Senioritis

2 05 2010

When I was young, my parents always stressed to me that I must respect my elders. Revering age and the wisdom that went with it was part and parcel of our culture in the mid-20th century. The most valued members of our society were those who had been there the longest. They had earned their stripes, and even if they could no longer be economically productive, we were to admire their tenacity for having stuck it out so long.

But somewhere during my lifetime the cultural emphasis changed from age to youth. Our future, after all, is predicated on our progeny carrying the ball a little bit farther down the gridiron of our very existence. Age became despised, a burden on society that had to be carried on the backs of those younger.

OK, blame the Baby Boomers. Blame Woodstock. Blame me if you’d like to. Hell, it’s just that my generation vowed to never get old, and, in the lyric of Roger Daltry, we even hoped to die if that were to start to happen.

Maybe you could blame the tech revolution we have lived through for the last 50 years. But it’s not just that we had a lot of change. No, it’s that the change occurred at ever faster rates, to the point that it can be dizzying at times. And if you should happen to pull off at the rest area of life, everyone else will go zipping by. On a highway where there apparently is no speed limit.

So it was with great interest I read a Letter to the Editor yesterday (01 May 2010) in the Amarillo Globe-News. A very frustrated (and presumably elderly) woman bemoaned what seems to her as seniors being pushed aside. To wit:

“Those who do not have computers are being ignored. The newspaper and TV sometimes continue their stories online. Some credit card companies are charging for paper billing. Saturday mail delivery may end; going to the mailbox for some is the highlight of the day.”

While I never wish to disrespect my elders, I have to ask an important question: What the hell have you been doing the last 50 years? Did you not get the memo about computers? The internet? Email? Good grief. I’ve been using computers since 1973, so this is not something new, ma’am. Do you expect us to further subsidize the Post Office so you can get junk mail on Saturday? Do you expect the media to put everything on TV or in print so the Techno-Luddite demo can catch it?

I know, I know. You were busy working hard to provide for us. Busy having children to populate a subsequent generation. But ma’am, that excuse just doesn’t cut it anymore.

You see, at the same time we have shifted our focal point to youth, another huge change has occurred without fanfare, but still very implicit: We have a social responsibility to keep up. Yes, I respect my elders, but at the same time I expect them…me…you…to keep apace of the change around us. Don’t have a computer or internet service? We have libraries. Don’t know how to use one? There are plenty of classes for that, offered by communities far and wide.

This is not about growing old and being forgotten by the young. No, it is about making conscious decisions to stay in one’s comfy, cozy comfort zone. I’d be willing to bet money this woman was part of the group of bleeding edge folks who helped TV supplant radio as the dominant media format back in the day. Today we have more media than we can begin to manage, but we must find our way through that jungle anyway.

I am also quite aware of the fact that when you point a finger, you had better be standing in front of a mirror. I know that the forefinger of harsh criticism is aimed directly back at me. This very same responsibility is upon me. While I have managed to stay abreast of change for a little more than a half-century, I have to keep running at the same pace as that of a 20-year-old (and FWIW, I recently had the opportunity to do this on the rainy streets of Dallas as we raced to our parked van…and it nearly killed me).

It’s not going to be easy, but this burden is upon all of us. There’s going to be a lot more change in my remaining years (if I live that long, as my Mother always said to me whenever I criticized her). But I am looking forward to it.

Because I rather like the fast lane. You can bury me at the Rest Area in due time. But until then, those white dashes just look like dots on the road.

Dr “Faster Farther” Gerlich


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