I came across an extraordinary six-minute YouTube video called ‘The Shift’—a presentation that blows one’s mind with factoids about the rate of change in the world. The Shift they are talking about is a ‘paradigm shift’, meaning our entire worldview, indeed our whole reality, is being turned upside down and inside out by virtue of technology, population and the exponentially accelerating rate of change. Whether we like it or not, our ‘new reality’ challenges our commonsense and conventional wisdom with ideas like “Knowledge is becoming obsolete before you learn it”.
Joel Barker sold a videotape in the 1980s called “Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms™” in which he showed that the world is always a function of our interpretation of it and that, from time to time, for a variety of reasons, the world transforms in ways that are difficult to impossible for people to fathom when it is happening. He is generally upbeat about these periods of dramatic change and asks us to imagine how life must have seemed to those living at the beginning of the 20th century as they witnessed how the development of cars, airplanes, telephones, weapons of mass destruction and new concepts like ‘the corporation’ redefined who we are, what is possible and how life occurs for human beings.
Adapting to big changes has always been difficult for older people, since most of their experience and ideas about the way things are and should be are behind them. Change may appear as a threat to long-held ideals and values. I remember a childhood ditty: “My father in his house of logs said the world is going to the dogs”. The point being that things are never as dire as they seem—the ‘old’ simply needs to step aside and make way for the ‘new’. In the past, this sort of maxim mostly went unchallenged, since the numbers of younger and older people basically rendered the ‘older’ perspectives irrelevant or simply interesting memoirs for reflection and appreciation. Changes that would impact our worldview, such as the coming of the automobile, took decades to proliferate our consciousness and, more importantly, our practices.
Today, the rate of change combined with the pervasive influence of technology challenge this idea of simply stepping aside. In less than a decade, Google alone has had more impact on how we relate to our world and each other than many earlier technologies. The point isn’t so much what we think about technology and change—the point is to appreciate how they change the way we think (for better or worse). For many older people, the ‘break’ with the rate of change can and does leave us alienated, confused, frustrated, powerless, resigned, filled with anxiety and disconnected from our institutions and communities. As everything speeds up, this break occurs at younger and younger ages. It takes a conscious effort on our part to keep up with amazing advances in technology so we can continue to operate in society (thank you to people like Savvy Boomer for the work they do in this area).
At the same time, we are in the middle of unfathomable social and economic changes ranging from the emergence of terrorism as a part of daily life to the redefining of what a ‘job’ is and the emergence of new possibilities for earning a living. We seem overwhelmed with media-driven prognostications (often negative) that leave us nostalgic and wondering what has happened to the ‘Age of Aquarius’ and our vision of love, peace and a world that works for everyone.
So how can we cope when we don’t even understand what is happening, let alone have a point of view about it? How should we think about the future when it seems to be changing daily?
My point isn’t to be a ‘Chicken Little’ and join the doomsayers. Actually, I’m very optimistic. But I do say that the rate of change is affecting or should be affecting our strategies for living.
When we can no longer reliable predict the future, then the only viable strategy is to learn to live in the present. When we no longer understand or control what we thought we understood and controlled, then the only viable strategy for survival is to CREATE THE FUTURE. If we don’t, we become stuck in the past and get bogged down trying to gather all the information we need, analyze it and then decide what to do before we do it. The world is moving too fast: by then, it will have passed us by. Peter Drucker said much the same to his corporate audiences before he died: in business, ‘following the leader’ means being late. Today that means being left the crumbs—at best.
The same is true on a personal level. We either learn what Eckhart Tolle spoke of in The Power of Now and master living in the moment or we are doomed to be trapped in a spectator relationship to life. We also must learn to trust ourselves and our experience to take action in the moment to achieve our intentions, and then correct if we make mistakes—rather than continue to move forward in cautious, deliberate ways to avoid whatever risks we imagine based on our past experience.
All this said, I am proposing the older generation has the greatest role and opportunity to redefine themselves and their relationship to the world. Perhaps the value of our accumulated wisdom is in teaching others to ‘let go’ of their pasts (as we are now doing) and engage in those aspects of who we are and of life that define humanity at its best—relationships, love, personal responsibility, commitment, creative self-expression, integrity, courage, respect, to name a few.
I think we are creating a new vocation for the Baby Boomers with Eldering. Eldering means putting our wisdom to work. Cleaning up the messes before we die. Celebrating human ingenuity, innovation, and spirit. Using our vision and commitment to who we are being to create the future as possibility and a world that works for everyone.