Sorry, older folks, but by some business strategies, you're obsolete

By John Kelly
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; B02

No offense, but if you are old, no one cares about you.

They don't care what makes you happy. They don't care what makes you sad. They don't care what opinions you have, how you spend your time, or what your life was like before you were old.

I come to this conclusion sadly, but not surprisingly. It was ever thus. Life is a factory that turns babies into old men and women. To be human is to be on a constantly-moving conveyor belt. The people at the beginning of the conveyor belt don't think they have much in common with those at the end of it.

For example, dozens of people called and e-mailed me to express how disappointed they are that Verizon is discontinuing its 936- weather line and 844- time line. In the space of just 10 minutes last week, I spoke with two women who both began the conversation exactly the same way: "I'm 89-years-old, and I call that every day."

All I could think was: "Eighty-nine years old? Oh, sweetheart, Verizon really doesn't give a blip about you."

And why should Verizon? Save for a few outliers who are in their 30s or 40s and have kids who dial the weather line, the phone company knows most of the service's users are older people who will be dead before too long.

Verizon would never say that, of course, but behind its pronouncement that the service is obsolete - supplanted by shiny new technologies - is the unspoken belief that the people who use it are a bit obsolete as well - and supplanted by shiny new people.

And I'm afraid many of the people who have gotten in touch with me do little to refute that argument. "I do not have Internet at home," wrote one. Several others wrote that they don't want to have to turn on their computers first thing in the morning to check the weather.

You mean your laptop isn't blazing away 24/7? What's wrong with you?!

We definitely have a prickly generation gap. Some of the people who commented on my story online were downright contemptuous of the people who were still clinging to the service. "Take your head out of the sand," wrote one. "There's a whole new world out there."

DCist, the Web site for the young and hip, snarkily headlined its blog post: "Verizon Killing Weather, Time Service You Didn't Know Still Existed."

(Age contempt can go both ways, it should be pointed out. I remember how irritated I was as a teenager when old people - in their 20s, say - wouldn't take me seriously.)

Verizon won't tell me how many people use the service. It apparently isn't enough to make it worth the company's while, even as a public service - a public service for blind people, several of whom contacted me. And rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, who base their dosage on the day's barometric pressure and told me the recorded weather report on Verizon is the only regular source of that information. And people whose homes lose power all the time, where the land line phone is the only thing that works, and thus the only source of weather information.

(I know some younger readers are going: Land line phone! Where do you keep it, Grandpa? Next to the Victrola?)

Someone started a Facebook page "Save the Verizon DC Weather Line." As of Monday, a paltry 99 people had "liked" it. But then that's not really how members of the weather-line demographic would express themselves, is it? They would write Verizon a letter, which would be ignored. They would call Verizon's toll-free number, then give up when they got mired in automated phone-tree hell.

I hear from lots of readers in this job, so many that I can't remember them all. But there's one reader I can't forget: a woman who called not long after I started writing this column seven years ago. I don't recall the exact topic of her call, just that she felt she was having trouble articulating what she wanted to say.

"You'll have to forgive me," she said, flustered. "I've never been old before."

No one has. Getting old - being old - will be new for each of us. It would be nice if we could show the same sort of empathy while we're young that we hope we're shown when we're old.

By the way, Verizon's fourth-quarter profits last year were $4.65 billion.

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