One of the key questions I will explore at the TEDxSF Alive! conference on June 4 is why America, a country where nearly 80 million people are about to reach old age, is so obsessed with youth? To understand, you have to go back to the beginning of the post-war generation and understand their transition from childhood into adulthood.
For the past six decades the American lifecycle has been remade by a massive generational force field.
The post-war generation is so big and its influence so pervasive that most of us have no memories of what life was like without them. This generation was endowed with the power to bend our culture in ways that MAGNIFY whatever life stage the so-called Baby Boomers occupied at the time.
During their adolescence, the Boomers’ created a massively influential counter-culture (complete with sex drugs and rock and roll) that dominated the nation’s art, music, media, and politics and, ultimately, exploded into a nation-changing crucible. During those years, 75 million adolescent Boomers very nearly set American society on fire.
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 we would all of us, young and old alike, would be judged.
As a result, old age has been transformed, distorted and adultified. In effect, it has been erased.
What are the consequences?