In preparation for my TED talk at this Saturday’s TEDxSF Alive! Maximum Living as a Human conference in San Francisco, I’ve shared my ideas on the fundamental flaw in how contemporary American culture has designed the human life cycle. ChangingAging readers are familiar with my characterization of this problem as a “Cult of Adulthood.”
To fully understand the cult of adulthood it’s necessary to look back at the history of the baby boom generation and its outsized influence on our culture, first during the turbulent 1960s, but more importantly what happened when they seized the reins of power as adults.
When, at last, the Boomers attained the full measure of adulthood, their generational force
field shifted along with them. Youthful rebellion no longer looked quite so compelling. Play time was over. What had previously been utterly ordinary and humdrum adult virtues like diligence, vigor, competitiveness, productivity and effectiveness were abruptly elevated to the status of cardinal cultural virtues.
Given the ability of the Boomer generation to MAGNIFY its stage in the lifecycle, ADULTHOOD quickly became the standard against which all of us, young and old alike, would be
Changes that are this pervasive can be hard to describe, even in retrospect, but here are a few examples of what I am talking about. As the Boomers charged into adulthood, America’s favorite non-alcoholic drug changed from THC to caffeine and Starbucks became a household name. On the bookshelf, the Ram Dam classic “Be Here Now” gave way to that classic work of efficiency porn— “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” A hero of the counter-culture who once said “don’t trust anyone other 30,” embraced Wall Street and died a millionaire.
In the years since the Boomers “grew up,” we have witnessed the greatest explosion of productivity enhancing technology the world has ever known. These fantastic new tools and technologies could have brought a new era of art, leisure and human creativity into being. Instead, we gotten tangled up in a tech-driven ultra-high-efficiency feedback loop that we have little hope of escaping. Even worse, we don’t want to escape, we pride ourselves on how hard we work, how much we have to do and how little time we have.
And the result? The concept of elderhood was wiped off the cultural map.