I am getting to that age where I get annoyed when I think we spend too much time thinking about the youth. Don’t get me wrong. My children are young and I used to be young myself. I would be younger if I could. Youth has definite advantages. But society is changing in ways that are leading us away from the youth domination of the recent past, which – BTW – may well have been a historic anomaly.
Let me focus on the one area (other than physical prowess) where youth is supposed to enjoy the greatest advantage: technology. A funny thing has happened on the way to complicated technology. As technology becomes more complicated inside, its use becomes more transparent and as it gets easier to use, more people easily use it. You see this in the evolution of connectedness. Early adapters were young, cutting edge and tech savvy. Today the fastest growing user segment of Facebook is retired or close to it, those with the least familiarity with the newest technologies find them no more complicated than using a telephone. That’s progress. If I asked you to picture an avid user of the new technology, I bet you would come up with someone young, maybe looking like that actor who plays the Mac on the PC v Mac commercial. But as I mentioned above, this is less and less true. In fact, the most revolutionary aspect of the new media will be how it engages older people and brings or keeps them in the mainstream of society. Older people have long excelled at sitting at home. What does a guy with a computer do most of the time?
Ironically, old people tend to resemble young people in a couple of important respects: many don’t have full time jobs and they have time on their hands. Increasingly, that idle time is being invested online in both groups.
I am not the first to say this, let me be among the most energetic in repeating that this age wave, supported by new technology is already happening. You will see a continued diminution in the relative influence of the young. IMO, marketers and politicians are insufficiently aware of this, despite obvious signals, and it is already biting them. Take a look at this Pew Study from a couple days ago. Let me hit the key quote, “According to one government estimate, 93% of the growth in the U.S. labor force from 2006 to 2016 will be among workers ages 55 and older.”
Watch the news reports of those town hall meetings. Almost everybody who attends – pro and con – is either a senior citizen or soon will be. And if you dig a little deeper, you find that they were often energized, informed and brought there by new media techniques, such as Facebook and Twitter. The same technologies that keep you in touch with your grandchildren and fishing buddies can be turned to political or business goals w/o significant modification. Those with their eyes on the youth didn’t see this coming.
The new media has already spread widely and it will continue to do so. Nobody can ever keep up with all the permutations of technology. You may not have to as use becomes simpler. The day of the geek is coming to the close as we greet the bright dawn geezer.
The Downside of Gray Power
I am not entirely happy about the new geezer power, even though I am more closely aligned with the geezer than the geek segments of society. The biggest challenge our country will face is the exponential growth of entitlements, including Medicare and Social Security. Entitlements already take up 2/3 of the Federal budget, up from 1/3 a generation ago. That means that all the military, roads, foreign aid, post office, science, national parks etc spend only take up half as much of the budget as entitlements. At current trends, in around twenty-five entitlements will take up ALL of what we now spend in Federal dollars (and we already spend too much).
FDR was very clever when he set up Social Security. He made the retirement age 65, when life expectancy in 1933 was only 63 and he sold it as a fund, when it actually is a giant pyramid scheme. The system worked well when giant generation of baby-boomers was working to support the smaller generations of their parents. But now the baby boom is hitting the old folks’ home like that lump in the snake. My generation will have to accept relatively less from these sorts of government funds than our parents did. Politically, this is going to be the hardest thing ever.
I hope my baby boom generation – the biggest, richest and most assertive generation in American history – uses its new media leveraged gray power wisely. We cannot take all we are “entitled” to; we have to leave something on the table for the next generation. They are OUR children, after all. They need to keep more of their money. The trends look good for us to stay active. We are healthier, sharper, more able and many are willing to work longer, as the figures I mentioned above indicate. Maybe it is better if we work and save just a little bit more for ourselves, work a little longer and let the kids off the hook a bit. Continuing to be productive is (or should be) the price of staying influential.
Social Security has been a fantastic success and there has been a lot of progress in America. Back when FDR created the program, most people worked at jobs requiring hard physical labor. They were literally worn out after a life at work. Most retired when they couldn’t work anymore and shuffled off this mortal coil soon after. Life has improved and so has liveliness of old age. Yes, things have changed since the 1930s.
BTW – there is an interesting article about what might happen to assets as the baby boom retires at this link.
BTW2 – people asked me about the cat in the picture above. I just needed a picture and that is just a strange looking cat Alex and I saw in Rome. We thought he looked a little like Hitler.