Take that, youngsters!
Last semester I sat in on a student project presentation. They identified their target market as “old peeps in retirement homes.” Looking at their shiny, 20-year old faces, I just had to ask.
“How do you define old peeps? What ages in retirement homes?”
With all the certainty of youth, one of them responded that “old peeps in retirement homes arere 65 and older.” The group then proceeded to talk about how tired these old peeps were, and that if the festival they imagined giving at the retirement home was too exhausting, these old peeps could simply go back to their rooms and rest. My 65-year-old husband had just returned from a strenuous hour-long hike.
Once in a while I am brought up short by young people’s perception of their elders and because I teach college students, this happens more often now than it used to.
“You aren’t a senior citizen,” one of my favorite students said. “You are certainly not as old as my grandma.” Her grandma is not even 60. I am…older.
I know I don’t exactly look or act my age, but it doesn’t change the fact, which is that by most calculations, I am a senior citizen.
“When we were young, 65 seemed ancient,” my husband reminded me a few months ago, when he applied for Medicare in anticipation of his 65th birthday. I suppose he’s right, although I don’t have any memory of defining old when I was young. Young people have always discounted their elders, it’s just part of our culture. And yet, we Boomers are the very first generation to know that we’re likely to live a long time past traditional retirement age. We don’t look old, we don’t feel old and we don’t act old.
A few months ago I posted a YouTube video of a young marketing person giving advice on how to market to the Baby Boom generation. His presentation depicted us as doddering oldsters who didn’t know anything about social media or technology. Of course, in his generation, computers have always existed, whereas in ours, well, ours actually invented the PC and the Mac. We came in on the ground floor and many of us–most of us probably–have kept up with the newest developments, including social media.
So when the young class presenter said “We were all born in the 1990s so we are far more expert at social media than other generations,” it pushed the button of another older person in the room. While I asked them to define “old peeps,” she advised them to “know your audience,” obviously rankled by what she thought was his condescension to those older than he.
Being viewed as old seems to happen all of a sudden and it’s come as a bit of a shock. The executives in tech companies are no longer my peers. Clothing designers are way younger than I. Celebs and movie stars? I have no idea who some of these people are. The ones I do know seem to be dying off in greater numbers.
Old peeps crossing
Aging is a real adjustment and one that I feel ill-prepared for. It’s not the physical limitations or even the visible signs that really get to me, although I’m not particularly pleased with the first appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. For years, I had few, if any, and I supposed it would always be that way. I supposed wrong.
No, the biggest adjustment is in how our generation is viewed by the ones behind us.
Even though we gather together online and elsewhere to show our significance and consumer power, the fact is that our generation is fading out and younger people are taking the lead now. While many traditional and native cultures respect elders, our own contemporary culture doesn’t know what to do with us, especially since we refuse to be marginalized. Maybe we’ll be the first generation to teach younger generations what living a vibrant and meaningful life in our senior years is all about. I hope so, anyway.
Getting older happens to us all, if we’re lucky, and that’s how I think we should look at it.
It just doesn’t have to mean getting old.