Technology has recently taken a beating. Mark Zuckerberg is set to testify this week about Facebook’s privacy practices — concerns that have sent the stock reeling. Our reliance on instantaneous communication and impersonal devices has been blamed for epidemic increases in mental health problems among young people. But there’s one area where technology is being viewed as a breakthrough: the advances it will bring to the fast growing elderly population. It’s been a busy week, so I’m just now getting around to debriefing on the What’s Next Boomer Summit I attended last month in San Francisco. In its 15th year, it’s the brainchild of Mary Furlong, an entrepreneur considered the “godmother” to those who are developing products aimed at improving the quality of life for older Americans. At this most recent gathering, I got a view of a variety of promising innovations. Apps have been developed for areas where they’re most desperately needed, like protecting the financial assets of the elderly. As AARP finds the majority of older Americans seek to remain in their homes as they age, there are a plethora of interactive technologies underway to help them. Robotics is ushering in an era that will allow not just supervision for older people, but socialization. As we take stock of the negative repercussions of technology, it’s uplifting to see the positive role it could ultimately play in improving the quality of life of aging Americans, who will soon comprise the majority; nearly one in five U.S. residents will be age 65 or older by 2030. Along those lines of living a fulfilling life, I write articles for The Wall Street Journal focused on those who switch to interesting new careers after 50. I’m always on the hunt for the next round of inspirational stories, so please contact me if you or someone you know would like to be featured.
As someone who works from home, I often long for a distraction. And my go-to source is Facebook. I strive to employ discipline by not allowing myself a peek of my social media feed unless I’ve put in a certain amount of hours or written the top of a complicated story or finished several interviews. Since I have limited in person interaction with other humans during the day, it’s my social reward for getting through a particularly challenging stint of assignments. I don’t post frequently (though my family members would beg to differ.) Instead, I enjoy peering into the lives of my friends and family. As a journalist, I’m most comfortable in the role of observer. Now that it’s summer, I find myself scrolling through endless streams of vacation pics. As I sit at my desk, I mentally photo shop myself into the many beach scenes, wishing I was there. This got me thinking about what I call the “vacation poster,” those who are only heard from on Facebook while on vacation. Whether it’s a beach in Northern Michigan, a nature hike in the mountains or a more exotic trip to Europe, there’s no end to these photos. Silent the rest of the year, the vacation posters are eager to share their happy memories while those memories are being made. Some post daily as if to say repeatedly, “look at the wonderful vacation I’m having!” With much time and thought given to the daily postings, I wonder how much they’re able to experience that vacation in the moment. I have found myself guilty of this as well, especially with my children. I have been so preoccupied with capturing the scene in a photo and envisioning the wonderful Facebook post that will ensue that I missed the chance to embrace the experience as it was unfolding. To be sure, many of those who post are truly eager to share their vacation photos and their enthusiasm for their summer getaway with dear friends and family and Facebook is the most convenient venue to do so widely. But I also wonder if there’s a deeper psychological reason: an interest in conveying to the public, in typical social media style, that life is good, even if it always isn’t. The positive comments that invariably follow: “The family adventure looks amazing!” “What a terrific trip!” “You look beautiful!” are validating. A vacation isn’t truly great unless those who see the photos say it is. I’m sure there are plenty of people who head on vacation and don’t give Facebook a second thought. They may be more interested in enjoying the time in a fresh destination than having others reflect on it. Do they ultimately enjoy their vacation more than those consumed with posting about it? Of course, it’s impossible to know. My husband and I are heading to Paris in the fall to visit my daughter who will be studying there. It’s the first time we’ve been to Europe since before our children were born and I’m very excited. But I’m going to try very hard not to envision each photo as an opportunity for a Facebook post — even thought that’s tempting. I’ll find out if my travel abroad is more positive when it’s not viewed through the lens of social media. A future blog will reveal the impact of this social media restraint! Happy travels to all of you this summer.
The perils of working from home: I’ve been spending way too many hours on Facebook lately. Journalists like me are drawn to observing trends and behavior. And I can’t seem to pull myself away from the hypnotic morass of division and vitriol that has followed the Presidential election and that is playing out in Facebook posts. Never have I witnessed this level of emotion and discord, as well as fear. While Hillary Clinton may not have been the most inspirational candidate, for some of those voting for her, the alternative was frightening. And now, there’s speculation on whether those fears will be justified.
On a personal level, I’m concerned. My oldest daughter came out when she was 16. She was the subject of this article I wrote for Newsweek at the time. I was shocked by the hateful comments the article received from conservative bloggers, some of whom chastised me for not subjecting her to conversion therapy. But those pale in comparison to the hate that seems to have been unleashed throughout the election. Though Donald Trump says he is supportive of LGBTQ rights, he is a Republican. And conversion therapy is part of the Republican platform.
It’s been seven years since the article was published and my daughter graduated college three-and-a-half years ago. She’s now a community activist who fears not just for the LGBTQ community, but for many of the disadvantaged. I’ve been telling her, and her 19-year-old sister — who called me, sobbing the day after the election — that their generation can alter the course of history for the better. Though all my adult children voted, a factor in Clinton’s election loss was that millennials turned out for her in far fewer numbers than for President Obama in 2012. They may have been disgruntled because she didn’t inspire them the way Bernie Sanders did. Or they may have felt that she was likely to win, so their vote didn’t matter. That, of course, did not prove to be true. Under eight years of a Democratic President, complacency may have played a role.
I hope the surprise election results have had one positive outcome: instilling a renewed passion in the fight for human rights. The majority of young people who did vote cast their ballot for Clinton, according to this map. And millennials in coming years will make up a significant voting block. So to all the millennials out there, if you care about the state of the country, invest in it. Get to work now. Find your young, passionate, idealistic candidate who shares your ideals. Turn those fears into action. The future is clearly in your hands. For the sake of all of us, I hope your generation is already starting to chart a clear path to a better one.