essays

Cloak of Invisibility

invisible manGet ready to be ignored. That’s right, the older you are (i.e. the more gray hair and wrinkles), the more likely you are to become invisible in the near future. Whether it’s a bank, a store, a pharmacy or a doctor’s office, if you are accompanied by a younger person, you will notice that the doctor, clerk or pharmacist will ignore you in order to talk to your “minder.”

As Nancy Perry Graham, editor in chief of AARP Magazine, explains it,  “Older people are invisible in society after a certain point. It’s one of the last remaining acceptable prejudices.”

I get that some older individuals may have hearing problems or Alzheimer’s disease, but we’re talking about perfectly healthy, normal functioning adults. If you arrive somewhere with a son, daughter or younger companion, you will observe that you are bypassed as the conversation is directed toward the younger person. Part of the problem is purely observational. A clerk greeting an older person accompanied by a younger person automatically assumes the older adult requires assistance. Maybe they needed someone to drive them to the store, but it does not necessarily mean they are incapable of understanding how to purchase a laptop computer.

It’s one thing if we’re talking about you taking your invisible man85 year-old mother to the doctor, but it’s going to be a whole different matter when it’s baby boomers that are getting the cold shoulder. Imagine a tsunami of baby boomers, who are not about to be patronized, descending on malls, DMVs, and medical offices. They are going to behave as though they are entitled to have you speak directly to them, not some intermediary. Maybe the greatest generation is okay or accepting with someone else doing the speaking and the listening for them, but it’s hard to imagine boomers letting go that easy.

What I envision instead is a major retraining and sensitization effort on the part of any business or organization that deals with the public. With a large cohort of 60 plus customers/clients making it clear they want to be heard (and seen), management is going to want to make sure that they maintain/earn our patronage. Or pay the price when we vote with our feet and support businesses that get it.

Whatever happens, like much else associated with baby boomers, it’s going to be interesting to see how society decides to deal with us.

Let the games begin.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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