Concerned about an onslaught of enfeebled old people? Don’t worry, robots will take care of them! American techno-optimism knows no bounds, and so-called “age-independence” technologies are proliferating like crazy. But in a profoundly ageist culture, the implications can be disturbing.
It’s harder to unlearn than to learn, especially when it comes to values. The critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudices, and work toward making our own behavior and beliefs less ageist.
It doesn't make much sense to discriminate against a group that we all hope to join one day. Everyone wants to grow old. Yet we go to great lengths to pretend it’s somehow, magically, never going to happen—at least not to us. “My mom is 90, but she’s not old,” someone insisted to me recently, as though it were contagious.
Growing old isn’t new. What’s new is how many people routinely do it. The institutions around us were created when lives were shorter, and the culture hasn’t had time to catch up. The way we respond to this demographic shift has critical social implications.
A good friend passed on a DVD of my This Chair Rocks talk to a filmmaker acquaintance, who had a serious critique. She found the talk compelling and called me “a smart and wise cheerleader for this next passage,” but continued, “What I felt missing in her talk was death. She moved quickly over it, saying that her big surprise was how little older folks feared death. I think she is wrong, but she has been immersed in this research far longer than I have. I think we [all] fear death; it is the great unanswered question.
People often suggest that I give a TED talk, and of course I hope this opportunity comes my way. In the meanwhile, I searched all TED talks tagged with aging. Nine come up: