Elderly Becoming Redundant

If the elderly are mostly recognised and valued for their accumulated knowledge and skills (a contentious assumption in itself, granted), then technological advances are gradually making the older generations redundant, suggests Philip Greenspun.

Let’s start by considering factual knowledge. An old person will know more than a young person, but can any person, young or old, know as much as Google and Wikipedia? Why would a young person ask an elder the answer to a fact question that can be solved authoritatively in 10 seconds with a Web search?

How about skills? Want help orienting a rooftop television aerial? Changing the vacuum tubes in your TV? Dialing up AOL? Using MS-DOS? Changing the ribbon on an IBM Selectric (height of 1961 technology)? Tuning up a car that lacks electronic engine controls? Doing your taxes without considering the Alternative Minimum Tax and the tens of thousands of pages of rules that have been added since our senior citizen was starting his career? Didn’t think so.

The same technological progress that enables our society to keep an ever-larger percentage of old folks’ bodies going has simultaneously reduced the value of the minds within those bodies.

Suggestions for “maintaining relevance and value in old age” are gratefully being received on Philip’s post.



4 responses to “Elderly Becoming Redundant”

  1. Native Americans were almost wiped out by the white man’s pursuit of gold.

    Farmers were forced into foreclosure to create the mega-farms of today.

    Factory workers lost their jobs to overseas companies paying a fraction of their wages.

    Our values don’t cherish the elderly. They are merely the latest casualty. How many are residents of rest homes?

  2. […] (Greenspun’s post via Lone Gun­man.) […]

  3. Pete Griffiths

    wow- what a patronizing quote! relationships are about more than utility, a life of actual experience is far more interesting than an internet search.

  4. I completely agree with both of you — it is a patronising thought, yet it’s still an idea that resonates with some people as they look at how the elderly are treated.

    Of course, I’m sure Greenspun knows his assumption is controversial and I doubt he believes it fully.

    I felt Greenspun was hinting towards the loss of knowledge and skills that we are letting pass by not discussing these things with people. As languages become extinct and under threat we preserve them, but not skills. Should we?