How do human beings make sense of rapid changes in their environment? What happens when we reach an age where keeping up with the next "new thing" is just a waste of time?
Parents have no choice but to do their best to understand the world that their children live in.
Elvis Presley scored his first hit with Heartbreak Hotel in 1956. Parents born in the 1920s really struggled with the changes brought by a generation of rock and rollers. But by the time the Beatles showed up on Ed Sullivan in 1964, those same parents were reconciled to the idea of youth culture. The Fab 4 needed a haircut, but the idea of teenagers going crazy for pop music was an established phenomenon.
On the other hand, folks who were 65 when Elvis ignited the airwaves had a completely different experience. These were people born in the Victorian Era, who fought in World War One, and survived the flu pandemic. These were people whose adult lives were dominated by Depression and war. When radio played Heartbreak Hotel, they were at retirement age, so not only did they have no children to relate to Elvis through, they had no younger co-workers either. If you were 65 in 1956 you had absolutely no incentive to adapt to the world of rock and roll. Stack some 78s on the phonograph and remember the good old days before "teenager" was even a word.
But the world kept changing. Twenty years later, Gerald Ford ran against Jimmy Carter for President of the United States. Nixon had hosted Elvis at the White House. How did the folks who had never ever wrapped their head around Elvis vote in the 1976 Election?
They didn't vote at all, actually. They were dead.
In 1956, the year of Heartbreak Hotel, 14.9 million Americans were age 65 or older.
In 1976, the year of Ford vs Carter, only 1.9 million were left (age 85 and older).
That's a survival rate for the pre-Elvis Generation of 12.7%.
Fast forward 40 years from 1976 to 2016.
In the battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the story which got the most press coverage, by far, was the fact that four years ago, Hillary Clinton had used a private server for Official State Department Business. Over time we learned that this private server broke exactly zero laws and had exactly zero negative consequences for the United States and its citizens. Exactly zero. But can you relate to the mix of work and private emails?
So, work emails? When did that even become a thing? Approximately 1996. The Internet was basically the Elvis of 1996. If you were a parent at that time, the World Wide Web was something you had to get a handle on, fast. Even if your children were grown, the Internet radically changed the world of work. Folks who were retired in 1996 may have eventually figured out Facebook and how to forward emails to their friends, but they never experienced the connected workplace. They were a generation whose decades of racist, sexist and just plain stupid workplace conversations took place on the phone or in person and vanished into the ether just as soon as they happened. The massive change wrough by the trove of recorded workplace conversations entirely passed them by.
In 1996, the breakthrough year of the Internet, 33.9 million Americans were age 65 and over.
In 2016, the year of Trump vs Clinton, 6.3 million of those pre-email Americans were still around (were age 85 and over).
That's a survival rate of 18.5% for the pre-email generation.
The point isn't that any specific age cohort couldn't adapt to any particular change. The point is that every year there are more changes and, simultaneously, more people who are too old to adapt to those changes.
And they voted for Trump:
Source for 1996 data: