When Baby Boomers come of age: how will services cope?

English: Photograph of a Female Demonstrator O...

We were born between 1946 and 1964, after the second world war, and we grew up to be ‘the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation to that time’ with peak levels of income and expectations founded on freedoms associated with a teenage culture no generation before us had been able to enjoy. We were ‘the pig in the python’, the bulging cohort of financial, social, and intellectual liberty unleashed on a world that had queued, made do and mended, put up and shut up, kept calm and carried on. We have been noisy, demanding, musically irrepressible, politically vociferous, powerful, influential, hedonistic, ethical, liberating, and liberated. Our pig felt the California sun on its back while it cantered through Strawberry fields, raised it hemlines, and spawned the ‘yoof culture’  whose children live in Facebook and on twitter. We had our cake and ate it, and now we’re about to retire.

There’s every chance that, given our raucous, adolescent gallop through life, we will not age gracefully. Instead, we will power along, invading the spaces young people used to claim as their own by pitching up at Glastonbury,  at universities, and on their social networking streams. We’ll even be in their schools as mentors and not just because we want to deliver to the kiddies all of our accumulated knowledge, but because we have no intention of leaving our own youth behind. We have downloaded a copy of the urban dictionary and we’re not afraid to use it.

So we’ll be fine. What I’m not so sure about is the fate of the organisations waiting to receive us: the pensions and insurance agencies, the care homes, the networks of libraries, evening classes, fitness groups, and community centres with their sense of off-peak resignation. Ours is not a cohort that understands about coming second and that being ok. Which is not to say there will be no hardship for many of us; today’s austerity measures and the erosion of pensions ensure that this will be a constant threat. It’s the expectations that seem likely to be different. Churchill apparently said something like,  ‘Up with this, I will not put’, and his post war babies pretty much have this running through them like Blackpool through a stick of rock.

I am just beginning to encounter the interfaces, as an almost retired person, with organisations whose function and communication are essential to my well-being, and the first thing I have discovered is that they like distance. After years of recording in written notes, and latterly on computer, all professional communications, I am finding that this is no longer possible because I am not permitted to email anyone. Suddenly, at a time when both handwriting and memory are likely to be a little less sparky than before,  I have to rely on the phone to make enquiries about matters important to the way in which I will live the rest of my life. While ‘they’ have a computer screen in front of them, and a string of records detailing names and dates of any contacts, I am balancing a handset (remove from ear to press 6 and miss next option), and scribbling illegible hieroglyphics onto a shifting scrap of paper that the cat will later throw up on. The alternative is that I write and then wait two or three months before phoning (with pen and messed up paper) to discover that it never arrived.

This is not acceptable. Dignity, independence, self esteem, and competence are not promoted by depriving people of the tools they are accustomed to using and that offer clear threads of evidence in the event of a mishap, and making them reliant on inefficient methods almost designed to maximise their gathering weaknesses. These may have been familiar to the generations that preceded us, but they are not our tools of choice and things will have to change. Our health services are learning how to have a more accessible ‘front facing’ identity by adopting social networking and inviting patients and the public (who turn out to be the same people, amazingly) in through the doors as colleagues. It might take some time for the more administrative services to do likewise because they don’t have personal contact with their clients so distancing is much easier. But they will need to get a move on because the BabyBoomer pig is on the doorstep, bearing the mud of a thousand festivals and ready to rock (the establishment) and roll (on their nice clean 1950s carpets). Actually, that sounds like fun …


2 responses to “When Baby Boomers come of age: how will services cope?

  • anaspanish

    I love this! It’s so true about not being able to use the technology so many of us are used to in every day life. Of course it effects all age groups including/especially younger ones – but it’s facing the great clunking wheels of bureaucracy that one more often has to face with age or illness where it comes into its own. I loathe the phrase ‘silver surfer’ but it’s in common parlance for a reason.

    • Suzanne Conboy-Hill

      ‘Silver surfer’ came into being, I think, as an acknowledgement that older people were beginning to use the web. Unfortunately, it comes with a tinge of amazement – like seeing a dog walking on its back legs – the surprise is not that they do it quite well, but that they do it at all! Well, that’s about to exceed its sell-by-date as the big user demographic shifts up a band, demands wifi in its community meeting hall, and presents the results of the village horticulture show from its iPad!

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