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August 2006
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October 2006

Too Old For the Internet

category_bug_ageism.gif Time Goes By was conceived as a platform to investigate “what getting older is really like.” When it was launched late in 2003, I had spent six or seven years researching aging only to find that all but a tiny portion of popular writing and professional research focused on decline, debility and disease.

Since no one wants to die, I reasoned, there must be something good about getting old, so I decided to write about it myself. I wasn’t clever enough to have a goal in mind beyond a vague idea of seeing where the work would take me, and the surprises have been many. A few:

  • More people than I expected think getting older is just fine, but…
  • More people by magnitudes spend billions of dollars a year on bogus anti-aging products
  • The more I’ve learned about aging, the more there is to know
  • Real friendship is possible across the ether of cyberspace
  • Blogging - on any topic or no particular topic - is so good for elders, it is worth encouraging, promoting and teaching
  • The prevalence of ageism and age discrimination is worse than I imagined

Sometimes that last item all but defeats me. Every now and then, there is an ageism story so horrific that I’m tempted to hit the delete button on the entire blog and lose myself in mystery stories for the rest of my life. Today is one of those days.

Intending to sign up for broadband internet service, Mrs. Greening-Jackson stopped in Carphone Warehouse, a UK-based chain of communications stores…

“The young man said ‘Sorry, you’re over 70. It’s company policy. We don’t sign anyone up who is over 70.’

“Later a young lady said company policy is that anyone over 70 might not understand the contract. She said, ‘If you would be prepared to go to the shop in town and take a younger member of your family we might give you a contract.’

“’I have just completed a visa form to go to Russia. Last year we did one for walking the Wall in China and here is this person saying I would not be able to understand a basic form – and it was basic. It is pure ageism.’

"’Somebody has decided when you turn 70 you lose a lot of your mind. I find this is ridiculous.’"

- Thisislondon, 3 September 2006

The TimeGoesBy Bias Test makes the bigotry in the company’s policy crystal clear: in the phrase, “anyone over 70 might not understand the contract,” substitute “blacks” or “women” for “anyone over 70.”

With apparently no shame, Carphone Warehouse defends an offensive policy against elders they would not dare use against other groups. And although a new law prohibiting age discrimination in the workplace goes into effect next month in the U.K., it does not apply to consumers.

Imagine how life would be for elders if all retailers and services operated on Carphone Warehouse's principle.

Many years ago, I dated a man who was a knowledgeable and astute political critic. Often, after an evening discussing the state of the world, he would wind down to the same, irrefutable conclusion: “Nothing is getting any better.”

And nothing in regard to ageism and age discrimination has gotten any better in the years I’ve been writing Time Goes By. It is so tiring, so discouraging.

[Hat tip to Sophy Merrick, Liz Ditz of I Speak of Dreams and many others.]

Old Folks Jokes

Holiday weekends are a good time a few laughs. amba at ambivablog sent these along about a month ago.

  • Reporter interviewing a 104-year-old woman: "And what do you think is the best thing about being 104?" the reporter asked. She replied, "No peer pressure."
  • The nice thing about being senile is you can hide your own Easter eggs.
  • An elderly woman decided to prepare her will and told her preacher she had two final requests. First, she wanted to be cremated, and second, she wanted her ashes scattered over Walmart.

    "Walmart?" the preacher exclaimed. "Why Walmart?"

    "Then I'll be sure my daughters visit me twice a week."

  • Know how to prevent sagging? Just eat till the wrinkles fill out.
  • I've still got it, but nobody wants to see it.
  • These days about half the stuff in my shopping cart says, "For fast relief."
  • Just before the funeral services, the undertaker came up to the very elderly widow and asked, "How old was your husband?" "98," she replied. "Two years older than me." "So you're 96," the undertaker commented. She responded, "Hardly worth going home, is it?

And finally, if you’ve heard these before:

  • My memory's not as sharp as it used to be. Also, my memory's not as sharp as it used to be.

Are Crabbier Elders Smarter?

And you thought Crabby Old Lady was just disagreeable. Hmmph. According to a new study presented at the American Psychological Association meeting in New Orleans last month, Crabby may be smarter than your average old lady (or man) just because she IS crabby.

“The researchers concluded that among the older participants, agreeableness appears to be negatively related to intelligence. This implies, the researchers suggested, that being older and unfriendly might actually equate with being smarter.”, 10 August 2006

According to associate professor of psychology, Jacqueline Bichsel, of Morgan State University in Baltimore, the most agreeable elders in the study had the lowest IQs.

“Seeking out information and being open to adventure could build general knowledge at younger ages, Bichsel suggests. But in older adults, this accumulation of facts may do less to promote intelligence. Instead, more challenging and argumentative people may be giving themselves more of the mental workout needed to keep their minds young.”
USA Today, 16 August 2006

The study was small, only 381 adults between the ages of 19 and 89, so of course there are doubters of the researchers’ interpretation. But one, Richard Robins, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, also noted that his recent work with 10,000 college students

“…revealed a weak but consistent association between young disagreeable men and women and slighty higher SAT scores.”, 10 August 2006

Crabby Old Lady is not qualified to judge the significance of these studies, particularly when based only on news reports. But the idea that people (of any age) who do not unquestioningly accept the status quo are smarter has merit. As Bob Geldoff once said on the British TV series, Grumpy Old Men, "If you're not grumpy about what's going on in the world, you're not paying attention."

There are a lot of “maybes” in the study and personality is a particularly squishy attribute to nail down. Nevertheless, until something better comes along, Crabby Old Lady has decided to bask for a day in her self-satisfaction.

Baby Boomers in the Media

category_bug_ageism.gif The media, advertising and marketing use of “baby boomer” as a synonym for “old” has become irritating in the extreme. Most of the time they are speaking to the oldest boomers who have little in common with younger boomers and almost everything in common with their elders. Yet people my age and older are excluded from the discourse as though we are already dead.

These headlines, part of a longer list collected during the past two weeks, ought to target anyone older than about 50 or 60, but they are aimed at boomers by name, half of whom are under 50:

New Electric Trike For Baby Boomers
(Do they card you before purchase?)

Baby Boomers Rethink Funerals, Go Green
(Of course, no one older ever thought of this.)

Boomers Targeted in New Waistline Scare
(Celebrate. If you’re older, fat’s not a problem.)

Skin care for natural, radiant baby boomers
(Formulated to work only on people 42 to 60.)

For baby boomers, joint replacement hip surgery
(I wonder what that surgery was my mother had 30 years ago?)

Baby Boomers Need to Care for Shoulders
(Everyone knows people born before 1946 have excellent shoulders.)

Baby boomers are big targets for fraud
(Older people, however, are too smart to be taken in by con men.)

Boomers' past sunburns could mean present cancer
(You already knew that sunburns weren’t possible before the depletion of the ozone layer. Right?)

New, tiny hearing aid helps baby boomers
(To hell with older folks; they can just live with being deaf.)

That is not to say there aren’t stories legitimately specific to baby boomers, such as these:

  • Nursing Shortage Reaches New Heights as Baby Boomers Retire
  • Baby boomers scoop up products that promise to help turn back time
  • Museum exhibit caters to memories of Baby Boomers
  • Baby Boomers Brace for Retirement
  • Gen X dads more involved than baby boomers before them

But more often than not, media writers and marketers substitute the phrase “baby boomers” when they mean “elders” (I would even settle for “seniors”), effectively rendering 46 million Americans older than 60 invisible. It is a form of ageism and whenever one of those headlines turns up, I think, “What am I? Chopped liver? Is there something wrong with my money?”

And that’s what baffles me: that corporations would cut out 46 million people from their potential revenue pie. I may be more extreme than some, but I don’t buy the products of companies that target only baby boomers in their advertising.

Words are the stock in trade of the people who create these stories and marketing materials and they are failing at their jobs. I don’t believe it’s deliberate. It’s laziness; easier to use that cute phrase someone thought up for the post-World War II generation than actually think about what they are writing. But the results are as insidious as intentional ageism.

As we frequently repeat here, language is a powerful tool. Every time it is used to demean, belittle or in this case, exclude a person or group, someone loses. It reinforces acceptance of prejudice and bigotry, and nothing gets better from that.