In the last week’s installment, we discussed all sorts of prejudice that dot this world. Most of them are harmless if downright low-grade jokes, but quite a large number of them are hurtful and injurious to people’s pride or worse, their lives.
In our 20th and 21st centuries crude prejudices have been gradually reduced in their explosiveness and toxicity. However, we are far from eliminating them. I am hoping, as everyone else does, most of the currently existing prejudices become harmless. Today I am focusing on the very large prejudice that exists between our young generation and the aging segment of 65+.
Not being a sociologist, I cannot claim to be authoritative on this matter. But it seems that a common thread that runs through all the prejudice is a total ignorance and total lack of empathy on the other side of the river of prejudice. The group A has no idea what the group B feels, and has no desire to know. The group A laughs at jokes about the group B. If this statement makes sense, let’s now bring to our focus the issues of the young and the aged here in this country.
I received this email last week.
“What a good column about the generation gap. Also, nice that you pointed out that oldsters are still fair game for any and all jokes. 'Help, I've fallen and I can't get up' is quite the laugh getter for just about everyone. We, the advanced generation get a lot of bad press, undeservedly so."
The major issue here about this huge generation gap is that the young generation doesn’t quite know how the aged generation feels about this insidious prejudice. There are hundreds of jokes about old men and women. Alzheimer’s, dementia, incontinence, deafness and resultant loud speech, impaired balance, short temperedness, very short memory, thick eyeglasses like a Coke bottle, dentures falling out, unable to tie shoe laces, and the list goes on and one.
But are there equal number of jokes about the young men and women that the aged generation could laugh at? No, none at all! That is a pure form of prejudice. The group A being the superior tribe, and the B being inferior. The problem here is that the so-called inferior group that suffers from being a laughing stock of jokes and constantly somewhat looked down upon is the one that had been the main workforce of America just yesterday. We here in America, instead of thanking them for their work and treating them with respect and trying to improve their lives in their sun-setting period, treat them with jokes, indifference, chilly disrespect and both cultural and physical distance.
This phenomena in this country is the direct result the drastic social change from that of multi-generation living under the same roof to moving the aged generation into a separate living space.
In my very amateurish thinking, that generational split triggered the younger generation to forge ahead to explore more leading edge technology applications regardless of their practical benefits and value, and ignore more basic applications that help our lives more efficiently and less costly. If we stop for a moment to look around, on one side our media is full of reports of new technological development such as launching tourists to the moon (WOW!), a super high-speed train running through a vacuum tube, millions of cell phone apps, etc.
Meanwhile the reality we have here is quite sobering. Crumbling highways and bridges, ever unreliable and troublesome subways and commuter trains, under-employment for graduating youth both from high schools and colleges, rising death from Opioid poisoning, etc. Today our society often reminds me of those chaotic yet organized drawings by M.C. Escher (1898-1972), a Dutch graphic artists. Parts individually make sense but the whole doesn’t. We end up scratching our heads trying to interpret the image, and we find that we can’t in the end.
Now, let’s get back to America. Let’s also take a few samples of what our aged (65+) people suffer. They lose $40 billion every year to fraud committed on the elders. That is a huge sum of money. Meanwhile the military budget for Japan is $41 billion and for Germany is $37 billion. Now let us think. Just how much money should we spend to eliminate fraud against the aged? With all the brilliant software code writers here in the country, I believe only a small fraction of $40 billion should suffice to develop near fool-proof free defense against fraud for the aged population. Yet, I do not see any governmental proposal to do just that.
Another example: Medicare “A” spends nearly $40 billion on hospitalization for people who fall. Just how much expenditure is needed to develop a fast-acting and failure-free system of reporting falls so the hospitalization expense would be substantially reduced?
These two examples are just a small part of what we can do to improve the quality of life for the aging population, and simultaneously cut down the expense both for them and for the nation. Unfortunately, we are not doing it. The deep valley between the two generations continues to cause huge economic waste and burdens our nation’s economy with the heavy $20 trillion debt upon us.
Inventors of America! We need your help in developing devices and systems need to ease lives of the aged, and thus help our economy.
Shintaro "Sam" Asano was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the top 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century. He lives on the seacoast of New Hampshire with his dog Sophie. You can write to Sam at sasano@americaninventioninstitute