Even a minor technology poll can’t be reported without demeaning elders.
In preparation for the upcoming release of its new Windows Live service, Microsoft recently commissioned a survey from Harris Interactive to see how many adults understand some current IT buzzwords.
Fewer than 50 percent, according to Harris, can explain such terms as VoIP, RSS and tagging. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents know what blogs are, but only 17 percent read them. But that's not what's important about this.
In reporting the survey, an InformationWeek writer, Paula Rooney, supplies a cute, little kicker to the story, quoting Ken Winell, CEO of Expert Collab, described as “a new Microsoft solution provider in Florham Park, New Jersey.” Mr. Winell notes that whether the general public understands the buzzwords or not, they are using the technology:
“’Blogs and MySpace/social networking is the modern day community bulletin board,’ he said. ‘I expect to see kiosks for blogs at the senior centers that talk about shuffleboard and bad dinner theater any day now!’”
- InformationWeek, 26 May 2006
Are you chuckling yet about those doddering old geezers who haven't the wit any longer to know good theater from bad?
More than once in the recent past, readers have chastised me for making too much of too little in such jibes as this one aimed at old people. I refuse to believe that some offensive remarks are okay. If that is so, where would you draw the line? Are there certain words that would be acceptable - maybe geezer, but others that cross the line - like biddy and coot? How do you choose?
Or perhaps the dividing line between okay bigotry and not-okay bigotry should be the size of the audience which hears or reads the slur. We could make it unacceptable on American Idol, but okay on infomercials for shady real estate deals in Florida. Do you believe that would be all right?
In remarks like that above, elders are stereotyped and demeaned every day on television, in movies, in newspapers and magazines, commercials and other advertising. The stereotyping, repeated day in and day out, in ways that some people and publications apparently find amusing, reinforces the culture’s acceptance of ageism. Again, as always, this one doesn’t pass the Time Goes By Bias Test: substitute “women’s” or “blacks’” for “senior” in that quote and the bigotry is obvious.
Bigotry will never end by being ignored. It must be repeatedly pointed out and retractions demanded. If we let such speech pass, it becomes entrenched. In the case of elders, we know it results in marginalization of elders from the mainstream of life, acceptance of age discrimination in the workplace and in elders receiving less aggressive health care than younger people. On the off chance that last isn't clear, people who otherwise wouldn't, die as a result of ageism.
Although generally unacknowledged as such, ageism is no less destructive than racism and sexism, and it won’t stop until we point out every "unimportant", cutesy dig at elders and demand that such language stop.
You can reach Paula Rooney at email@example.com. Her editor-in-chief at InformationWeek, is Rob Preston; he can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ken Winell keeps an intermittent blog at Ken Winell’s Space where comments are accepted.