I was just thinking about the topic of ageism when my friend Frank Forencich at Exuberant Animal published this article on Elder Vision. It is written as a call to action for combating ageism, encouraging older adults to do as nature intended- lead the tribe.
In primal world, the elders were fully aware of this role. Their experience made it clear: their primary purpose was to act on behalf of the tribe, to share their knowledge, to give away their insights so that the tribe could live another day, another season, another year. There would have been no thought of retirement, no notion of self-pampering or hoarding. For the Paleo senior citizen the primal directive was simple: give your knowledge away so that the tribe can live.
I was considering this notion in the context of “disruptive innovation”, defined by Wikipedia as an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances. Think of how the CD replaced the cassette tape. Or how the DVD replaced the video tape. A simple invention can bring down an entire industry, rendering a once booming industry completely irrelevant and devoid of value.
The question that haunts me: Have we innovated the value out of our older adults?
One of the biggest problems older adults face is the rapid development of technologies and the slow adoption rates to current innovation. Older adults tend to value the “simplicities” of the past- a handwritten note, a phone call, a paperback book. It’s hard to lead a younger generation of tech-savvy, constantly-connected iPhone users when you’ve never had experiences that can guide them.
Has innovation disrupted the natural rise of the older adult to lead the tribe? Is life experience with weather, warfare, and child-rearing relevant to the habitual Googler?
Sadly, in a culture that values the exponential rise in task-efficient technology over the complex and flawed human machine, it may become increasingly difficult for the wisdom of older adults to be valued by our youth. Innovation is leaning toward virtual caregiving, robotic companions, and artificial intelligence. For all the hype and exaggeration around the popular vernacular, singularity is indeed near.
I think it’s interesting that coloring books have made a comeback, accounting for half of all paperback sales in 2015. I also know that there is no substitute for human contact, so much so that all artificial intelligent designs seeks to imitate it visually and vocally. I think that humans want to avoid the thinking process and just have instant knowledge, which is where the joy of learning resides. The culture of the pre-internet generation recognizes the irony, and it’s up to us to keep pushing back against deleterious trends.