“I couldn’t live the life I lead now without the help of Zoom, Google Classroom, WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams,” Epstein told me over the phone from his home in Tamarindo. “My current students are all master’s level teachers, looking for an additional master’s degree in teaching technology. I use Zoom to observe and assess how well they are incorporating these technologies into their classroom lessons. I was surprised how much more attentive students seemed to be online than they usually were in class receiving the same material.
He keeps in very real contact with friends he has known for decades. “Networking technologies have supported all of my lifestyle choices and helped me and my family achieve a level of freedom and independence that I never thought possible for someone in their seventies. He adds. “I have met other semi-retirees and retirees who are also thriving for the same reasons.
On the morning of BJ’s birthday, his son put candles with an eight and a zero in his omelet, a gold paper crown next to his napkin, and a happy birthday banner wrapped around the umbrella pole in the table wooden deck on the deck. We knew BJ would love the fuss and sure enough he did and posted pictures of his breakfast on his Facebook page. A former triathlete, he even asked me to record a video of him on his iPhone when he went swimming in the bay. Like a ridiculous parody of a sports broadcaster, I added a comment, as his son jumped into the water and joined in on the action. Of course, that ended up on Facebook as well, as did the game of pétanque he played with his son in my driveway, and dinner at a lovely restaurant that I had booked over a month before his birthday.
Upon arrival, I whispered a request to the hostess for a candle in her wilderness. She nodded. The restaurant was packed and the only problem with our meal was when the waiter came to clean our plates. They were running out of desert. However, my friend was a happy man. He had hundreds of likes from people he knew and couldn’t be with in person, making it his biggest birthday party yet.
Although thousands of people use social media as a platform for individual performance, there are institutions that are bringing senior storytelling to the public on a larger scale. Franklin Furnace was founded in 1976 by director Martha Wilson as an archive for artist books and variable media. The vanguard institution of downtown New York was the launching pad for innovative performance artists like Laurie Anderson and Eric Bogosian, who ultimately became part of the larger cultural lexicon.
Harley Spiller, the current director, tells me that “Because Franklin Furnace now has an online presentation platform, we’ve been able to maintain our traditional media-savvy audience, attracting newcomers of all ages and, what is the more rewarding, bringing many aficionados back into the fold. Many senior artists have left New York after retiring from their practice. Their hard-earned and deep perspective was a boon to our public digital Q&A sessions right after the performances. We believe social media has made our community more whole than ever. “
He shared a text from a recent grant he wrote. “Most of the major contributors to the birth of 20th century performance are now septuaries and octogenarians, so time is running out to accurately honor and preserve their work… We [Franklin Furnace] aim to extend our mutual stories by exploring the work of artists and new ideas, past and present. It is essential to engage in dialogue, reflection and critical thinking representing multiple intergenerational intersections. Social media, says Spiller, is integral to achieving this goal.
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