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Are we ageist? OK Boomer and WhatsApp Uncle tropes

The Longevity Hub recently launched GenConnect, an initiative to connect strangers across generations and geographies on a 15 to 30 minute call. While there is a lot to be said on why people from different generations should speak to each other, outside their family and professional environments, I will attempt to drive the point home with two popular (and ageist) tropes.

OK Boomer!

This is the headline of an article in the New York Times around how the phrase “OK Boomer” has become the war cry for younger folks (in the US mostly) to reject the point of view of older adults, and attribute all ills in society to one generation. Boomer refers to those born after the WW2 and Gen Z, those born anywhere between mid-90s and early 2000s.

Source: NYT

The article states how these generations have different points of view on everything from jobs, climate change, financial security, and more. This is not new and can be attributed to every generation before us. Moreover, you are likely to find a 25-year-old that has very little understanding of climate change and a 65-year-old who lives his or her life in the most sustainable manner. And vice versa.

Creating such binaries helps sell an idea or a product, and likely why brands, marketers, influencers and advertisers love to jump on the bandwagon to make a few extra bucks from a popular trend.

Here is an unpopular take by Bob Hoffman, an advertising guru, on marketing to generational uniqueness.

“One of the great idiocies of the marketing industry is the belief in the uniqueness of generations — Gen X is this…Millennials are that…Baby Boomers are the other.

It’s all bullshit generated by researchers to sell their “expertise” and maybe a few more research studies along the way.”

Check out Bob Hoffman’s website for more

Whether you agree with Bob’s sentiment or not, it makes you think how ageist mindsets get amplified by social media and brand marketing, potentially leading us down a path of no return. While not the only reason, it does play a significant part in how we perceive the world.

Now let’s look at a common trope in India – WhatsApp Uncle.

WhatsApp Uncle

WhatsApp is ubiquitous among people across generations in India, and there is literally no family gossip, business deal or friendship that is not consummated on this platform. India represents the largest user base for WhatsApp with close to 40 crore (400 Mn) users, and is notorious for spamming.

Google researchers were trying to figure out why one in three smartphone users in India run out of space, and they figured out the culprit – Good Morning messages with “overabundance of sun-dappled flowers, adorable toddlers, birds and sunsets sent along with a cheery message“.

If you haven’t received one in a while, leaving one here so you do not feel left out.

Over time, and with a combination of delicate manouvering and vocal pushback from other members of such groups, we see less of such messages these days. That said, we are a long way from sanity in family and neighbourhood WhatsApp groups, which is a multi-part Netflix series altogether.

WhatsApp Uncle is somebody that is older (or perceived as such) and posts irrelevant, inappropriate or non-factual messages in a private group or a public forum, much to the annoyance of everybody else. Although more women than men use WhatsApp, and that too by almost three times, the meme world decided to honour men, and particularly the quintessential Indian uncle, with this giant honour. Over time, this meme has even graduated to the fictional WhatsApp University.

Source: Times of India

“Ok Boomer” and “WhatsApp Uncle” tropes are meme-worthy material on the internet. It is simplistic, antagonistic, and effective in shutting down conversations. In the process, it also breaks down something that is very fundamental to society – intergenerational communication – and sadly, brings out the ageist in us.

By breaking these artificial barriers, all sides come out winning.

GenConnect is an initiative to foster friendships and spark new bonds among people from different generations, and across geographies. All it takes is 5 minutes to fill out a form, and we will match you for a call with somebody from a different generational cohort.

If you want to break #AgeBias and foster intergenerational diversity, sign up for the GenConnect initiative now!

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