Some Things Never Grow Old: Connecting with Yourself, Part 2: Reflecting the Person Inside
“I don’t think of myself as 91, I think of myself as about 60.” — 91-year-old woman, Connected Aging Study
I love a person’s eyes. The phrase “the eyes are a window to a person’s soul” is so powerful because we can tell a lot about someone through their eyes...from their mood, to their social acumen, to their integrity. But I love a person’s eyes for a different reason. They never age; they only reflect a lifetime of memories, wisdom and emotions. Whenever I look at an aging person, I focus on their eyes and try to imagine those eyes housed in the body of a 6-, 15-, 25- and 40-year-old. What did they see, when did they smile or cry, and what did they visualize for their future?
Today, our actual age is less and less an indicator of who we are or what we are capable of, and even less an indicator of our desires, interests, and potential. Never more so should our mother’s words, “it’s what’s on the inside that matters,” ring so true. But social and cultural barricades get in the way and sometimes prevent us from thinking from the inside out. We need to break down these barriers to perception by embracing our physical realities and letting our social and emotional beings shine through. We need to rebrand aging – as a world, a nation, a community, and as individuals. And we need to connect with each other to do that. We should share what we know, exchange ideas, and cultivate the power to influence the policies and systems that affect our lives.
Cultural stereotypes aren’t new. And neither is the idea of launching campaigns to change them, either intentionally or as an unintended consequence of a related objective. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty began a worldwide effort to redefine beauty, after learning that only 2 percent of women worldwide described themselves as "beautiful." Now Dove is applying the same theory to a pro-aging campaign. Yay Dove, for the effort — although the campaign has been banned in many cities because of “excessive nudity.”
WNYC’s Studio 360 hired design studio Hyperkat to re-brand teachers. Discarding childish images, the studio used a beautiful connect-the-dots metaphor to portray teachers as motivators and inspirers whose work is the realization of potential.
If we were to rebrand aging, what metaphors would we use? How could we portray aging as a generative process rather than a degenerative one? Or perhaps we could portray aging as a time when new paths are formed that lead to new opportunities, versus a slippery slope to doom and gloom. Here are some thoughts on new ways to brand aging:
- Show aging through the eyes of grandchildren: Unconditional, over-the-top love, unburdened, and full of promise, story and potential.
- Take a page out of pop culture-hit TV show “The Voice” and brand aging through the lens of voice, emotion, wisdom, and passion.
- Brand aging through metaphors of things that get more beautiful, powerful, or appreciated with time: gardens, trees, neighborhoods, memories, good decisions.
This work could certainly be done by large marketing machines or influential design studios, but for real change to happen, it needs to be embraced and strengthened through an exchange of ideas amongst and throughout the aging communities themselves. The digital tools and technologies that exist today can be a powerful catalyst for change.
Drawing inspiration from initiatives like Open Ideo, where global communities come together to solve problems, imagine creating a digital learning platform where older adults could come together to change the way we view age, where we could design and disseminate ideas for new connected aging experiences. Components of such a platform could include, among other things:
- Featured change-maker stories from those who have successfully embraced the connected aging experience
- Member profiles with customization and contribution tracking
- Q&A to invite collaboration and shared experiences
- Toolkits for designing connected aging experiences in their communities
- Workspaces to allow members to join in on projects
We need to redefine age from the inside out, literally. Let’s look beyond our bodies and physical abilities and see what lives through the windows to our souls. In other words, focus on the “software” component of aging: the thoughts, language, processes, networks that can help give aging the light and cultural perception it deserves. The hardware — our physical bodies — may look different, but the 1’s and 0’s are still there. We just need to continue to design the algorithms that help us stay relevant, connected, and full of vitality.