, Cheong admits that he has neglected his blog for quite a while now. “To be honest, my last posting was in January 2006.”

Senior bloggers like Pak Idrus and Cheong use their web logs to discuss activities, reminisce or ruminate about issues or, simply, to write.

Time on their side

“I am retired. I have plenty of time, so I surf the Net and write and read blogs, all kinds of blogs. Reading blogs brightens my day,” says Pak Idrus, who resides in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.

If he had his way, Pak Idrus would want blogging to be an activity for everyone, as “there is no generation gap in the blogosphere”.

“Everyone – from primary schoolchildren to grandparents – should blog, as it develops creative writing skills.

“The Education Ministry should create a programme to encourage young children to blog. It is a way to help them be more creative.

“Presently, creative writing is so lacking in this country. Who knows, maybe a young Malaysian could be an internationally acclaimed author in the not too distant future?” says Pak Idrus.

An interesting remedy for the young. But how do you get more seniors wired?

Cheong reckons the problem is that many of his contemporaries have little or no exposure to Information Technology.

“The digital age just passed them by. They may know how to use the Internet and e-mail but they still find the idea of working on a computer daunting,” Cheong notes.

Pak Idrus agrees. “They (seniors) are afraid of technology. I have tried to get some of my friends to blog, and I have succeeded with some.”

Bernard Khoo, whose blog name is Zorro-unmasked, however, says that even those who have no computer knowledge can blog.

“You can start your blog in three steps and in less than 15 minutes. That’s how easy it is ? of course, there are other frills (modifications) which you can pick up later.”

Khoo, 67, has a challenge for his contemporaries.

“I would like to throw a challenge to those who have the ability to start a blog but are vacillating. Start your blog, share with us and with Malaysians, young and old, your wealth of experience in your respective fields. There is so much our younger generation has missed. We, elders, owe it to our young,” he adds.


Batteries charged

If Pak Idrus comes across as being overly enthusiastic about blogging, it is simply because it has benefited him in more ways than one.

“Blogging keeps my mind active and is good for my health. Reading others’ blogs keeps me informed of new developments in society and the world. I often get visits from other bloggers from all over the world and these help me network,” he says.

For Khoo, it is the networking opportunities that strike him most about blogging.

“I have met other bloggers of different races, ages and religions. It has been enriching. Recently, on Easter Sunday, I received 16 text messages wishing me Happy Easter ... two from Christian friends and 14 from my Malay blogger friends. This is integration ... After all, we are all Malaysians finding our place in the sun,” says Khoo, a retired teacher.

By S. INDRAMALAR, The Star.

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