Alternate Reality: What, How, and Why?
In a world obsessed with youthfulness, we are constantly bombarded with ideas and stereotypes of how we should appear - wrinkle-free skin, pearly white smile, fit body, and hair without any signs of greying. “Young is beautiful” is portrayed in every aspect of our lives, from the time of childhood to seniority. In marketing, tv shows, schools, jobs, video games, the news, the internet, etc., young characters are idolized and viewed as important. We are living with the mindset of never wanting to grow old. We want to stay young forever because growing old would mean that we would no longer be of any value or importance to the society we live in today. Corporations and the workforce often replace old employees with younger ones simply because they are more creative, adaptable, energetic, and efficient. Our entertainment industries such as movies, games, and magazines all cast leading characters who appear young and physically attractive. Nearly every person that speaks on the news or appears in reality tv has had plastic surgery or other procedures are done in order to appear younger than they really are. However, what would happen if this infatuation with youthful living was changed completely? How would our world be changed if old age is what we strived to reach? Would our mindsets and behavior be changed? Would this affect jobs or how we educate our youth?
Starting with change, I believe that we would see an immediate and extreme change in our personal lives and also our culture as a whole. “Sweet Sixteen” magazine would transform into “Sweet Sixty.” No longer would celebrities such as Selena Gomez or Demi Lovato appear on the cover with their “perfect,” photoshopped bodies, but rather older men and women with apparent wrinkles and grey hair would replace them. From childhood, kids would have the idea ingrained in their mind that “old people are cool,” and in turn, would try to live like them. Teenagers would probably care more about long-term goals in life, rather than their popularity at school. Young adults would view college in a completely different manner as well. No longer would college students try to take the easiest classes in order to simply get a degree that nearly every future job will require them to have, regardless of the field they studied. This “quickest and easiest” technique would dissipate, and students would look into classes that teach them important information they will use in the future. They will want to gain as much information as possible in these years so that as time goes on in college, in their career, and in life, they can become a wise and knowledgeable senior citizen that others look to for help.
Personally, my life would be completely different if this alternate reality became the standard. Starting with my friendships, I would definitely try and befriend or become acquaintances with more older people. Getting to know old people or trying to understand how they got where they are, would allow me to better myself and take the right steps to becoming a wiser person with age. Venturing into my schooling and education, I would have put way more effort into my high school education than I did. In my mind throughout high school, I worked just hard enough to stay passing and have a decent GPA so I could get accepted into a nice college. However, if I went into it with the mindset of trying to gain the most knowledge possible, I would have applied myself in every single subject I studied, I would have put less importance on my social popularity, and I would have definitely looked into future opportunities or set larger goals for myself to achieve. If old age was glorified, and how “cool” you are is dependant on how knowledgeable and successful you are at work, then students would put their free time towards going above and beyond in school or at their jobs rather than partying every weekend, or going out with their friends every chance they got. Relationships are another area of life that would be drastically different for me. I believe teenagers are pressured into dating and physical relationships, especially in high school, because sometimes your popularity is determined by how many people at school you have dated or slept with. If having a serious, long-term relationship was “popular,” kids would focus more on finding a partner they could potentially spend the rest of their life with rather than finding someone they can show up to the next major party with. We currently live in a very “short-term” thinking world, where people are worried only about the immediate next step. If people looked forward to growing old, their other goals would follow this pattern of looking towards the possible future rather than just what comes next.
In the studying of human behaviors and how our minds work, Psychology would be immensely changed given this alternate reality became the norm. Over this semester, we have studied several experiments that happened in history and produced results which led to psychological findings we have today, but the results or even the methods of testing might have differed if our society glorified older people. One experiment which pops into my head is the Milgram Experiment, carried out by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. In our book, it discusses how Milgram wanted to test the limits of just how far someone’s obedience to an authority figure would go, even if it involved causing harm or inflicting pain to another person. In this experiment, volunteers were recruited from various lifestyles, some unemployed, some professionals. They were awarded some money for simply showing up to the experiment. At the beginning of the experiment, they met with another volunteer. The catch though, was that this volunteer they met with was actually an accomplice to Milgrim. In the experiment, both volunteers would draw straws to randomly decided who would play the “teacher,” and who would play the “learner.” However, it was rigged to where one of Milgram's accomplices would always be the learner. Following this, they were led into two separate rooms - one with the “learner,” who was then strapped to an electric chair, and one room for the “teacher” and an experimenter who was played by an actor. The teacher was in control of the electric shock generator and was told to shock the learner every time he made a mistake in the experiment. On the generator was several different switches with increasing amounts of electric shocks. The learner (accomplice to Milgram) mainly delivered incorrect answers for the purpose of the experiment, and the teacher was supposed to shock him each time, with increasing amounts of electricity. If the teacher was hesitant to increase the shock amounts or wanted to stop, the experimenter would read out one of four “prods” to push the teacher further. “As a result of this experiment, around two-thirds of the participants continued to the highest level of volts delivered (450 volts), and all of them continued to at least 300 volts. (McLeod, 2007)” In this experiment, the results might have differed greatly if the subject being shocked, or even the one giving orders, was an old person. From what I have read about the experiment, the age of the subjects was never considered. If they were inflicting pain on an elderly person, they might back out of the experiment earlier.
Some other Psychology studies or theories could also be greatly affected if this change were to happen. If our culture was to place the older generations as more important, I could see this potentially changing our whole lives when looking at it from the Social Learning Theory standpoint. From a young age, according to this theory, many people around us influence how we will behave. From a process called modeling, where we watch and observe the actions of those around us, we learn our behaviors (McLeod, 2016). This means that if our culture glorified older people, we would adapt to that from a young age, simply by observing the world around us.
Additionally, in Freudian Psychology, we see the human psyche or personality split into three parts - the id, the ego, and the superego. Under this structure, Freud believed the Id to control the instincts, the ego to be connected to reality, and the superego to be connected to morality. Under all of these parts, the majority of the decisions we make, according to Freud, are unconscious. However, he compares the ego to a man on horseback, who has to control the power of the horse, with the horse being the id (Freud, 1923, p.15). The ego takes in the surrounding cultural norms to decide how to deal with the impulses of the id. If we, as a culture, placed importance on the older generations, our ego would recognize this and help control how we act in situations with older people. Maybe it would cause us to not instinctually block them out or disvalue their opinions.
Taking into consideration how our reality currently is, and how the world around me directly affects how I act on a daily basis, I believe that altering reality in this way would have a major impact on our lives and culture as a whole. Personally, I strive to have energy and an eagerness to work immediately after college, simply because I know companies are looking to hire young creative minds. In the current reality, many companies prefer younger people over the older people, even though we (the younger generations) don’t have nearly the knowledge or tenure of the veteran employees. This might be because they have this idea in their minds that we are quick learners and will get their work done quicker than older people. For them, fast work is efficient work. College students thrive off of knowing that people actually want to hire them because they are younger and have a degree. If this reality was to flip completely, however, an importance would be placed on learning as much as possible before entering the professional world. No longer would students expect to make big bucks immediately following graduation, but rather they would take time to focus on learning as much as possible before leaving school and joining the workforce. Upon getting these jobs, if older people were making the highest salaries, people would stress loyalty to companies and work their way up over years of service. Currently, people work one job for a few years, meet a few people, get an offer somewhere else, and leave. They are building resumes, but not relationships. If our culture put more importance on success in relationships and work, younger children would focus on long-term effects of their actions, education, and so on.
In other cultures, we see many differences in how elders are treated. The western cultural behavior to look down upon aging as scary is not the same as all cultures around the world. Here in America, it is normal for someone to be removed from society as they grow older. We hardly ever talk about older generations, but when we do, it normally isn't in a positive manner. When we talk about old people, it is often pertaining to sickness, health, or even about moving them to senior living facilities. In Greek cultures, however, elderly are of the utmost respected age group. In her book On Becoming Fearless, Arianna Huffington describes one of her experiences with this respect, it reads, “Ten years ago I visited the monastery of Tharri on the island of Rhodes with my children. There, as in all of Greece, abbots (leader of a group of monkeys) are addressed by everyone as ‘Geronda,’ which means ‘old man.’ Abbesses (women leader of monks) are called ‘Gerondissa.’ Not exactly terms of endearment in my adopted home. The idea of honoring old age, indeed identifying it with wisdom and closeness to God, is in startling contrast to the way we treat aging in America.” This is much different from our views on western culture. If we took these views and merged them with our psychological findings that our environment affects children from a young age, we could use it to teach the importance of older people in our society. Using the Social Learning Theory as a prime example, if young children in our society saw everyone around them celebrating those who are older, they would grow up with an appreciation for older people, and might even strive to be exactly like them one day.
- McLeod, S. A. (2007). The Milgram Experiment. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.html
- McLeod, S. A. (2016). Bandura - Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html
- Freud, S. (1923). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.
- Huffington, A. S. (2007). On becoming fearless: A road map for women. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.