Portrait: Rosaleen Dickson: Cyberspace Trailblazer and Inspiring Learner

Posted By editor in AHB Issue 2007 May/June | Back


rosaleen dickson

Rosaleen Leslie Dickson has never been one to sit on the sidelines.

Born in Halifax in 1921, the veteran journalist, author and Web master was an early promoter of the Web, both in her chosen profession and in the community at large.

In 1941, Dickson graduated from Guilford College, North Carolina with a BA in psychology. In 2003, at the age of 81, she obtained her master’s degree in Journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa, where she now lives.

In her master’s thesis: Not Just another Pencil: Computer Mediated Communications from a Senior’s Point of View, Dickson traces the evolution of the Web, and makes a compelling argument older people’s Web contributions can help stem the "wisdom deficit" that afflicts many aspects of society today.

Ruth Dempsey: How did you fall in love with the Net?

Rosaleen Leslie Dickson: I have not fallen in love with it; I just use the Internet as a means of communication. I use the phone but I am not in love with it. Through time we are presented with one medium after another, and all have been useful. Tomorrow there will be another, not yet invented, and yet we will still probably be using pencils, along with sundry other ways of communicating, including smiles, grins, shrugs, sighs and raised eyebrows.

RD: Can you describe some of your initiatives on the Web?

RLD: Old Folks at Home on the World Wide Web

For people who don’t think being old is an embarrassment, avoidable, reversible, disgraceful, a crime, a disease or even a social faux pas. This site, established about ten years ago, originates in Ottawa but it is worldwide in scope.

Ask the Doctors

This was a worldwide service, provided on a volunteer basis by a team of 110 dedicated medical professionals from 32 countries and carried as a public service on Flora Community Web. It is no longer active but its archives remain for public use.

Ask Great Granny

Great Granny is a psychology graduate, lifetime journalist, mother, grandmother and great granny to a large family. Send your questions and she will provide thoughtful suggestions to help you solve your problems, and you will remain anonymous. (I answer questions daily and have received them from every Canadian province and every American state, as well as Australia, India, and several European countries). And after finding more than half of the questions I received were about relations between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, I wrote The Mother-In-Law Book (General Store Publishing), now available in book stores.

The National Press Club of Canada

A very busy Web site (which I built and have maintained over the years), updated daily, with many extensions pertaining to every facet of the club which is now being morphed into a foundation.

The Rosaleen Leslie Dickson Family Web site

This site includes all my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and extends to family history extracted from my book on Dickson and Leslie genealogy, and my father’s poetry. It is my flagship site. I am so fortunate to have a very close family of over 30 incredibly interesting individuals. We are all so busy that we only get the whole gang together once or twice a year, but we all keep in close touch constantly by phone, regular visits, and, of course, e-mail.

RD: In your thesis, you decry society’s wisdom deficit. Can you give me an example?

RLD: I quote from my book: "One of the old folks’ cyberclubs in the U.S., The Geezer Brigade, publishes such mottos as ‘It’s frustrating when you know all the answers, but nobody bothers to ask you the questions any more.’" This attitude will go out of style as the need for common sense drives society to seek wisdom where it exists, among the elders. The point is that elder wisdom can be found on the Internet, and nobody knows it comes from "just old folks."

RD: More and more older people are joining the Net. How are they making their mark in cyberspace?

RDL: Cyber-elders use this medium for information, adventure, and companionship and to share lifetimes of intelligence. Infirmities do not deter this fast growing senior Internet population. From around the world, they are logged on, exchanging advice, conversing, updating their health needs, handling their finances, enjoying travel and adventure, caring for and supporting one another, and adding infinite substance to the World Wide Web through their volunteer activities, email and other online interaction.

RD: What advice would you give an older person who is hesitant about participating online?

RDL: Leave them alone. Their hesitancy will disappear if they want to use the Internet. If not, they are better off doing what they please. Skiing is fun too, and even playing bridge. It’s ridiculous to try to persuade people to participate in something in which they are not interested. Older persons need to do what they want. They’ve earned the right.

RD: Can you describe some of your current projects?

RLD: I am now engaged in trying to keep a National Press Club in Canada. Keeping it alive on the Internet, through its Web site and through weekly e-mails to all its members. This occupies a great deal of my time. Undergoing financial challenges, a small committee is working so the club can continue to function without undue interruption.

I am also working on two books to be published soon. I am editing a book about trees at the arboretum. It may sound dull but it’s actually a fantastic book with stunning photos and everything you would ever want to know about trees in Canada. I am also working on an awesome book of memoirs for a little known (yet) great Canadian.

RD: If you had never become a journalist, what else might you have done?

RLD: I would have been a lawyer. It was a toss-up.

RD: What three words would you choose to best describe your 80s?

RLD: Challenging, challenging and challenging. I use the word three times because the challenges are on three levels: physical, social and spiritual.

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