Holy Toledo, Batman: Elderly Life Begins At 50!

Last night I was inducted into the Hall of Elderly Citizens. At least that’s how I felt.

It happened while I was the guest lecturer at a business consulting class at Salisbury University. The instructor invites business people to share their real-life experiences about marketing, hiring consultants, economic trends and more. This is the fourth semester I’ve spoken to the class.

At last night’s class I spoke about how social media was really a revolution, changing the way business was done much like what happened during the Industrial Revolution more than a century ago. For these students, I truly believe the upheaval in the labor markets and economy will create new opportunities for those prepared and motivated to take advantage.

I had their attention for the moment and believed I had bridged a generation gap of nearly 40 years effortlessly. But I quickly learned that for some of these young adults, anyone over 50 is … not just old but elderly. Yes, 50 years old is elderly in the minds of our youth. For anyone who believes that 50 is the 30 or 60 is the 40 here’s a reality check.  To a 22 year old, 50 is still old!

The scene unfolded like this. One team of students is working on a marketing project to help a local community attract the “elderly.” More specifically the group asked me “if Facebook is a good option for the 50 and older demographic?” That’s when I polled the rest of the class. One student responded “no, I don’t think the elderly use Facebook.” Another agreed.

Elderly = 50 years and older.  Holy Toledo, Batman.  I must have missed that memo…or maybe I just don’t remember!

I suggested to the student team that most Baby Boomers would not likely be attracted to a marketing campaign that referred to them as elderly or senior citizens. Active adults, maybe. Elderly? No chance.

The question ignited an interesting discussion about “older people” using Facebook.  One student “just couldn’t imagine his Dad being on Facebook.”Another replied that her grandmother was on Facebook every day. Of course, I quickly realized that I could be as old as or older than her grandmother. Ouch!

Thankfully, several other students chimed in and validated my point that not all 50 year olds are over the hill and living the life of a fuddy-duddy. The truth is that the fastest growing segment of Facebook active subscribers are 55 and older and that Facebook could well be an important marketing strategy to attract the aging Baby Boomers.

My day of confronting generation gaps was not over. I left the class to meet with three Perdue School of Business students who started up a new online business.  The purpose?  They wanted help in developing an Internet marketing campaign and revenue model for their new venture.  Generation gap?  Hardly. This was a business opportunity and consulting meeting. Age never entered the conversation.

And moments after that meeting ended, I spoke with my 87 year old mother who was depressed because her Internet connection was down for almost a week. And when she finally resorted to walking to the library because “she just couldn’t stand [being unplugged from the Internet] anymore,” she found nearly 400 emails waiting for her. Even for the “elderly,” staying connected and doing business via the Internet is part of their daily lives.

For me, yesterday was the epitome and paradox of contrasting attitudes toward different generations. The day’s events offered an important lesson for all of us – do not pass judgment blindly. Most fifty year olds are not elderly and Gen Ys are not slackers, sloppy, and self-centered.  At least for a few minutes yesterday I was able to demonstrate how technology and especially social media can effectively disrupt generational stereotypes and bridge cohorts separated by over 65 years.

Fortunately for many, the gap is invisible.  For others, different generations live worlds apart. Hopefully, technology can bridge the gap and open communication.

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