Age of Reality by Sean T. O'Brien


Sweet 16 has turned 61 … now what?

We’re getting old folks.

There is no way getting around that, just as continuing to get older beats the alternative. Still, it is a little tough to talk about getting old, not just older. After all we are the Baby Boomer generation, pretty much the first ‘generation’ to get saddled with a nickname. Since then, we have had Generation X (not the band), Gen Y and Gen Z. We also have a group referred to as Millennials.

Then Tom Brokaw wrote a book about our parents and how they survived the Great Depression and went on to win World War II. They are the Greatest Generation. That’s a lot to live up to. Here we are, the Baby Boomers, stuck between a generation that saved the world and two or three others that sound like a college radio station call letters.

So as those of us from ‘that’ generation enter our 60s (or later), what have we got to show for ourselves? Well, we helped put an end to a war in Vietnam, won the struggle for civil and women’s rights and instituted Earth Day, thereby saving the environment. Depending on how you come down on those issues, admittedly less concrete than killing Hitler, that’s a pretty decent list for the 80 million of us approaching or just entering retirement.

Oh, there is one other thing we did – we invented the computer … and the Internet … and the mobile phone.

On second thought, I’m not sure whether to list that as accomplishment or curse. What you can say is that particular Baby Boomers changed the world more radically than any generation before or since. The digital brain, artificial intelligence, the ability to access the collected sum of all human knowledge through a device in your pocket – that is more than a small step for a generation and more than a giant leap for the future of humanity.

(Oh yeah, I left that one out. The Greatest Generation provided the astronauts and engineers and bravery to conquer the moon. But they used ‘our’ computers to do it, so maybe we should call that one a push and a passing of the torch from one generation to the next. It was the Baby Boomers who made being a geek cool. Now that’s another one – we gave everyone Star Trek … which was thought up Gene Roddenberry, a member of the Greatest Generation. Another push, I guess.)

The point is that us Boomers are retiring and no longer are the main target audience for Madison Avenue nor the most sought after demographic for anyone, except maybe fund raisers for the Republican party … and testosterone supplements. The alphabet soup of generations now emergent is taking the toys we invented and building a new reality with them. This past week one of our legends who conceived of Microsoft, Paul Allen died. He joined Steve jobs, the genius of all tech marketers, in the memorial roll of tech Baby Boomers.

They are passing us by. We are old hat. And our generation didn’t wear hats.

As ffor me, I laughed when I turned 40. (‘Hahaha’) Not a problem. At the attendant keg party thrown by my ex-wife, friend told me, “I can’t believe you’re 40. You look more like 30.” The gray hair didn’t bother me much. Just added character. Turning 50 was a bit more authentic. This time someone told me, “Man, I can’t believe you’re 50. You look more like 60.” Yes, it was a tough decade. Well, maybe now it’s about time to start getting things done. And I had been cool with the gray hair but nobody said shit about it turning white. There was no party. There was no wife.

Turning 60 was a gut punch. Sixty is ‘old.’ Certifiably. It doesn’t matter how old you feel; you can’t argue with the numbers. Right there in the middle of that time span is Age 65 – the official retirement age, Social Security, Medicare. Senior Citizenry. No one even asks if you qualify for the senior discount. And no one bothers to ask for your ID when you buy beer, on the rare occasion you make the effort.

Up until now our lives, and the marketing of them, have been pretty straightforward. No one has been preparing us to be old, to cope with a world that centers around a generation other than ours. It would be nice to follow travails of a fellow traveler trying to make of this ‘post-us’ world.

With luck, by now all of us have been able to move out of our parents’ house just in time to help put them in a home and are about to see what our kids are going to be able to do with us. (You guys can let me know. As an orphan, I have no family out there to put me away somewhere.)

Where do we go from here? I’m not sure but as I am a writer I think I’ll write about it. Something of a slice of life for those of us aging in the age of technology we invented. I invite you to come along, or at least read along as we uncover the solutions to reality that will make life more understandable as we rocket forward into the future.