When members of the online community Quora meet offline, it can be hard for them to figure out just who is who. But that never seems to be a problem for Cyndi Perlman Fink. And it’s not just because at 70-something she’s invariably the oldest person in the room.
Members know Fink, who has over 10,000 followers on the site – for her wryly humorous and true answers to questions from younger members on aging. Her Quora profile – “Getting old is pretty cool. Who knew?” – says it all.
Quora is a questions-and-answers site where members can ask about anything from career and family to literature and current events. Others, including experts in various fields, respond. Some of the topics are technical, but in the aging category Quora reads more like an advice center – and not in a “Dear Abby” kind of way. Answers are based on a lifetime’s experience and a desire to tell it like it is, in all its non-stereotypical complexity.
Fink, who’s among a handful of seniors active on Quora, would seem to be the perfect person to divest younger members of aging stereotypes. In 1994, at age 51, the former high school English teacher became an early Internet player when, inspired by an article about how a website was helping a local store get more business, decided that what she really wanted to do in life was build and design websites. Fink taught herself to program and, along with a nutritionist acquaintance, launched CyberDiet.
CyberDiet.com was a success, and eventually the pair sold it. Not long after, an article about Quora made a light bulb go off in Fink’s head. Fast forward to the present. Quora has grown, and Fink is one of its most active members, with 1,353 answers to her name.
Among our favorites: her response to the question, “What does it feel like to be a hot girl who gets old?” She ended her meandering, good-parts-and-bad-parts answer with a Hunter S. Thompson quote—
“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming ‘WOO HOO what a ride!'”
Fink talked with Senior Planet by phone from her home in Northern California about her life as a “Quorian,” and why the young follow her advice on aging.
You’ve said that Quora has given you a platform to write. Can you tell us how you got involved?
I was an English major in college and never got a chance to use my degree, but people would always say, You know you write really well – you should write a book. I couldn’t get started. I never knew where to begin. But if someone would ask me a question, I could write an answer, so I knew it was a perfect fit.
Since you are a Quora pro, can you briefly summarize what this community is for our readers?
First of all, I would tell them that the founders came up with the name Q-U-O-R-A because it’s a question and answer site, and they had to put some vowels in the middle. It was started by two early Facebook employees. So, here were these two guys who wanted to do something on their own, so they got together and figured out that their mission was to be the depository of the world’s knowledge by having interesting or knowledgeable people answer people’s questions.
When I was having a problem with Netflix, I went and asked a question of the CEO of the company and got an answer back. You get to actually talk to an “actual human being” in the virtual world and you actually get an answer. Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia is infinitely approachable, so if there is a question you have about his life or something you want to say about Wikipedia, you can just go and ask him, and I think 99 percent of the time he responds. That was exciting to me.
That’s one of the great things about hanging out on Quora. And you don’t even have to ask a question – you can just look at the answers.
What is your favorite question that you’ve asked or answered?
I have several – a few that really touched me. One that I answered was about what it’s like never to have children. My answer was published on Slate – I woke up the next morning and there were something like twenty-five hundred people who had an opinion on it. Most were negative on why I’d decided to not have children, but I really loved writing the answer, because it came from my heart.
Then a very nice young man from India started asking me all kinds of questions about getting older. One of his questions was, “What makes the elderly keep going?” I have a sense of humor when I write, so I said, “You want to know what keeps me going, Sonny? That I use up all of the social security before you can.” So it gives me a chance to write humor.
I think life goes by awfully fast, and some of us just don’t stop to enjoy it. And you don’t really know that until you get a little older.
The older Quora members seem to want to inform younger ones about what getting older means and doesn’t mean, and how to be happy in life. How do you see your part in this?
Well, first of all, I sometimes start off my answer with, “I understand that you are not going to believe that what I am telling you is the truth,” because they’re too young to really understand that money doesn’t buy happiness. And they’ll argue with me. But you know, once you have a place to call home, it’s a hierarchy of needs. You are not starving to death, you are not living on the street, you have a certain amount of money to get you around town or whatever, and billions of dollars doesn’t add much happiness to that. Believe me, happiness has to come from someplace inside where you know yourself and take good care of yourself…
Mostly, I tell them that if money can buy anything, its health. If you are healthy when you are my age, then you really have everything – and it doesn’t take endless amounts of money to make you healthy.
And I tell them that they need to be grateful and they need to be kind. A lot of them are so full of themselves, they don’t have time to stop and say, I am really grateful for what I have. They say, “what can I get next?” And that’s not going to do it. That’s not going to give you a happy life.
What does aging with attitude mean to you?
I think aging with attitude means you don’t continually tell yourself that you are old. I have two friends who always say, I am bored, I don’t know what to do.” I say, “I don’t have time, there are not enough hours in the day.” There’s always something to learn. I am passionate about Photoshop and Lightroom and the whole Adobe suite. And, yeah, I want to be really good at it.
But I do have to tell you that 69 and 70 are not just two numbers. When I turned 70, it was a whole new decade.
What’s been the most exciting tech invention you’ve seen?
Jeez, that’s a hard one. I will say I love my iPhone. And I love my iPad. I don’t know if that’s healthy or not to love a machine, but I do.
When I was little, we started out with a party line with four people on it, so when you picked up the phone, you might hear someone else speaking. You would just say, “Oh, hi Miss So and So, just let me know when you get off. Then, when we got the private phone it was like, “ Oh wow we have a private phone!”
Then when the cellphone revolution started, and people were walking around talking to themselves, I would think, what are they doing? And then I got it! It’s amazing to me that I went shopping a Whole Foods a few days ago and I just turned my phone on and put it near the scanner thing and paid for my groceries. It’s so cool. And we should all know that Google has some X Lab thing going on where they put a microchip in, and you just have to think I want to know such-and-such, and an answer will be there. I never got into Google Glass, but before I die I want to have an Oculus Rift experience. I want to experience that virtual reality thing. It is on my bucket list, and it will get done.
What advice would give your 30-year-old self?
What Baz Luhrmann said: Wear sun block. And as an ex-smoker, I would tell me, stop immediately. And finally, don’t ever listen to someone’s opinion about you. If someone says you are too fat, or you are not pretty, or this or that, screw them. Because if you walk around unhappy with your looks or your body, what a waste of time. The thing to do when someone says something like that is take it in and never see that person again. Because you can’t afford to have toxic people in your life.
What’s a Quora question, that you would like to answer but haven’t been asked?
“If you could have five or ten minutes with someone who you lost, who would it be?” And it would be my mother, who died at 70.
Also check out these Quora answers on Senior Planet: