so when are you going to retire?: a book in process about age, work and identity 03.18.2008, 1:18 PM
posted by ben vershbow
I want to give a shout out to a wonderful new project by a dear friend of ours. So When Are You Going to Retire? is -? or will be, or is in the process of becoming -? a book exploring questions of age, work and identity through the stories of people over 80 who continue, against the odds, to work for a living. As of very recently, the author, Ashton Applewhite, has begun documenting her research on a very attractive new weblog, and is inviting readers, writers and experts in the field to join her in conversations and story sharing that hopefully will shape the book's development. In an email, Ashton explained to me why she's doing this:
I'm a generalist writing about a broad topic: people in their 80s and 90s who are still in the workforce, and what we can learn from them. Following on the Institute's work with Siva and Mitchell Stephens, I'm excited about using the blog as a mechanism for thinking out loud as I go through my material, formulate the themes of the book, and write the proposal. I think that ongoing feedback from experts (gerontologists, social scientists, demographers, etc.) and discerning readers will sharpen and inform my thinking -? in other words, that the network will help me build a better book. I also think i'll end up with a valuable platform for leveraging and disseminating my work over the long run -? one that could radically revise conventional notions of shelf life. Cutting Loose, my book about women and divorce (HarperCollins, 1997) is still in print; imagine what sales would look like if it were at the hub of an ongoing social network, and what a rich site that would be?
Though this isn't an officially Institute-sponsored project, we've done a fair bit of kibbitzing from the sidelines on the conceptual layout of the site and on general strategies for writing it (this being Ashton's first foray into blogging). We're also brainstorming with Ashton on that most crucial of issues: building an audience. Most of our networked book projects have been on technology or media-related subjects that naturally appeal to online readerships and get picked up easily in the blogospheric grapevine. Ashton's book doesn't have such an obviously built-in wired constituency, although its potential readership is far broader and more diverse than that of any of the works we've published. I imagine it will be a gradual, word of mouth kind of thing.
So check out Ashton's rich and inviting site, join the conversation, and spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested. If you know of any specific sites or online communities that Ashton might want to connect with, let her know through the "email me" link near the top of her site. There's already quite a lot to delve into since Ashton's been blogging under the radar for the past several months, cutting her teeth on the form and piling up some wonderful stories (many of which you can listen to in audio). Help start building this network, and this book.
Mark T. Rafter on March 19, 2008 3:36 PM:
I think the whole idea of retirement is changing. Most everyone on the "entitlement plan" - i.e., SS, Medicare and my pension will take care of me are delusional. We will live longer and longer and run out of money.
The better plan is some combination of mini-retirements (a la Timothy Ferriss and the 4-hr work week) and my own ideas about learning how to get paid for what you would otherwise do for free. Money then becomes a side effect of your own quality of life.
In both cases you get out of the 'defer having a life until some TBD date in the future' trap and live now.
Ashton has a great idea ... I'll be glad to jump in.
Ashton Applewhite on March 19, 2008 5:18 PM:
Thanks, Mark. Getting paid for what you would otherwise do for free is a far more sensible construct than "follow your passion" -? and with considerable overlap, since what we do for free tends to be what we're good at, which tends to be what we're passionate about. I want my project to be useful for ordinary working people (who may not have a "passion" or see it as such) in addition to the artists and business owners who stay on the job for reasons that are intuitively obvious. The octo- and nonanonagenarians I'm meeting are incredibly interesting, but I've got a lot to learn. I want to be sure that I'm making the most of the interviews, focusing on appropriate policy issues, and extrapolating the most useful lessons for fellow baby boomers. so please do jump in at sowhenareyougoingtoretire.com.
Chris Meade Overleaf on March 20, 2008 8:17 AM:
Ashton, this looks like a wonderful project. My mum (85) will be networking her friends on the topic I'm sure. Digital culture, the gift economy, the amazing amount you can do for free with a computer and wi-fi these days, the flexibility of working on-line where your age is irrelevant and can be unknown... these things have huge and positive implications for old age. All the best with the book and building a community around it.
Ashton Applewhite on March 20, 2008 1:46 PM:
Thanks for the good words, Chris; I look forward to hearing from your mum and her friends.
Of course the internet can also make it hard to keep stuff under wraps. Now that the blog is up and running, Bob's mother -? who inspired the entire project (http://www.sowhenareyougoingtoretire.com/?q=node/51) -? is terrified that her customers will come across it and find out how old she is!