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Life Begins at 80...on the Internet
(Casting the Net from Au to Za)

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Radio personality Scott Levi browsed through this website while questioning me about it, in a novel interview broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Central Coast station at Gosford, New South Wales, one day last month (December 2003). "It's fantastic, it's New Age publishing," he said. "It's one of the best radio websites I've ever seen."

Here's a transcript:

SCOTT LEVI: Eric Shackle led a very busy life as a journalist and PR man until his retirement and then, for Eric, life just stopped. He said he had no purpose in life, as busy people often do when they finish work, particularly those that have worked under constant stress and pressure.

The pressure journalists face working to deadlines is a major cause of stress but to go cold turkey after retiring can cause some psychological problems. Eric dealt with those problems by discovering a new world- the world of the web. I caught up with Eric in our studios yesterday afternoon and asked him about his new lease of life.

ERIC SHACKLE: When I retired I pretty well found that I had no interest at all left in life, until, at the age of 79, I discovered the internet. I was probably about the last person to discover it. Anyway I bought my first computer at that stage and was actually intrigued by the way that you can talk to people and receive messages and read matters put on the internet from all over the world. All for free and just at the press of a button.

Since then I have thought, well there must be thousands of people - perhaps millions - all over the world who don't know about the internet. I know that most people my own age are frightened of it and they are not familiar with it. I want to persuade them that it's a new magical world which could interest them in their dotage (which is a word for Dot Age).

LEVI: Dot Age... very good. Eric, has it given you a new lease on life, has it given you purpose?

SHACKLE: It has indeed. Yes. It's my greatest interest, and a great pastime.

LEVI: That's great too, and what you can learn is fantastic, isn't it?

SHACKLE: It's unlimited. It really is the world's largest library.

LEVI: Fantastic. While you've been speaking there about your fascination with the internet at the tender age of 80 -

SHACKLE: I was 79 when I got my first computer and about 81, I think, when I established the website in co-operation with Barry Downs, a friend in South Africa.

LEVI: How old are you now?

SHACKLE: Only a boy, 84.

LEVI: 84... Right, the web site. I have just clicked on the link to and "Welcome to the world's first multi-national e-book." That is a great title.

SHACKLE: It's a title we dreamed up.

LEVI: "Life begins at 80 on the internet. Casting the net from au to za." (which is Australia to South Africa), "by Eric Shackle. Open the current edition." So I click on that, and we'll open it up and have a look at what you've been up to, in the current edition.

SHACKLE: We have a new edition every month. The first of each month.

LEVI: Of "Life begins at 80 on the internet. A link to stories written by Eric Shackle and posted on web sites in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, England, New Zealand, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand and the United States." Well, that's multi-national. It is indeed. "Contents: memo newspaper, magazine and e-zine editors."


LEVI: You've put a link to the ABC, have you?

SHACKLE: I'm just going to add that.

LEVI: Good on you mate. I am very proud of you to do that. "If you would like to publish any of these stories, please e-mail Eric Shackle. Seasons greetings to all." You've got little animated Christmas bells there ringing away, going backwards and forwards.

Here's a new story,  "Gotham, Paradise of Fools. Most of the world's great cities have nicknames some complimentary, others derisive. We lucky people living in Sydney, Australia - the Harbour City, the Emerald City and (until Black Saturday) home of the Rugby World Cup, unkindly refer to our rival city of Melbourne as Bleak City. To read about the colourful nicknames of some of the great cities in the United States, click on Gotham." So you found these links and then -

SHACKLE: That's right.

LEVI: That makes it easy for people who are over 80 to surf the net. All they have got to do is press on the links where it is underlined. How much time do you spend online?

SHACKLE: I hate to tell you. I suppose about five or six hours a day - and night.

LEVI: Really.

SHACKLE: I have a lot of spare time. A lot of people do, at my age.

LEVI: That's at Ettalong. Where do you live at Ettalong?

SHACKLE: Kourung Street. But do you have to tell everybody? I don't want a queue lining up at the gate for my signature.

LEVI: Fair enough. We'll keep that quiet. Some other great stories in the current edition "Barmy Army Should Change Its Tune; Cobbers - like Concords - are History; Most Australians these days never use the word Cobber. The only time we hear it is when it is used by overseas visitors who are misled by their travellers guides. It has been superseded by mate. A Canadian writer claims the word was originally applied to passengers of Cobb and Co.'s horse-drawn Concord coaches in outback Australia. Read about it by clicking on Cobber." It's great the way you link it. You can see your journalistic talent coming in.

SHACKLE: It's useful to have the background, but I would interpolate a little thing here, that picture of the Cobb and Co coach is an excellent one that I found on the ABC's Mount Isa website. I recommend that you find that one, because it's an interesting picture.

LEVI: I used to work in Mount Isa. I'm just having a look.

SHACKLE: If you click on the story and then click on the last link on the end of the story.

LEVI: I'm just trying to negotiate the site here. I probably need to be 80 years of age to find it.

SHACKLE: I think it's the last one.

LEVI: The last photo. "Cobb and Co rides again." I'll click on that.

SHACKLE: That's the one.

LEVI: Here it comes. Fantastic! ABC Mount Isa! Really. Have you got the broadband at home.

SHACKLE: No. Just the ordinary mode.

LEVI: Here we go. Linked to the ABC North-West Queensland site, and there's the old Cobb and Co coach. "Craig Melville doesn't regret his decision to become involved in the restoration of the Cobb and Co coach." A couple of beautiful big draft horses pulling it along. Fantastic.

SHACKLE: It's a beaut illustration for the story, isn't it?

LEVI: It is a brilliant illustration.

SHACKLE: Courtesy of the ABC.

LEVI: At the age of 79, taking it up, did you have any particular aptitude for the computer, or was it all alien to you?

SHACKLE: At first I had great difficulty understanding a computer for about a month. After the first month it gradually came together.

LEVI: Do you stats of how many people hit on your site?

SHACKLE: Well, they are a bit misleading I just can't tell you at this stage. I am not being secretive about it, but I think it is about 35,000 or 40,000 at the moment - that's a cumulative total. But gradually it is increasing by word of mouth.

LEVI: It's a terrific tool. It's one of the best radio web sites I have ever seen for my programme. You rang me up and said you did this, I didn't know it was so good.

SHACKLE: The difficulty is to get people to know it's there. You need a big advertising budget. That's the biggest trouble to get your viewers. Once the people hear about it quite a fair percentage stay with you and look at it each month. I add about half a dozen new stories every month.

LEVI: That's a great deal of work that you do. The writing that you do is very good.

SHACKLE: Research, rather than writing.

LEVI: Research and writing. So you link the stories to an intro that you write, and then link through to other sites that emphasize what you are talking about in your on-line articles?

SHACKLE: Correct.

LEVI: It is fantastic, isn't it? It's New Age publishing. It's a simple way to publish to the masses.

SHACKLE: The beauty of it is that it leaves the print media for dead really, because you're writing for a worldwide audience, and you are writing for perpetuity. You think about that.

LEVI: I am. You've got me.

SHACKLE: It might be hundreds of years, and people will still be reading some of those stories. It 's a nice feeling.

LEVI: Floating around on the internet. And anyone can access it for free.

SHACKLE: Indeed... if only they know the URL.

LEVI: Or they just go to "Life begins at 80."

SHACKLE: The easiest way is to go to a search engine like Google or Yahoo and write in "Eric Shackle" and you get the lot.

LEVI: Have you shown other octogenarians how to do it?

SHACKLE: Quite a few. I could show you, if we had a bit more time, some of the letters. They almost bring tears to your eyes. It is very satisfying.

LEVI: Do you find that it lets people reach out and feel as if they are part of the community again? Because I know, sometimes as an older person, you can feel a bit cut off from the world, can't you?

SHACKLE: I think this is an answer. That's the gospel I'm trying to preach. Get interested and find a life on the internet.

LEVI: How often do you update your stories?

SHACKLE: On the first of every month.

LEVI: So it runs for a month and then you -

SHACKLE : The others are archived. You can still access them. In the archives there are more than 100 stories.

LEVI: Have you discovered some amazing things?

SHACKLE: Yes. Off hand I can't think of any. It is too difficult.

LEVI: This story for example, "Gotham, Paradise of Fools, the names of different cities." You've got "Chicago, the Windy City."

SHACKLE: Incidentally, about Gotham, I just missed out on one of them. Somebody that read the story emailed me just the other day and said that O Henry wrote about New York and called it Baghdad on the Hudson. Which is a nice little phrase that would have improved the whole story if I had been able to quote it. I looked it up later on Google and discovered that quite a number of other writers have used the phrase.

LEVI: "Baghdad on the Hudson."

SHACKLE: Yes, Baghdad on the Hudson. Which has nice up to date relevance, hasn't it?

LEVI: It's spooky, isn't it.

SHACKLE: Probably better than Gotham.

LEVI: Baghdad on the Hudson. Just to think what's happened in the world today, and that was written so many years ago. Looking at "Graypow awards for seniors" site. Which is another site by Eric Shackle and "five of the best web sites for senior citizens form the Graypow network. They are: United Kingdom, Aged Net; United States, Lovin' Life; Canadian Senior Years; Australia, About Seniors; South Africa, Life Begins at 80" - which is your one, isn't it?

SHACKLE: Yes, it's part of the network. I'm getting the stories used in various parts of the world.

LEVI: Right, so you list those sites that are good for seniors?

SHACKLE: It's a free syndication service.

LEVI: And give them the Graypow award for being a good site for seniors?


LEVI: Fantastic.

SHACKLE: You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Who said that?

LEVI: We'll have to look that up. You might be able to put that in next month's edition. Fantastic. It is all there to be seen, just go to your search engine and type in Eric Shackle or Life Begins at 80 or go to the address

SHACKLE: That's it. I can't ask for a better plug.

LEVI: I'm looking at another link here. It's a great website. Thank you very much for coming in, Eric.

SHACKLE: Thank you Scott.

LEVI: Eric, I'm just wondering if we keep an eye on this, we can give you a call any time and any of these stories if they interest us - I am sure they may interest the listeners of ABC Central Coast. We can have a chat. An 84 year old, I think you're exemplary. I think we could all have our own websites if we just had a go.

SHACKLE: Music to my ears.

LEVI: Thank you for coming in, Eric.

SHACKLE: Goodbye.

POSTSCRIPT. Baghdad on the Hudson combines two phrases O Henry coined to describe New York: Baghdad-on-the-Subway and Yaptown on the Hudson.  For further details, see our next article.



Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

Story first posted January 2004

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