Two artists’ digital journey

Anne and Dexter Johnston use technology to create collaborative artwork

Created date

August 22nd, 2019
Anne and Dexter Johnston use various computers and digital devices to create nature artwork, from Dexter’s photos to Anne’s gouache paintings.

Anne and Dexter Johnston use various computers and digital devices to create nature artwork, from Dexter’s photos to Anne’s gouache paintings.

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 in New Providence, N.J., 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.

The technology of light

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 also 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 LabCorp 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. Anne and Dexter 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 I 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. 

‘Age is irrelevant’

While Anne and Dexter represent about 50% of their neighbors who are tech savvy, another 50% have little to no interest in learning how to use technology. Fortunately, Lantern Hill caters to both. 

“Age is irrelevant when it comes to each person’s digital journey,” says Erickson Living Chief Information Officer Hans Keller. “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. By providing state-of-the-art technologies and on-site support services, our campuses are an ideal setting for residents to utilize an array of digital devices that help keep them connected with family and friends, as well as for other daily activities.” 

Lantern Hill launched the My Erickson 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, on bulletin boards placed throughout campus, and through the community TV channel, which is broadcast on TVs located throughout campus and to their apartment homes. 

“Communication is the major technical advantage that we have within the campus,” says Dexter. Campuswide high-speed Wi-Fi 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. Many 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.”