I solo-drove 12,000 miles across America to interview our oldest living citizens about what they think technology has done to us. My book releases on September 30. Ask me anything.

Veronica Kirin
Sep 27, 2018

Stories of Elders is the result of Veronica driving 12,000 miles around the U.S. to interview 100 of the last living members of the Greatest Generation and chronicles over 8,300 years of life lived.  Some of them are now more than a century old, and their stories include life experiences from major historical events in U.S. history like World War I, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and World War II. They also grew up during the time that modern technologies like aeroplanes, cars, microwave ovens, telephones, radios, electricity, and the internet come to fruition, and experienced arguably one of the greatest technological shifts in history.

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What was the most memorable part of your interview?
Sep 16, 3:27PM EDT0

I met so many incredible people.  Sometimes they made me laugh.  Sometimes we cried together.  It's really hard to say that one stands out above the rest.  But I can say I really wish I had more time to spend with each.

Sep 29, 1:41PM EDT0
How easy or difficult has it been for you to compile all the responses you received when carrying out your research?
Sep 15, 3:54PM EDT0

Oh my goodness!  It was very hard at first.  It took me about 6 months of deliberating in order to just start a manuscript.  What I ended up deciding on was developing a book ordered by topic, rather than by interview.  There are 20 chapters and each is a topic that came up over and over in the interviews.  Things like relationships, communication, medicine.  I started by writing the book by hand with simple notes as to which interview excerpts might go where, and then went through over and over in order to fill the chapters with the appropriate quotes.

Sep 29, 1:43PM EDT1
How has your perspective changed after driving, doing the interview, and then writing about it?
Sep 15, 6:24AM EDT0

The travel was harder on me than I had anticipated.  I have worked hard to learn better self care because of it.The interviews themselves are such a gift.  I feel like I can see our history yawn before me, now.  It's not my history, but it was gifted to me.And I am a more confident writer, now.  I still want to edit the book, but seeing as it's out and available on Amazon (etc), now, I really shoudn't.  XD

Sep 29, 1:45PM EDT0
What are some of the challenges you faced during your journey?
Sep 14, 2:31PM EDT0

Self care was the biggest one.  I tell the story in the book, but my PTSI (aka PTSD) was triggered because fo the stress I was under.  I tried to create a support system for myself before leaving in the form of an intern who would manage the scheduling and PR, but it just didn't happen, so I was juggling a lot without much time in between for self care.  Also, driving through the rocky mountains in a blizzard is scary.

Sep 29, 1:47PM EDT0
What event or circumstance motivated you to write Stories of Elders? How did you get this idea?
Sep 13, 8:00PM EDT0

There are several layeres to it.  I am an anthropologist, so my instict is to look to people for answers.  I owned a tech company at the time and noticed technology affecting my own relationships.  At the same time, the news and blogs were starting to grapple with the affects technology was having to our society and youth.  Finally, I didn't get to know my grandparents very well due to early passings or illness, so I felt the void.  I chose to do this work in order to answer "how are things changing" through a generation that has lived long enough to know.

Sep 29, 1:49PM EDT0
How did your interaction with the elders change your perspective on life, if at all?
Sep 13, 5:24PM EDT0

As I said in another answer, I feel like time yawns behind me.  I feel the weight of our history differently, now.  I always respected it and was awed by it, always defaulted to listening and observing, but spending the countless hours with the elders really added flesh to the bones of what I thought our history was. 

Sep 29, 1:50PM EDT0
What were the challenges of editing the interviews and deciding what to leave and what to cut?
Sep 13, 3:07PM EDT0

Lawd.  This.  Well, I focused on what was said that directly correlated or discussed technology's effects.  That was my first goal.  I have a pretty good memory and I took little notes during each interview so the transcription process wasn't too bad.  I knew where to look for what I was looking for.  There are some stories I desperately wanted in the book, but they just didn't have anything to do with technology, and would have seemed like a tangent, so I had to leave them out.  As a result, I put those recordings on the website in a podcast miniseries (still being added to) so they're still able to be cherished by others.

Sep 29, 1:52PM EDT0

Who do you think will be most fascinated with the book Stories of the Elders?

Sep 13, 6:58AM EDT0

I'm hoping Millennials will be interested - I see a turn in this generation in interest in the old ways.  But tech is still pinging and beeping and trying for our attention.  I think that this book might help offer a perspective on tech that isn't that of a luddite, but that of intentionality.  And Millennials seem to be ready for that.  I also think Baby Boomers / Greatest Generation will enjoy remeniscing.

Sep 29, 1:54PM EDT0
What inspired you to carry out this extensive research for your book?
Sep 13, 1:27AM EDT0

I call it a divine download from the Muses.  It just struck me.  And I'm stubborn and audacious enough to push forward, no matter the size of the project.  I knew it would be an important work, and I had always wanted to be an author.  I was already a serial entrepreneur and knew how to garner funding and network to find people.  It really seems like I had all the right skills and so the Muses said "here you go - do this".  And so I did.

Sep 29, 1:55PM EDT0
Why do you consider it important for such information to be documented?
Sep 12, 11:37PM EDT0

It's quickly passing away.  25% of those I interviewed have already died.  That's sad, but I also feel even more honored that I have their memories preserved in the book, documentary, and the podcast miniseries on the website.  I also think that my age group (early Millennials) are old enough to hear and understand what the Greatest Generation lived through while also having lived through some of it ourselves.  I had to memorize phone numbers as a kid.  "Can you play" meant going and knocking on doors until you figured out who was home.  Play meant getting dirty, roaming far and wide, and building / breaking stuff.  There weren't video games outside of the weird chess game on the green and black screen of my dad's computer.  So we interacted with each other and learned what life meant through that.  It feels like a toe in the water to what the Greatest Generation experienced, but it is a basis for understanding.

Sep 29, 1:58PM EDT0
Will the cost of this book factor in the expenses you incurred in the process of acquiring the information needed?
Sep 12, 9:27PM EDT0

No.  I funded the project on Kickstarter and that covered all the costs.  Market value and my publisher determine the cost of the book.  Just like all authors, I'm making only a couple bucks for each copy sold, regardless of format.

Sep 29, 1:59PM EDT0
What are some of the common challenges the respondents faced during the transition period?
Sep 12, 4:03PM EDT0

One gentleman was quite resistant in bringing technology into his business.  To this day he refuses to use Facebook.  Others were delighted - a woman who worked at the CDC couldn't wait to get her hand on a word processor because it made her job easier as a writer.  It has been a mixed bag all around.  There's no correlation that I found to determine whether an elder would adopt tech or not.  More often I found that they were choosing how much they wanted it in their lives, rather than unable to use it.

Sep 29, 2:03PM EDT0
At what point did you realize you had all the information you needed for your book?
Sep 12, 2:04PM EDT0

I'll never feel that I have all the information needed.  This project could go on for years, and may.  But I had to make peace with the 100 I interviewed and create the book so the knowledge could pass on.  Especially as several have already died since their interview.  One woman (104 at the time) said to me, "Do you really think I'll still be alive to receive my copy of the book?"  She still is, but she also had a good point.

Sep 29, 2:05PM EDT0
How long has this project taken, from the moment you got the idea to the point when you published the book?
Sep 12, 1:04PM EDT0

The idea struck me in February of 2015.  September 2018 is when it was published.

Sep 29, 2:05PM EDT0
Are there times when you wondered if all the driving and research was going to be worth it?
Sep 12, 11:06AM EDT0

I knew it would be worth it.  The doubt was more about the time frame I gave myself and if I had found enough elders to interview.  I wish there were more.

Sep 29, 2:06PM EDT0
During the interview, did you experience any difficulties communicating with the respondents, especially those that were pretty old?
Sep 12, 10:55AM EDT0

Only if they had dementia or a similar illness.  One woman had a condition I can't recall the name of but she just couldn't fill her lungs to do more than whisper, so transcribing her interview was difficult, but we communicated just fine while I was there.

Sep 29, 2:07PM EDT0
What are some of the things you discovered about yourself, especially your drive, as an author?
Sep 12, 3:47AM EDT0

I definitely feel I have proven to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to.  I also now know how to execute on a project like this.  I have several more up my sleeve and am confident in creating them.

Sep 29, 2:07PM EDT0

How were you able to ascertain that the information you got was accurate?

Sep 11, 6:36PM EDT0

As an anthropologist, I have to trust those I interview.  The truth is that, at any given event, each individual in attendance will have a different take away.  Thus, these stories are very individual and subjective, but that's the point.  Storytelling is how we related to the world and pass knowledge on.  I did verify several facts, however, as needed, depending on the topic (ie. I interviewed one of the men who engineered our first spy satellites, and confirmed the dates and process, etc).

Sep 29, 2:10PM EDT0

How did you choose which individuals to contact? What were your criteria? 

Sep 11, 6:36PM EDT0

They had to be born before 1945 and still lucid.  I did strive to find people from diverse backgrounds, but that was the only control I exerted.

Sep 29, 2:11PM EDT1

How easy or difficult was it for you to contact the people that you interviewed?

Sep 11, 6:13PM EDT0

Fairly simple.  I received their name and phone number from friends, family, or contacts on social media / kickstarter, and simply called them up.  Those that replied positively to the idea of a strange woman driving to meet them were interviewed.  ;)

Sep 29, 2:12PM EDT0
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