The Nouveau Old

(Warning: Broad generalizations ahead.)

David’s parable frightened me. How many of the older adults in my life may be writing their life to a similar script? Surely the details would be different: some other, more Baby Boomer-associated value running unchecked?

I recalled parts of this Long Now talk from a few years ago. The speaker, Ken Dychtwarld, claimed that Americans effectively “vote their age”: 30% of 30 year olds vote, as do 50% of 50 year olds and 70% of 70 year olds. The United States is enduring a gerontocratic lurch as the Baby Boomers age. Our culture and our institutions are still accustomed to treating the elderly as weaker and scarcer than they actually are (or will be).

Dychtwarld notes:  “In the US, the old used to be the poorest segment of society. Now they’re the richest. For instance, they buy 80% of luxury travel. So why are they still getting discounts? […] The old do the least volunteering of any age group, and for every 11 cents that children get from government, the old demand and get a dollar.”

The Baby Boomers have enjoyed a special kind of primacy in our politics and culture due largely to their sheer mass.  One Randall Munroe quote that stuck in my mind was that “An ‘American Tradition’ is anything that happened to a Baby Boomer twice”.  Their childhoods are immortalized as the idyllic ’50s in the public imagination. Their adolescent rebellion was the tremendous social phenomenon of the 60’s. As the decades wore on, Superbowl’s were hosted primarily by beer companies, and then increasingly by Viagra. Last year the Boomers were dethroned as the largest age group in the civilian population, though if Ray Kurzweil has his way the Boomer story never really ends. But of course it will.

It mostly remains to be seen what kind of “Elderly” the Boomers will become, but I don’t suspect it will fit the current cultural mold of what the elderly are like, how they behave, or what they value.

One thought on “The Nouveau Old

  1. David Duke

    My post really should have had a more clever title, like: “The Economics of Loneliness” or something like that. It’s about loneliness, i.e., the way we conduct ourselves in our personal economics has a direct bearing on our interpersonal relationships, which can be hidden for a while, but really do manifest themselves at some crucial point.

    I think you’ve picked up quite well on the xenophobia of the Boomers, how close a community they’ve become over the course of their epiphany amidst the world’s other humans.

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