On Turning Sixty

Books are being written on this subject these days. It’s big news – Boomers! And why 60? Because it’s smack in the middle of the baby boom that began in 1946 and ran out of steam in 1965. Well, I hit the big Six Oh this year and began to wonder what the fuss was all about.

I must admit that I too have written my little book on the boomers, a novel titled In the Shadow of the Conquistador that I wrote 8 years ago and was worried about releasing into the world as I felt that I was going to enrage my peers. I had portrayed my boomer characters as takers rather than givers, people who built empires and trampled on the feeble to realize their ambitions, people who had left the planet confused and their progeny either unborn or malformed and marooned in a sea of underemployment. Then I began to read about the lives of the Conquistadors, about Pizarro, de Almagro and Cortes, and realized, that in temperament, they were no different from my boomer buddies. The Conquistadors had been takers, they had trampled on others, they had been “me, first” thinkers. Only the technology is different today.

So what’s it about being a boomer, and turning 60? Well, for starters you are never going to get a job again and you are too young to retire just yet, so you live in an occupational limbo. This may sound frightening but it’s also greatly liberating. Boomers of 60 are either their own bosses after having been turfed out with generous severance packages from the corporations that once employed them, or they are cashing in on their inheritances from their more frugal parents of the Great Generation. They are writing books (mostly autobiographical), starting business, travelling, exercising, watching their diet, downscaling to release equity from their homes, and throwing it all on Facebook to make everyone above or below them on the age spectrum envious of their lifestyle. A few reckless ones are going in for divorces, cosmetic surgery and sports-cars that attract younger partners, but those are the ones who have a lot of money to burn. The rest are shoring up their pension funds and figuring out how to stretch them out until age 95. And they are starting to feel the pressure to let go: let go the four-scotch lunch (try wine instead), the 18-hole round (how about 9 holes as a compromise?), running that marathon (how about the gentler ski-machine in the gym – it’s easier on the knees!), and the 8-ounce steak (chicken or fish is better for the cholesterol).

And what legacy have they left behind? A damaged planet that reacts badly and erratically more often, a politically polarized world of haves and have nots, a technology-charged world that has not adequately compensated those who have been released from their labours by machines, a hedonistic world focused on the “I” not the “Us.” Also a huge gulf for their fledgling children to surmount, one that many have given up even attempting. “I’ll just live off Daddy’s and Mummy’s left-overs,” seems the cop-out strategy. Watch it, kids – daddy and mummy may live to be over 99, and with their lifestyle needs, the breadbasket will be empty by the time you get your hands on it!

Now I realize why I wrote that novel, and after much vacillation, why I released it into the world last month. My generation needs a wake-up call, a reckoning. It’s great to be a boomer of Sixty, but it comes with a huge price tag, and it seems to me as if its only others who are footing the bill right now. Being 60 also comes with responsibility. What message of hope do we provide the Boomerangers and Echo Boomers? I tried to do that in my novel, as my way of expiation. But I’m plagued by the suspicion that it was only a gesture and that the solution has eluded my generation completely.

Succession Planning for the Next Generation

I have written previously about the Echo Boomers (EB) and their challenges in our globalized, me-first, dog-eat-dog world. In my writing, I have castigated my generation, the Boomers, for insulating our offspring from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune through bailouts and inheritances. I have accused the EBs of hiding inside parental cocoons that have long passed their expiry dates. What I have failed to do, is ask the question whether the EBs even want to play a role in this world that we have created, or whether they have been pushed far enough to want to create their own from the ground up, and where we could help. For how will they find their place in the sun when the baseline for their launch-off point is no longer reachable with just their intrinsic talents?

Their grandfathers, the Great Generation (GG), had a ground zero on which to develop their ideals of liberalism, equality, enterprise, and social democracy, all built on the stark lessons they learned between two major wars: that enough was enough, that no bully would be tolerated any more, that no one would be left behind in education and healthcare, and that a sound middle class would provide national stability. Even Communism and Socialism became fashionable back then, although today they lie in tatters. Then followed their sons and daughters, us. Having a solid springboard provided by the GG, we felt entitled to freedom and growth of the individual above all; we invented consumerism, acquisition, and above all, the mantra of “screw my neighbour, because I gotta be better than him.” Our advertising reflected these values: premium class, designer label, the automobile as a symbol of virility, the country home as a mark of having “arrived.” And on top of that, we outsourced the better jobs to machines and poorer countries so that we could make even more money, and eroded the middle class that gave us the very stability and was our springboard to success. Then we built high walls, gated communities, and enclaves to protect ourselves from those poor suckers who were working for scraps and who might be tempted to cross the line and invade our space, even out of curiosity. Then we cut taxes so that we did not have to fund those poor losers and could retain more money in our coffers. And all the while, our poor EB offspring were watching and wondering where they would play if all the air was being sucked out of their entry canal into adulthood, the workplace, and society. Yes, we inadvertently placed the bar far beyond their reach in our attempts at self actualization.

There are many scenarios on how the EBs may come to take their place in the world:

a)      Make incremental adjustments to what exists and carry on and don’t rock the boat – unsustainable in the long term if the premise is still based on growth and consumption.

b)      Look forward to parental inheritances that will delay reality for another generation.

c)      Create new businesses where “green,” “sustainable,” and “inclusivity” are good words and “growth,” “outsource” and “exclusivity” are bad ones. Only EBs will be welcome and Boomers need not apply. But those wily Boomers who control the investor community may still inject their views!

d)     Hope that Climate Change hastens a ground zero upon which to build a better world.

e)      Start a revolution to forcibly create a ground zero. Unlikely chances of success here; those who have tried have been labelled terrorists and operate on the fringe, for our military establishments are too well stocked these days.

f)       Succumb to neuroses, nervous breakdowns, and suicide, so that those bloody Boomers, will have the extended lives they always desired, only they’ll be working right through until they die– serve them right!

g)      Look forward to the Second Coming where “all that is” will be destroyed and “all that is desired” will be released.

I am not sure where the dice will fall and which scenario will win the jackpot – perhaps none; perhaps there is one I have not yet envisaged. But I encourage Boomers and their offspring to get engaged in the debate, especially the Boomers. This is not “their” problem, but our collective problem. Because, you, dear Boomer, are not a success if you have not implemented successful succession planning for the continued evolution of the human race, and right now you are failing ingloriously at a half-assed job if your university-educated child is struggling at a minimum wage job and drowning in a sea of student debt.


The Selfie is another form of Narcissism

I got into an argument the other day when I made the bold statement that “selfie takers are modern•day narcissists.” I couldn’t understand why a person would take so many pictures of themselves, sometimes in the most unglamorous of states, and put them up on social media for all to see.

The barrage of protests that I got had a common thread. The protestors could not understand why it was so bad to indulge in this practice. Some did not know the meaning of the word “narcissism.” “Everybody is doing it, so why not I?” was a common protest; my counter, “And if everyone is jumping off a cliff, why not you?”

On deeper reflection, I realized that they were probably right. Everyone wants to be noticed, so why not they? And in this info•crazed universe where the proverbial “15 seconds  of fame” has shrivelled to the “nanosecond of screen time,” the selfie is a great way to attract attention, and the more bizarre and dishevelled you are in the picture, the better.

The media mentioned recently that our Toronto mayor (whose name need not be mentioned for his worldwide fame has been guaranteed by the talk shows), was indulging in one continuous selfie with his antics in public and private life. I have to hand it to him; he has name recognition over the dozen or so other unknown candidates in the upcoming election. He might even get re•elected, purely by those like me who draw a blank at the polling booth and recognize his name on the ballot over 12 other nobodies – “better the known devil than the unknown one.”

Let’s face it, we let this happen. The moment we opened up personal social media pages, personal websites, blogs, or decided to sell our product on line, we had to leave a photograph as a calling card. That was Selfie Generation 1.

Then the technology made it easier to take pictures on the fly and upload them to the cloud of gawkers out there. And it became a necessity (I’m not sure how or why) to let the whole world know what we were eating, wearing, or doing at any given moment. We did not know why we had to do it, but we just felt compelled to.  Enter Selfie Generation 2, the present one.

I am wondering what would happen if some clever technician is able to take our selfies off their public perches and manipulate them to give us donkey ears or monkey tails, or embed us into compromising positions that we may never want to be in, and then replace us on those very perches for the world to see? Would we all be beating a hasty path to retrieve our selfies and delete them as they keep going viral and proliferating around us? Or would we give up the battle and, like Narcissus, drown in the pool? Enter Selfie Generation 3 – I hope it never comes!

The Burden of the Echo Boomers

They bear many names: Echo Boomers, Millennials, Gen Y, Boomerang Generation, Trophy Kids—our kids—born circa 1980•2000. They have been characterized as left•leaning team•workers (counterbalancing their parental neoliberal inheritance), technologically adept multi•taskers, cultural liberals, and social conservatives with high aspirations towards work and career. They are also classified as possessing delayed maturity for taking longer to leave the nest.

And they face the highest youth unemployment in the workplace in decades and low entry level wages that force them back into the nest for handouts. Their high expectations are in direct conflict with the market realities of a global economy in which the lowest common denominator is king. We Boomers have not done much to provide a better playing field for these fledgling torch bearers of the next generation of taxpayers, it seems. Perhaps we were totally self•absorbed in our own empire building—the empire of self actualization, which has only room for one.

The Echo Boomers will have to re•invent their own world if they are going to make this planet a better place and find their niche in it. The old economy has no place for them. The good news is that they have been likened to their grandparents—the Greatest Generation—who fought WWII and remade a destroyed world. I have tried to imagine what the EB world would look like, at least in our western half of the planet: no factories (try India or China), suffocating office cubes replaced by open•concept green energy workplaces where the lights automatically shut off at night, book•less libraries, farmland converted into wind energy corridors, snaking public transportation routes, tolls on city streets, lots of bicycles and roller blades, handheld devices as common as wallets, designer wireless earphones, lots more coffee houses and meeting hubs, bookshops relabeled as gift or antique stores, and lots more people talking to themselves on the street (actually into their designer microphones embedded into shirt buttons, nose rings and other accessories). Gosh, some of those components are already here!

And what kind of jobs will exist? Graphic designer, movie director, performance artist, content curator, online marketer, scientist, medical researcher, environmental engineer, content creator (formerly known as writer), content search advisor (once known as librarian), inventor, product developer, project manager, personal advisor (that can range from lawyer to doctor to financial planner to accountant, to personal trainer; all those one•to•one interactions that cannot be easily outsourced to India or China), personal assistant (publicist, plumber, electrician, handyman, car mechanic, restaurant server), and a raft of new job types in the service industry yet to be defined.

A Brave New World indeed. The nagging doubt I have is that while members of the Greatest Generation had the Great War and the Great Depression to condition them into greatness, the Millennials have only had their helicopter parents to insulate and deliver them into a hostile world, with half•formed wings. Will they need their own Dust Bowl to emerge into maturity? And would their indulgent parents sit back and let “the kids” pass through this painful rite, or would Dad and Mom dive in with that popular parachute called the “family bailout”, to continue to spoil and pamper their progeny? It looks like the advent of the Brave New World is not dependant on the Echo Boomers but on the ability of those old “chicken” Boomers to let go.