Kathy Smith, CreativeAge Network and direct[message] Community Consultant/Artist-Facilitator

“To me, Radical Retirement is a positive and passionate attitude towards aging that encourages internet literacy, social activism and other creative civic engagement strategies to involve and empower older adults. We become less isolated, more energized, and more engaged with our communities, resulting in feelings of connectivity, support, and sense of purpose. We can use technology to bring awareness to important issues.”

Kathy Smith

Riding the Wave

I am a “Leading Edge” Baby Boomer (born 1946 – 1952). Boomers on this leading edge are said to be passionate idealists and activists. Their younger siblings share some of that idealism, but they are more pragmatic and some would say, more realistic.

Over the past decades, I’ve seen a lot of changes and, because of my demographic birthplace alone, I’ve been on the forefront of many social and cultural changes. Lately, I feel like I’m riding a high-tech surfboard – just skipping across the crest of that big Silver Tsunami rolling towards the shore.  In my mind, that surfboard is my MacBook Air and the crest is called the aging population. As an idealist and community developer, I see how older adults can not only be part of  this significant social change, we can still lead the way. In the 1960’s, we started an anti-establishment Youth Counter Culture — now, we are redefining a new Culture of Aging. AARP’s call to “Disrupt Aging” is finally being heard.

“Silver Tsunami”

This seems to be the preferred term used to describe the demographic wave caused by the aging boomers. To me, the term could also be a metaphor for a few other things I explore in my presentations :

Troubled Waters for Some

In my view, there is only one reason for me to keep working and advocating to change aging – to make things better for current seniors at risk and the generation to follow.  There are some older adults who are just trying to keep a few feet in front of any number of circumstances that can wipe them out. According to the Broadbent Institute Report There are many seniors living below the low income cut off. In most communities, they have a 6+ year wait for subsidized housing in a safe and secure apartment community. Without a social network and family members close by, they are the most vulnerable of the poor. Should any emergency happen, low-income seniors on a fixed retirement income will need to be extremely resilient and creative. After the working years, there are few opportunities for course corrections. It would be to our advantage to build massive support networks and seniors require more personal supports in their social safety nets.

A Lifeline

Technology can serve as a lifeline to help develop those strategies.. My work connects me with many futurists and technical experts who provide insights on the exciting technology changes that will roll out over the next  5-10 years.

Just as Boomers are aging beyond their mid-life years, social media is providing new opportunities to ride the technology wave to share our stories, collaborate, organize, mobilize and have a voice in local issues.  In my hometown, we realize many older adults find it difficult or sometimes impossible to attend important civic and cultural events. Using technology and social media, we are developing strategies to stream these events to their community centres and retirement homes. Those who are at risk of social isolation can participate in the marketplace of ideas and feel part of the social and cultural  fabric of our community.

If we choose to do so, we are positioned (yet again) to make significant social change – and changes impacting our basic security, quality of life and individual rights.

When we are the fragile old, I don’t believe the funding will be available for many of our quality of life needs in healthcare and housing. The population is aging and the tax base is shrinking. If we don’t make some important changes for ourselves, who will?  Our children and grandchildren have big challenges and concerns of their own. We can’t rely on the younger generation and we don’t want to.

Those who have mobility and other health issues can still have a voice. Adaptive and assistive technologies are game changers. New ergonomic and assisted devices will help offset the normal impairments associated with aging. Service robots and healthcare technologies will radically change homecare.  Computer activities are also reported to boost brain power. Recently developed Cloud and Web Socket API protocol will make it easier for older adults to organize, send, and receive information. Boomers can be tuned in and turned on for a much, much longer period of time.

The Reservoir

And why not? A new generation of seniors brings decades of experience and an abundance of deep wisdom from our failures and successes. After years of work and volunteering, we have advanced skills and have made lots of connections. We’re resilient and enterprising. We can use technology and social media to create, connect, consult, inform, ask important questions, and promote community dialogues to create change and improve the lives of the most vulnerable older adults.  Working with Indigenous women, I am heartened to know and experience how older aunties and grams are held in the highest regard as teachers and community leaders.

Advocacy Networks

While most seniors’ organizations are wellsprings of resources, many are registered charities, thus limiting their ability to engage in any controversy or serious advocacy. CARP and AARP diligently work on important national issues. So, we must also advocate for ourselves as well as the next generation. We can establish and maintain a variety of fluid networks, exchange ideas, explore hunches, find solutions and, ultimately, help transform our local communities and ourselves in the process.

Diving In

With this convergence of the new user-friendly technologies and a new generation of highly educated and tech-savvy seniors with time to spare, things can change. These are exciting times of promise! Is it a radical idea to harness that energy for more social change?

Leading Edge Boomers are surfing the edge of that demographic wave preparing the way for the millions in our wake. Using technology, we are building virtual community centres without walls. Through our networks we’re creating affordable housing alternatives like home-sharing. We’re starting micro enterprises, and developing wrap around support services. We’re producing videos and podcasts. Once again, we can tune in, turn on, and thanks to new laws, we’ll also be able to decide when it’s time to drop out….

Kathy Smith was named to the Mayor’s Honour Roll for the Arts in London Ontario. In 2015, she was recognized by the London Council for Adult Education for her work with older adults. In 2016, she received an Ontario Achievement Award for community leadership from the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. She is the co-producer of Making the Most of Your Retirement on Rogers TV London – now in its second year. She is the co-chair of the Age Friendly London Working Group. Contact: getkathysmith@gmail.com

This article was originally posted by CreativeAge Network

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