Gero-Punk Ponderings: Can we make obsolescence obsolete?

 Guest Gero-Punk: Jennifer Ortiz*


Like it or not, our identity has been intricately woven into the consumerist ideal. As laborers, we are disposable. As soldiers, we are dispensable. As spouses or lovers, we are replaceable. We consume to live and live to consume.  It is no surprise that aging is so negatively connoted in a society where that “new ______ smell” can provoke spontaneous olfactory orgasm. In turn, we become swept up into a palpable disdain for outdated models. It’s old versus new – the antagonistic, oxymoronic, contradictory super-duo.

We have perfected our roles as consummate consumers. As we are sliced and diced into groups and markets, our gender, age and habits have become valuable economic tools that are fed into complicated logarithms, thereby producing magical marketing formulas.  Our buying behaviors dictate today’s GDP and tomorrow’s dividend checks. We are immersed in lining up, trading in, and selling out to the latest feat of technology and convenience. That has become the meme in today’s modern world; our collective identity is wrapped in the constructs of insatiable consumption – dictating choices and influencing values.

Then there is that most confusing term, “planned obsolescence.” This is how long an item is made to last before it has to be replaced. Mostly associated with electronics and automobile manufacturing, it is a business model that keeps the products moving off the shelves and car lots. But aren’t we also “made”? After all, there is a process involved – energy and matter. We, too, have a lifespan – a sort of obsolescence, if you will. Is there a point where we view the human aging process as a trajectory to the obsolete? Do we unconsciously cast aside our relevance because newer models (younger folks) have replaced us in that age range?

Our lives can reach 100 or so years, perhaps averaging around 85. But that’s not when we begin to see signs of wear: 40ish or earlier is more like it. At first, we may lose some agility, some resilience. If we were cars, it would be the time we would normally contemplate a trade-in. Perhaps memory begins to fade a bit. The hair goes or grows into gray. As an electronic gadget, the latest model would already be unpackaged and ready to go, whilst the outdated model sits cast upon the curbside.

My hair is graying; aches are common; collagen is dwindling. Am I able to discern my own worth from the constructed reality that informs the consumerists’ palate? Some days yes, other days no. It is often difficult to establish transcendental value from the sort that is judgmentally ascribed to physical features and chronological lapse.Only when I am able see my middle age as a new birth, can I reach beyond my commercially bar-coded existence and touch the elegant tangents of my lifespan.

*Jennifer M. Ortiz is a social observer and Progressive Era historian. She holds a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from Marylhurst University, and has worked as a writer for the past several years in the non-profit sector. Jennifer and her husband live in Portland, Oregon, with their three sons. Note: New to Critical Gerontology and the Gero-Punk Project, she calls herself a “Gero-Clunk.”

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past twenty (or more!) years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and inter-generational friendships and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (now in its 10th edition!) and first author, also with Moody, of the recently published Gerontology: The Basics, as well as author/co-author of several book chapters, articles and essays. I am on the Portland Community College Gerontology Program faculty.
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3 Responses to Gero-Punk Ponderings: Can we make obsolescence obsolete?

  1. Helen says:

    This is so right on!! Nice job!

  2. sk65 says:

    Super posting Jennifer! Loved reading it, gave me much to think about . . . just this morning I was celebrating the 7th birthday of my little Toshiba laptop, then in the next moment groaning with its’ slowness as the virus scanner took over and all things slowed down. Now your posting reminds me to enjoy the slowness, to remember the inner workings, to be changed by the changes! SusanK

  3. I thank you both! It it fascinating to me how consumerism seeps into other parts of our lives.

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