In former times, the worst possible punishment a society could impose on an individual was being sentenced to invisibility. Ayla was thus sentenced by her clan in Jean Marie Auel’s “The clan of the cave bear“. Without the support of the cavemen society, life would normally meet an end for a social being as the Neanderthal were. Our strength lays in social interaction and thus our survival. It is hence no wonder that social isolation afflict us in a special irreflexive way today.
One widespread mode of social isolation is what elderly experience as they pass the age when they are regarded as “customers”. In a capitalist economical system—as well as the communist implementation that history records (E. Fromm), an individual may be regarded as a customer as long as this individual will actively engage in economical activities by exchanging money for services and goods. As long as each of us is seen as a potential customer we do enjoy social awareness and we feel part of the whole. But as soon as we come to fit into the type of individual that is no more seen as a potential customer, society will loose interest on us, up to the point when we will feel socially isolated. It is often for this reason that people reaching their retirement age will feel anxiety and look for workarounds to still feel useful and part of the society.
It is unfortunate and a sign of our shortcomings as a society, that we let our elderly live their life in anxiety. Those people who built the world we are now living on. That created the basement of what things we are today ourselves building. We should be reminded that this fate is waiting for all of us “customers” too, unless we start doing something about it now.
There is an untapped potential in our elderly, waiting for us to channel it. Our mobile and modern lifestyle rendered them away from the traditional family environment, but our technology can bring them back where they always belonged for a very needed role that our children today, as much as ever, long and need in order to grow as whole persons.