September 2013 I was sitting with Jenny watching the news. It was an election campaign and the story was about the “over 50 vote” constituting the biggest single demographic of voters.
The images were of living, breathing people. They weren’t vibrant. There were fewer men than women. Universally, they wore unfashionable clothes, looked unkempt and even impoverished. One man had broken glasses. The setting was a bowls club in Australia.
What happened next sent me on a life-changing journey. It was as if the reporter swung a bat and my head was the ball – it hit me hard.
Less than six months earlier, I had turned 50 and felt as though I was in the prime of life. But now, in this abrupt moment, I was in a demographic “stereotyped” as having voting power, but little additional potency or vitality of any kind.
After this revelation about my demographic, I changed.
Three years later I seemed to be losing buttons off my TV remote. Moving from my car to Jenny’s car seemed a little more challenging. My memory seemed to be strained…
I began to see myself as a 53-year-old man with a bald head, increasingly wrinkled skin, an ageing (e.g., no longer young) family, a lot of work on, plenty of debts and obligations …
… the usual modern stressors. Whether this was an accurate account of who I was didn’t matter, it was how I felt that mattered. I had stopped exercising regularly and I was not sleeping as soundly as I knew I should.
Nothing in my culture – not media, not government institutions, not traditions – made me feel this was a group I should want to belong to. My teenage children and wife often tease that I am “getting old.”
My contemporaries at work often refer to me as a “senior colleague.” I’m getting increasing messages about my plans for retirement.
To be honest, I didn’t want to be in this group.
Now, I recognise that I was buying into the media “stereotypes” that demanded I was “going downhill” as I aged.
Yes, the media are powerful! But, how could I so easily buy into such a destructive view about ageing? After all, I’ve studied the media and stereotypes at different times in my academic career. I know how the media “construct reality.” I can even reason that I have years ahead of me, all other things being equal because I’ve read the news that life expectancy is increasing. I thought I had a reasonably positive outlook on life. Moreover, I am pretty healthy and reasonably fit on the basic measures. Plus, I am “into” technology so surely that keeps me abreast of global changes?
Feeling pretty disappointed in myself and even more disappointed in my culture, …
I decided to do something about it.
As a professor in communication and media it is important to me that any information I use, discuss or publish is backed up with scientific research. For example, I produce Digital Australia, a series of empirical studies about demographics, self-report behaviours and attitudes around digital games, in its seventh iteration. So, going forward I recognised that my knowledge of digital media could be crucial to working on solutions for many of the “problems associated with ageing”.
Over the past three years I have undertaken extensive research into population ageing to determine what can be done to make it more positive and successful. With my colleague, Lynda O’Grady, I think I have a solution that will promote successful ageing like nothing has before.
The title of our project My Platinum Power reflects a detachment from the stereotypes of “grey” or “silver”, which are often associated with age; it also invokes a sense of modern tools that we can use to empower ourselves…
If we are lucky, we become old. Age is not a “death sentence” it’s a gift and an opportunity.
Ageing, is not dying, ageing is living longer.
“How” we age is the tricky part. We can buy into the same old (pardon the pun) stereotypes, or we can find our “platinum power” in ageing.
We are excited to share our work and journey with you. This blog is our launch platform through which we will keep you informed of our progress with the book and interactive online tool. We think Mark Twain was mostly right, but missed the point about doing something when he wrote:
“Age is an issue of mind over matter.
If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
My Platinum Power is our contribution to a global conversation about how we can take personal control of ageing. Let’s do something transformative together!
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2016). Older Australia at a glance: 5th edition. Retrieved from Canberra: http://www.aihw.gov.au/ageing/older-australia-at-a-glance/
Goodman, L. E. (2009). May You Live to Be 150! Society, 46, 240-246. doi:10.1007/s12115-009-9202-0
Levy, B. R., Slade, M. D., Kunkel, S. R., & Kasl, S. V. (2002). Longevity Increased by Positive Self-Perceptions of Aging. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 261-270. doi:10.1037//0022-35220.127.116.111