Our society has an obsession with youth. Our media and our institutions are dominated by anti-aging technology and remedies, all with the aim of retaining youth and staving off the inevitable. But aging is not a technical problem. It’s a design problem. It’s a problem of society, and the way we perceive aging.
Shakespeare looked at life as a world stage, in which were seven acts. We see just three; childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Nothing in between, and nothing beyond. Our thinking on old age is akin to the middle ages when it was believed that if you sailed too far you would fall off the edge of the world.
About 65 years ago there was an unprecedented event in history when an enormous generation was born into society. We call them the Baby Boomers. This generation was so massive and dense, that each life stage they occupied was magnified, with the effect of actually bending culture.
As the Boomers occupied adulthood they embraced it with vigour. Efficiency and productivity was the virtue of the day, and their children experienced childhood as no other before them had. Rather than childhood being a cocoon of time and space set aside for growth and development, adulthood had grown across the lifespan. Youthful adulthood now dominates our society, having the ability to suck the joy and pleasure out of our daily lives.
The obsession of this post-war generation with youthful adulthood has led to some big ideas that have actually robbed our society of important social milestones. For many, growing old carries a stigma that is unpleasant, and fervently resisted. Growing old is associated with no longer being useful, and in our culture, if you are not useful, you disappear. You have sailed to the edge of the world, and slipped over the horizon. Rest homes are full of people serving life sentences for nothing more than the crime of frailty.
However, there is a single, beautiful, inevitable truth; Every day we wake up to find that we are one day older. This is a law that has the power of water over stone, and is the leveller that has the power to transform society, if we allow it. The Boomer generation are burning with desire to avoid life’s next great developmental change, but it will still come. And as the boomers leave adulthood they will forge a path into something that we barely believe exists.
Yes, there is life beyond adulthood. Its name is Elderhood.