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Have you ever stopped and thought about how different our generation will age, compared to our parents and grandparents? Consider the following:
My grandparents both retired years ago; my grandmother was a secretary (ahem – administrative assistant), and my grandfather was a police detective in the “gumshoe”, pre-pre-CSI days. They’ve lived in Florida for the last 18 years, and for being in their eighties, they’re still very active. My grandmother is in a variety of clubs, and bowls at least once a week; my grandfather loves music (he recorded a CD of cover tunes a few years ago – he does a spot-on Dean Martin, but sadly he was severely lacking in distribution support), and is a regular on the neighborhood poker scene.
In terms of technology, my grandfather owns an iPod and checks his email once in a while, but that’s about it. My grandmother’s approach is a bit more Puritan (I would’ve said “Luddite”, but this is my grandma we’re talking about!): she’s the type of person that thinks merely breathing on the computer’s “enter” button will set off World War III. Alright, alright – she’s not that paranoid. But I’m fairly certain she won’t even dust the keyboard. That’s how technology-averse she is.
Meanwhile, my parents do the types of things that people in their sixties do: travel, garden, dine out, ride a tandem bike, etc. They still work full-time (my stepdad is a salesman, my mom is in labor relations), though there’s a rumor floating around that my mom may actually retire – which if you knew my mom is a development of monumental proportions, since her fervent dedication to her work has had me long convinced that she’s part-android. Both are regular computer users, but nothing beyond the basics: work-related matters, emailing friends, visiting their favorite websites, that’s about it.
What my grandparents and parents both have in common, and what I’m sure holds true for most parents and grandparents of Gen X/Y’ers, is that nothing they do/did for a living is even close to being classified as “technology-related”, as we understand the term today. They aren’t programmers, engineers, designers, etc.; nor do they have any technology-friendly hobbies (excepting my grandfather’s budding recording career). They rarely download music – in fact, every time I visit my parents, the radio is on; there is no iPod docking station to be found. But it’s XM Radio, mind you – so at least they’ve made that leap.
In terms of embracing today’s technology, I think one or both of my parents might have a smart phone – but trust me, they’re not using it for anything more than a) dialing out, b) occasionally utilizing the “map” feature, and c) exclaiming “oh, shit – what button did I just press?!”.
As for my grandparents, they’re about as close to getting a smart phone as Donald Trump is to getting a haircut. I’m pretty sure they signed a lifetime contract with their land line provider back in 1952, and they’ve been known to employ a rotary phone every now and then just to keep their fingers limber, and feed their nostalgic side.
Neither my parents nor my grandparents owns a Nook, shops online, watches movies on their computer, uses apps, or does anything else that people of our generation do on a regular basis. If I asked my grandmother what “the Cloud” is, she would extend a finger skywards and then accuse me of patronization.
Now consider the impending aging of our generation: a generation that grew up on cable TV and in-home video games; a generation whose careers are much more rooted in technology than our parents/grandparents were; a generation whose prime is defined (and is constantly being redefined, seemingly on a daily basis) by sophisticated gaming systems, smart phones, tablets, downloadable music, “the Cloud”, e-books, an increasingly cash-less society, and an assortment of other techno-creations, both tangible and intangible. Unlike our parents and grandparents, whose occupations (manufacturing, face-to-face sales, in-person service) and entertainment (board games, tetherball, kick the can, etc.) revolved around physical applications, our generation’s “life’s education” has been primarily cerebral/virtual.
Taking all of this into account, here are four predictions for how Gen X/Y will age:
1) We will work far longer than our parents/grandparents. No, this isn’t exactly the stuff of Nostradamus, considering the depressed economy we’re immersed in – but this prediction is also based on my belief that we’re able to do far more with our minds than our parents/grandparents were, simply because there are far more opportunities for “cerebral work” in this day and age. So, whereas a bad back might have forced Grandpa Gus, a 30-year veteran at a steel mill, into early retirement, it wouldn’t prevent a 55-year-old Gen X/Y’er from developing apps well into his sixties and seventies.
2) We will continue playing video games even after we have children and grandchildren. Today’s Halo and Half-Life are simply yesterday’s Monopoly and Clue; games and the love of playing them are timeless. Only the format changes. Our parents/grandparents format was rooted in the physical; our generation’s is rooted in the virtual. This prediction conjures up a funny visual: six guys in their late-seventies sitting in tricked-out gaming chairs with headphones on, screaming at their gray-haired teammates to “stick to the plan, damnit!” during a round of Call of Duty XXV: Martian Invasion.
3) We will not “tone down” our music selection and kowtow to the assumption that being older means one must acquire lighter musical tastes. On the contrary, I think we will remain attached to the music we grew up with, just like our parents and grandparents have. So, if you’re a fan of Van Halen, Metallica, U2, The Hives, Smashing Pumpkins, Wolfmother, Iron Maiden, AC/DC and the myriad other “non-light” artists/groups that we’ve endeared ourselves to over the years, there’s a good chance you’ll still be listening to them well into your golden years. Thus, in 2052, it won’t be a surprise to hear a 75-year-old woman humming “Don’t Phunk with my Heart” while she shops for groceries; nor will it be a shock to pull up to a stoplight next to an octogenarian who’s belting out “Rock You Like a Hurricane”.
4) Further to prediction #1, we will never “retire”. Well, some of us might. But more so than any other generation, we are a generation of “creators”, and we will create far later in life than any of our predecessors. I say this with all deference to the legendary minds that came before us: Fulton, Pullman, Ford, the Wrights, Tesla, Bell, Edison, Salk, Marconi, Nipkow, Farnsworth, and numerous others. After all, the creative spark is not our generation’s to own; it’s eternal, and it’s part of what makes us so special as human beings. However, never before has it been so easy for a generation to tap into that creative spark as it is for us today, and will be so in the future; and so whether it’s game development, app development, cinema, comic books, literary fiction, graphic design, product design, consumer electronics, you name it – if you’ve got the chops and the desire, your ideas will be seen/heard/interacted with. We are riding the crest of an incredible new wave of human advancement and creativity, and there’s no way we’re going to jump off when we hit sixty-five simply because we’ve got a few more pills to pop or tend to take longer naps. The generations which follow us – our children and our grandchildren – will be even more techno-savvy than we are, and the competition will be stiff. But we’ll be up to the challenge, I have no doubt.
To paraphrase a well-known Chinese proverb, there is no doubt we live in interesting times; and perhaps the concept of age and the longevity of ideation are on the verge of being redefined forever.