True self worth
(No. 38) How commoditizing the old ignores the value of the elderly, by Stephen P. Williams
But first, this: Turmeric is the troubled pop star of nutraceuticals, with a reputation that goes down and up on a whim. I take it for a few months at a time to reduce inflammation, eating it raw in smoothies, and then stop for a while. Right now I’m off it, but might return, given this new double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study that shows turmeric may ease knee pain and arthritis.
What is your lifetime value?
Photo by Matthew Bennett on Unsplash
Many of us see ourselves as young, whether we’re 30 or 60. I generally feel about 35 years old, meaning I feel the same energy and exuberance (and far less sturm und drang). Still, when I look in the mirror, the reality of being 62 hits me.
Sturm und drang illustrated. I do not long for the drama of youth
Fortunately, age has benefits. We have something we lacked at younger ages: wisdom born of experience. As a society, do we want to have a class of older people just waiting around for the expiration date to arrive? Or would we rather have a society of elders -- experienced members of our community who we can learn from? Elsie Iwase explores this question, and more, including the ways corporations view the profit potential of aging consumers, in her essay, The Death of Elderhood.
She recently launched an online salon series called Across Generations, designed to recreate the sense of community, shared knowledge and storytelling that humans have often found while sitting around a fire, chatting in the evening. For the salons, Elsie invites an elder to share their wisdom, advice and insights into the nature of the world and getting older, “for a deeper understanding of the arc of human life,” as Elsie puts it.
Elsie’s essay ranges across some interesting ideas about how all of us -- including the young and the elderly -- can benefit from mixing old people with young in our social, intellectual and leisure lives.
I was startled by her description of how elderly people are commoditized -- and not -- by the corporations that control so much of our lives. In a way, she opened my eyes to the obvious. For instance, the business concept called Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). Basically, this is a measure of how much money a company can make off of a person before the person stops shopping and dies. This is important, because companies have to spend money --- called customer acquisition costs -- in order to get customers. So if a coffee chain has to spend $1,000 in advertising, marketing and giveaways just to get a customer to order a caramel decaf oat milk flat white for the first time, the company will want to be sure they’ll earn that money back, plus a lot more. They need many repeated visits before they profit from their acquisition costs.
Elsie argues that the low CLV of a new elderly customer would essentially make that person invisible to most marketers. But this doesn’t only affect the products that are available for elderly people. It also affects whether or not -- and how -- elderly people are portrayed in the advertising and other media.
This CLV concept is especially blunt, unless you reconsider what truly is valuable to our society.
In a sense, Elsie’s project assumes the older people have a high CLV to society, beyond money earned. Their value is contained in the wisdom they’ve gained over the years, and even in their ability to share it in ways that don’t alienate others. Elsie’s young, not yet even middle-aged. I have a feeling her value is going to skyrocket, and her work is going to resonate through the coming decades.
Three things to know today
1. Vitamin C for muscle mass
A review of 13,000 study participants found an association between daily vitamin C intake and increased muscle mass. Since everyone loses muscle, naturally, as they age, this vitamin might be good for keeping us looking like Popeye.
2) Behaviors that Signal Depression
Ok, I’m sure all of us behave in some of the ways listed here, which are associated with depression. But if you partake in a bunch of them, it might be a good idea to see a therapist or your doctor for talk therapy or medication. Depression is a serious health problem, especially in aging people.
3) Inflight insecurity
I had to triple check this product, to make sure it wasn’t an elaborate prank. But yes, this fully autonomous interior surveillance drone is real. I imagine that if you were confined to your home, finding it difficult to move, this camera would be useful. Or it might help me find my house keys in the morning. Otherwise, this device seems perfectly designed to increase an older person’s paranoia.
Have a wonderful day, ok?
Selfie by Self
I am in Houston today, beginning a slow drive to Miami for Postcards from Pandemic. I’ll be interviewing people along the gulf coast and inland for the next three weeks, and would love it if you followed along. See you in a couple of weeks. Please let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to cover. Stephen@stephenpwilliams.com