The Patriot Act You Don't Know About
Oh, the Stories We Can Tell

Why Language Matters

category_bug_ageism.gif Even a minor technology poll can’t be reported without demeaning elders.

In preparation for the upcoming release of its new Windows Live service, Microsoft recently commissioned a survey from Harris Interactive to see how many adults understand some current IT buzzwords.

Fewer than 50 percent, according to Harris, can explain such terms as VoIP, RSS and tagging. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents know what blogs are, but only 17 percent read them. But that's not what's important about this.

In reporting the survey, an InformationWeek writer, Paula Rooney, supplies a cute, little kicker to the story, quoting Ken Winell, CEO of Expert Collab, described as “a new Microsoft solution provider in Florham Park, New Jersey.” Mr. Winell notes that whether the general public understands the buzzwords or not, they are using the technology:

“’Blogs and MySpace/social networking is the modern day community bulletin board,’ he said. ‘I expect to see kiosks for blogs at the senior centers that talk about shuffleboard and bad dinner theater any day now!’”
InformationWeek, 26 May 2006

Are you chuckling yet about those doddering old geezers who haven't the wit any longer to know good theater from bad?

More than once in the recent past, readers have chastised me for making too much of too little in such jibes as this one aimed at old people. I refuse to believe that some offensive remarks are okay. If that is so, where would you draw the line? Are there certain words that would be acceptable - maybe geezer, but others that cross the line - like biddy and coot? How do you choose?

Or perhaps the dividing line between okay bigotry and not-okay bigotry should be the size of the audience which hears or reads the slur. We could make it unacceptable on American Idol, but okay on infomercials for shady real estate deals in Florida. Do you believe that would be all right?

In remarks like that above, elders are stereotyped and demeaned every day on television, in movies, in newspapers and magazines, commercials and other advertising. The stereotyping, repeated day in and day out, in ways that some people and publications apparently find amusing, reinforces the culture’s acceptance of ageism. Again, as always, this one doesn’t pass the Time Goes By Bias Test: substitute “women’s” or “blacks’” for “senior” in that quote and the bigotry is obvious.

Bigotry will never end by being ignored. It must be repeatedly pointed out and retractions demanded. If we let such speech pass, it becomes entrenched. In the case of elders, we know it results in marginalization of elders from the mainstream of life, acceptance of age discrimination in the workplace and in elders receiving less aggressive health care than younger people. On the off chance that last isn't clear, people who otherwise wouldn't, die as a result of ageism.

Although generally unacknowledged as such, ageism is no less destructive than racism and sexism, and it won’t stop until we point out every "unimportant", cutesy dig at elders and demand that such language stop.

You can reach Paula Rooney at prooney@cmp.com. Her editor-in-chief at InformationWeek, is Rob Preston; he can be emailed at rpreston@cmp.com. Ken Winell keeps an intermittent blog at Ken Winell’s Space where comments are accepted.

Comments

Thank you, Ronni. Language does matter. Trivializing has been a major weapon in the arsenal of bigotry. Making victims or targets of racism, sexism or ageism feel foolish for objecting to being disrespected or feeling hurt after just being verbally assaulted is an insidious, but effective method for keeping people in their place. No, bigotry will never end by being ignored...or quietly submitted to by those discriminated against!

Thank you.
Please continue to write and speak against this insidious "ism".

Well, the bigotry is terrible as life begins at 50 I'm told so I'm looking forward to getting older. The blogs allow voices to be heard in ways that the mass media, catering to the ideal audience (18 - 35) doesn't do. Hurray.

I'm linking to you on an article, See and Be Seen on June 1. Cheers.

P.S. on language, we're encountering a whole new language and I find it fascinating. Ajax isn't your cleanser anymore.

Interesting that you should mention this because just this past week I was chiding someone for an inappropriate comment, and the response was that the butt of the comment "knew I was just teasing."
Racist, ethnic, sexist, ageist slurs and slurs in general are not funny.
They're slurs.

And you know the advertising and language is getting to the younger readers when they scream, from their own Blogs and My Spaces and other forums that they are getting "old" at 18.

‘I expect to see kiosks for blogs at the senior centers that talk about shuffleboard and bad dinner theater any day now!’”

Perhaps offensiveness is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, since I wrote that I didn't agree that Garrison Keillor's skit was harmful.

However this one is absolutely over the line

If one substituted "African American Centers" and watermelon picnic and the lottery there would be a huge uproar about racism.

good eye---ageism is something we suffer most keenly at the two most vulnerable times of our lives.

Well, one thing is fairly obvious about Winell's comment - ignorance knows no age barrier...

I teach how meaning is constructed, and you are so right, Ronni.

Since I was quoted and the author decided to write the blog, i wanted to respond. This quote was not reflective of bigotry of older generations, in fact, what I was trying to get across was how technology permeates itself despite general opposition of persons to accept change. The bad dinner theater comment may have been in bad taste, but the seriousness of the topic in the blog takes it totally out of context. While I applaude the author for pointing out how society accepts stereotypes for some but not all, I think my quote on how instead of bulletin boards at assisted living facilities, community centers etc, will eventually change to electronic and social networking web sites, is accurate.

Language...language...Mr. Winell...that's the point!

Using language appropriately, finding just the right word(s) ...isn't that your business?

I never knew that the ability to determine good and bad dinner theatre, or, probably to exercise even a multitude of other quality judgements was age related. Yes, Mr. Winell, "poor taste" is putting it mildly.

I get the picture of what you perceive is posted on bulletin boards in senior centers. ;-(

Hopefully, in the future you will give a little more consideration to the language you use in relation to elders; what might be on the bulletin boards at those "senior centers."

You'll be one of us soon, if you aren't already! *grin*

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