Look to your left. Look to your right. Chances are someone around you has plugs wedged in their ears and a halo of LED lights circling their pupils. The smartphone is a new limb and the gigabyte an old friend. Technology has taken over and our lives are shining a bit brighter. Or are they?
Check out staggering statistics on social media usage. While we are busy tagging, liking, following, tweeting, hash-tagging, friending and- uh oh- unfriending, the world outside of the interwebs spins madly on. Whether we are nine, nineteen, or ninety, Americans have increasingly more face time with monitors of various sizes than we do with other human beings. Facebook may as well manually change all users’ relationship statuses to “in a relationship” because we are all, in fact, in relationships with our technology. We trust our technology. We commit to our technology for an undefined number of years. We buy expensive gifts for our already-expensive technology. We giggle, hiss, play, and even cry with our plastic and glass-enclosed friends.
“I give and I give and I give, and what do I get back from my technology? Nothing,” – says no one ever. By virtue of the fact that we are in enmeshed relationships with our technologies, we are, therefore, in relationships with all of our online friends and followers- relationships of the “it’s complicated” variety. Our technology feeds us; otherwise we would have up and left long ago. Our technology gifts us with the basics: music, videos, photos, and stories. If we look deeper, though, we are getting so much more: new perspectives, art, information, resources, jobs, sense(s) of purpose, the humor and tragedy of any Shakespearean sonnet, validation, and not to forget: connection- or so we think.
There is no shortage of literature and thought leadership around dwindling connections in our hyper-connected world. It goes without saying that strangers are friends waiting to be “friended.” Friends and followers range from best friends (you know, ones we have met in person) to bosses, from exes to prospectives. Even Grandma is on Facebook! If we have 1,500 virtual friends, how many friends do we really have and what do those “friendships” actually entail? How is it that I can sit in a room on my Ipad, my friend sitting three feet away on her laptop, neither of us saying a word for two hours, maybe sharing dim background music, and yet we can walk away and laugh about considering this precious bonding time?
Fast-forward 40 years.
It is 2050. The ice caps have melted. Dinosaurs are playing Wii golf with ET. Justin Bieber has grandchildren. And humans are eating organic, caffeinated dog food while bouncing around in space suits.
You don’t buy that? Me neither. Change takes time and while it may be farfetched to say that we have plenty of it, one thing is almost sure and that is that there will be sixty-five year olds in the year 2050.
The sixty-five year olds of the early 2050’s are the twenty-five year olds of the early 2010’s. We are Generation Y and we are 80 million strong. We are the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, the children of The Baby Boomers, and the second cousins of Generation X. Generation Y’ers are generally referred to as Americans born between the years of 1977 and 1995. We have high expectations, little patience, and technology for days. Regardless of the fact that “we’re never going to age,” guess what? We are going to get old. We are going to be the clear-eyed, grey-haired old fogies we see in commercials for water pills. We are going to be behind the times if we are not yet there already. The good news is that by 2050, hearing aids should be able to sync up with music, streamed directly from “The Cloud” of course.
We will be working well into our seventies, probably on our sixth or seventh career (career, not job), maybe with a kid and a half, a robotic dog, and a laundry list of chronic medical conditions, not least of which will include allergic reactions to nuts and gluten. Will we be “Facebook stalking” at age 70, Instagram’ing at 80, and Pinterest’ing at 90? And once we land ourselves a private bed at the local space-age retirement home, we won’t even bother shouting into the ear of our neighbor at the dining room table. We’ll just tweet. #passtheprunejuice. #please.
As we age, we change. We evolve. Or devolve, depending on your definition. The psychosocial crisis of the average American over 65 is going to move from “ego integrity vs. despair” to “technology integrity vs. despair.” The rapid-fire evolution of technology is, at its core, counterintuitive to the state of aging in America. We retire, stunting our network of daily and moment-by-moment interactions. We retreat to the privacy, ease, and physical access of our own homes, living our lives oblivious of the newborn next door. We pull in and focus on our immediate circle of family and friends, in part because we need them to focus on us as we age.
And yet the “we” of 2013 is a different “we” of 2050. The twenty-five year olds of 2013 are the same sixty-five year olds of 2050. So, while our grandparents of the Greatest Generation variety may hold privacy and poise as sacred, we Generation Y’ers may continue to throw privacy to the wind and let everything hang out. I am not going to hold my breath for any, “Hey Facebook world (or whatever the 2050 variation of Facebook is at the same), guess what?! I started wearing Depends for the first time today!” That would not get many “likes” on Facebook. I think it is reasonable, however, to believe that we grannies of the future will have the skills, knowledge, and ingenuity to engineer and spark shockwaves through social media and technology.
We are plugged in, wired up, and without even knowing it, are already innovating aging in America. #GenY2050