Anne and Dexter Johnston use technology to create collaborative artwork and more.

Research shows that today’s seniors are often just as comfortable using technology as their younger counterparts. For Dexter Johnston, an MIT grad whose career at Bell Labs took him through the birth of the technology age, he’s not only comfortable using technology, he helped build it—from computers to fiber optics.

Now retired and living just across the street from the Bell Labs campus at Lantern Hill, a developed and managed Erickson Living community in New Providence, New Jersey, he continues to incorporate technology heavily into his lifestyle and doesn’t blink an eye at upgrading his self-built computer or fixing a neighbor’s television. Most significant, however, is the way technology enables him and his wife, Anne, to create collaborative artwork from their home at Lantern Hill.

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Using Technology in Art

Dexter’s 35-year career in electronics research and optoelectronic device design and manufacturing with Bell Labs had him “studying the interaction of light with matter,” he says. “Since retiring, I’ve been engaged in photography, which is the interaction of light with matter. So technically I’ve been interested in the technology of light for many years.”

Dexter enjoys photographing birds and landscapes with his professional-grade Canon and any of its five lenses. When birding with Anne locally or internationally, he’ll typically tote his entire rig. However, he says, “The iPhone is a substantial improvement. The whole setup I use weighs 18 lbs., and the iPhone weighs about 3 oz.”

Convenience aside, he prefers his traditional photography equipment to the iPhone because it produces higher quality RAW images that are easier to edit.  “I can do all the editing I used to do in a wet-dark room much easier with a computer,” he says. 

Anne then takes Dexter’s photographs and uses them to inspire her colored pencil or gouache artwork. “I paint a lot of birds, dogs, cats, butterflies. Both Dex and I are bird watchers. We’ve been to many countries birding, and Dexter’s taken thousands of pictures of birds,” says Anne, whose career as a corporate associate vice president at Lab Corp had her responsible for testing for autoimmune and infectious diseases like HIV and Lyme. 

“I had to be computer savvy, and I still am. I use all the various devices like my iPhone, MacBook, and iPad,” she says. They also use Google Home and an Internet-connected Bose speaker they can control from their smartphones to reach about 1,200 radio stations.

Anne’s iPad comes in handy when painting a commission of someone’s pet. “I get a picture of a dog that I’m going to paint, but it’s just a picture. If it put that photograph on an iPad, I can enlarge it. I can zero in on the ears or nose or eyes, and that allows me to get a much better portrait of an animal. It’s a great help,” she says.

Dexter then photographs Anne’s finished piece to create a giclée print.

Lantern Hill’s Commitment to Technology

While Anne and Dexter represent about two-thirds of their neighbors who are tech savvy, some of their neighbors are new to technology. Fortunately, Lantern Hill caters to both.

Lantern Hill provides free IT support to residents; they can call or email Erickson Living’s IT support desk for free telephone computer support, as well as request in-apartment support for a nominal fee. Erickson Living’s selection the past nine years as a Computerworld “Best Places to Work in Information Technology” reflects the degree of company staff expertise in developing systems and resources that support resident use of technology.

“Age is irrelevant when it comes to each person’s digital journey. More than ever, seniors are online and incorporating the Internet and online activities into their everyday lives. Our goal at Erickson Living is to meet residents where they are in their technology adoption and for those interested, offer opportunities to increase their digital skills as they enjoy an engaging lifestyle,” says Erickson Living’s Chief Information Officer Hans Keller.

“By providing state of the art technologies and onsite support services, our campuses are an ideal setting for residents to utilize an array of digital devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets, voice activated assistants) that help keep them connected with family and friends, as well as for other daily activities (e.g., getting news, accessing social media sites, making purchases),” says Keller.

Technology Enriching Lives of Residents

Lantern Hill launched the MyErickson app in 2016, which gives residents access to meal balances, menus, activity schedules, and the resident directory from their device of choice. More traditional neighbors can find information on announcements in their mail cubbies and through the community TV channel. Next year, MyErickson app is being integrated with Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant so those on campus can get community information via voice command.

“Communication is the major technical advantage that we have within the campus,” says Dexter.

Campus-wide high-speed WiFi gives them Internet access. Some residents use it to download books to their Kindle or iPad, others use it to Skype or FaceTime with grandkids. Others use it to text each other to arrange dinner plans. Tech support empowers residents to connect with others and find information that supports their active lifestyle.

“There are a lot of advantages to modern technology,” says Anne, “and to be honest I wouldn’t want to give up any of them.”

“Technology enriches the lives of our residents in so many ways, including staying connected to family and friends as well as providing access to entertainment, information, shopping and more,” said Executive Director Craig Karczmer.  “Having outstanding technology resources on campus is an essential part of our residents’ vibrant and engaged lifestyle.”

About Lantern Hill: Lantern Hill, one of 20 continuing care retirement communities developed and managed by Erickson Living®, is situated on a scenic 26-acre campus in New Providence, New Jersey. The not-for-profit community of more than 390 residents and 300 employees is governed by its own board of directors, affiliated with National Senior Campuses, who provide independent financial and operational oversight of the community. Additional information about Lantern Hill can be found at LanternHillCommunity.com.