Interview With Ronni Bennett, Author of Time Goes By

The Washington Post calls Time Goes By ‘the quintessential seniors’ blog,’ … AARP calls its author Ronni Bennett (in the cool photo montage above), ‘the dean of older bloggers,’ … And we’re fortunate to have her insights today at Ecumen’s Changing Aging blog.For more than 25 years Ronni, who says ‘Age is a gift,’ was a radio and television producer, working on such programs as 20/20 and the The Barbara Walters Specials on ABC and for shows on Lifetime TV, NBC, PBS and CBS. In 1996, as the Internet was in its infancy, Ronni was named the first managing editor at It was there that the seeds of Time Goes By began to grow. Today she’s changing aging in America from her home in Maine where she authors her groundbreaking blog. Thank you to Ronni for taking time with us.

Why did you start blogging?

After six or eight years of researching aging in my spare time, I had accumulated thousands of pages of notes and articles along with a small library of books on aging and wanted to organize what I’d learned. I had also been following what was, in 2003, the nascent blogging phenomenon and thought it would be a good format for writing about ‘what it’s really like to get old’ which is the subtitle of my blog.Hardly anyone was writing online about aging back then and what existed – online and in print – was about 95 percent negative; all about decline, disease and debility. I knew getting old couldn’t possibly be as bad as that so while not being a Pollyanna about it, I wanted to explore what is good about aging.

How much time do you spend on Time Goes By?

It’s a seven-day-a-week job. I have a couple dozen Google Alerts of key words and phrases that keep me up on what’s being written about aging, aging news, research, etc. I also subscribe to email newsletters relating to geriatrics, technology, government, public policy, employment, age discrimination, caregiving, etc., so there’s a lot of reading and assimilating to do. Then the writing.I post to Time Goes By six days a week and I also keep a secondary blog, The Elder Storytelling Place, for which I rarely write, but edit and publish stories elders submit. I put in a lot more time on these than I did on regular jobs before I retired from the workplace.

What kind of impact do you think the blogosphere is going to have on how we view aging in America?

There’s a famous New Yorker cartoon from about a dozen years ago showing two dogs sitting at a computer. One says to the other: ‘On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.’ Well, no one knows your age either, unless you tell them, so one’s thoughts, opinions and writing can more easily be judged on their merit rather than being dismissed for being written by a 70-year-ol. Or a 20-year-old, for that matter.However, I always give my age, when appropriate, on my blog and I urge other elders to do it too so that readers become accustomed to finding stories of interest from 60-and 70- and 80-year-olds and beyond. The United States is a profoundly ageist country in which, for years, elders have been marginalized in media, the workforce and most of the culture as though, when we get old, we forget everything we ever learned. But we still have much to contribute if people will let us, and perhaps within the blogosphere we – the young and the old – might discover what we have in common.

Does growing older fascinate you, or scare you, or something else? Why?

For most of my life, I never thought about getting old. I think our mid-years are so busy with careers, home, child-raising that there’s little time to consider our approaching later years. In my case, I was 55 when I looked around the room where I worked at for one of the writers I needed to speak with. As I gazed over the faces, I had a startling moment of recognition: I was older than every person in the room by decades, old enough in some cases to be their grandmother.Over the next few weeks, I noticed it again and again and realized I knew nothing about what getting old is like. A cursory look at the popular press, newspapers and magazines, gave me nothing except the debility and decline I mentioned above and I thought if it was going to be THAT bad, I might as well shoot myself.But I couldn’t make myself believe that it would necessarily be so terrible. I was smarter, sharper, better at my job than I had ever been. I was more comfortable in my own skin. I was happier with myself than when I was younger. How could being 55 and even older be the awful thing it is made out to be, I wondered, when I felt so good.Because youth is considered the gold standard of life in the United States, getting old is a great mystery and it fascinates me. And the goal of my blog is to lift the veil on that mystery and find out what it’s really like.

How do you see the age wave – the unprecedented number of older people – changing how we view aging in America?

Well, I haven’t made up my mind about that. On the one hand, with more elders around, everyone else has to become more familiar with us and see the trade-offs that are made. I can’t run as fast or jump as high as I once could, but I’m smarter, more experienced and have a lot better judgment than when I was young.On the other hand, I worry that there will be a generational conflict. There is no denying that as old people become a larger percentage of the population, some people will see the need to care for those who need it as a drain on resources.Nevertheless, things will need to change. With fewer people in the generations coming up behind the baby boomers, finally corporate America will NEED to employ old people longer just to get the work of the country done. Life expectancy increased by 30 years during the 20th century and we are much healthier than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. So there is no reason old people should be shoved out of the workplace at 60 or 65 as they are now, and there are signs that corporate America is beginning to recognize this.The generations need one another and I hope that will help change the ageist atmosphere we live in now.

Do you see the media changing how it views and depicts aging?

A little, but not much yet. This is so because most of the media is run by young people and they don’t understand old people. Our interests and concerns change as we get older, but the media treats us mostly as slightly dotty, none too bright and the youth and beauty police keep insisting that we do everything possible to pretend to be younger than we are. The ad agencies and TV and movie producers need to employ some 60- and 70-year-olds to get it right.There are a few more magazines, such as More and ELDR aimed at older people, and that’s good except that they may be becoming kind of a ghetto of old people media. And Oprah Winfrey, who has millions of fans and is considered the queen of daytime television, spends a great amount of time on her show pursuing the pretense of youth. Oprah is 54 years old. She should be wise enough by now to use her media power to help people accept aging as a normal stage of life, promote its dignity, recognize the value of elders and help integrate them into the mainstream.

Which are you enjoying more – your career in your 30s or your work today?

I had a wonderful career in television. I traveled the world on someone else’s dime, worked with kings and queens and movie stars and heads of state, and learned a lot of things I would never have otherwise known. And then, after a couple of decades, I was given the opportunity to work in a burgeoning new medium, the internet, when it was brand new.During all those years, I never thought much about what I’d do when I wasn’t employed in the workforce anymore. I suppose I expected to do that until I die, but a bit of age discrimination in the workplace got in the way. I hadn’t intended, when I started Time Goes By, to make it a late-life career, but it morphed into that. It’s allowed me to meet people from all over the world, get to the know the tech community and participate in the blogging world beyond turning out a blog post each day, attending and speaking at conferences and, perhaps, making some small difference in how elders are perceived and treated.So I can’t say I enjoy one more than the other, but how lucky for me that the internet and blogging came along just when I needed it.