Sunday, April 27, 2008

Baby Bombs

I was rather confused to read the opening lines of Sara Lin's April 25th article in the WSJ:

"Baby boomers brought ugly grab-bars to bathrooms and wheelchair ramps to hallways to prepare for growing old at home. Now they can take credit for products that people without infirmities could appreciate."

Now, I'm not sure why the ramp would be in the hallway, but more perplexing is that I don't know how boomers could possibly be responsible for such installations since most of them have yet to reach retirement age. Even if there is some demographic link (like installing them for their aging parents) those actions need not relate to the implied lack of aesthetic sense. When we couple these words with the later passage that "marketing these senior-friendly features before they're needed requires a delicate touch. The older consumers don't want to be treated like they're ready for retirement" I think we see the real conflict. "Before they're needed" is the operative phrase--people continue to think "age=infirmity and disability" and we want to keep that image from our minds as much as possible.

The real point of Lin's article is that product designer and marketers ae anticipating the aging of the boomers an bringing better designed and more supportive products to market. All well and good and long overdue. But if the boomers are truly going to redefine aging as so many pundits predict, our mindset is the key of what needs to change. Not through denial of the potential realities of age, but through embracing our older years. Whether we call it life part 2 or our second life or whatever euphemism we think will make it easier for people to swallow, the reality is that aging presents a variety of challenges and presents them in a variety of different ways to different people. The only way to prevent being victimized by this is to make up your mind to be proactive, prepare for contingencies, control your path and proceed with confidence.

One of my employees was driving with her niece and was asked the question "Auntie, why do I keep hearing about all these "baby bombs." A very cute Art Linkletter moment, but if baby boomers don't more proactively plan for what they want their latter years to be like, they will be "bombs," both in the sense of being dangerous to society and being flops.

Which brings me back to Lin's comment--modifications are about so much more than grab bars and ramps, and it is only because most of us don't approach designing homes to support all our phases of life that we have to put up with aesthetically ugly solutions. If we don't envision what we want our retirement environment to be like, then we are creating a situation where our home will constrain and fight us rather than support and nuture. If we want to define the aging experience in new ways, we must understand that our elder years are a time for continued growth and enjoyment and not just a withering away. But that will only be true if we create it and do so early enough in our lives. We need to ready ourselves and not leave it until something happens that makes it so we can't deny any longer that we are "ready." That's the way we boomers can be different than so many of our parents.