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(No. 32) How do age and productivity interact in the modern world? By Stephen P. Williams
(Click above if you have a heart)
But first, this: Photographs of people taken 60 years apart.
What does productivity mean?
I’ve been feeling highly productive this week, and it feels good to get a lot of things done. I’ve been traveling for a new project that has presented near constant challenges, and also a tremendous amount of satisfaction. But I wonder how sustainable this productivity burst will be.
US society values productivity. We are encouraged to produce and consume and flaunt on an upward trajectory until a certain point we are expected to retire, follow a budget, take it easy and devolve. That point used to be determined by age -- when you crossed 65, or 60, or even 50 or less if you were a career military or civil service person -- and we had little choice in the matter. Take your gold watch and go home.
The rise in job and social insecurity in America has changed all of that. People who age out of jobs, due to physical limitations, age discrimination or simple boredom, are expected to use their wiles, any money they’ve managed to hoard, and the Internet to create new careers. This unenforced productivity can be liberating, in that a person is expected to take charge of their lives in retirement rather than relying on the pension they’ve always worked for. But it can be stressful for the same reason. Add to that the not-so subtle awareness that our society seems only to care about those who produce. The man looking as if he’s in a trance on a park bench across from a shopping mall is generally ignored as worthless -- what if, instead, he is a mystic searching for the truth? All we know is that he’s not working. He’s on the downward slide, claiming resources the rest of us produce.
These days, people spend more years in retirement (even if they are still hustling) than they do in adolescence. As a society, we could benefit from ensuring that those years aren’t “unproductive” ones. Instead, we might examine our definition of productivity. Does it mean producing more income, generating more money? Could it also mean helping to create a better world? Or training younger people who are on their way up?
We can count on the AARP to offer a positive spin on aging and productivity, and they don’t fail with this interview with Stanford’s top aging expert Laura Carstensen on ‘Perennials’, as she calls America’s older citizens. Carstensen says they’re our country’s greatest unused resource.
“When I was in graduate school 30 years ago,” Carstensen says, ‘old age was considered to be pathological. And I happily went along with that. But when I began studying elders, I found that they were doing really well emotionally, even when they weren’t doing so well physically. They were generous, thoughtful and emotionally complex. And I thought, If those qualities are growing because the population is aging, then we’d be idiots not to use that resource to improve society. I like the term “perennials” — we’re still here, blossoming again and again.”
These lesser recognized traits could be considered valuable natural resources that our elders are shaping into ideas and influences that will have a great effect on our future. The concept might seem abstract, but I’m trying to look at productivity in a different way. Rather than focusing on making widgets, I’m going to focus on contributing useful ideas and good vibes. And I’m going to try to make a living doing it.
I’ve been traveling and reporting in Kansas all week. The fresh air and sunshine makes me feel young and happy. It’s such a beautiful, and mostly unvisited state. The Beatles Knew All About It.
There but for the grace of…
Studies have show that empathy helps aging people connect and feel vital. Which leads me to post this link to a story about COVID-19 in the California prison system. Prisoners are struggling to stay alive in crowded dormitories rife with coronavirus.
Vitamins for COVID
Should you take vitamin D and C to help prevent COVID-19? The results are mixed.
Take a Dip
Swimming is my favorite exercise, and often I don’t get a chance to get to the pool. This article might inspire us both.
Greetings from My Morning
See you in two weeks (my summer schedule while traveling — feel free to write with any questions — firstname.lastname@example.org)