danah boyd has a very insightful posting about the transitions in life that mark design challenges. I believe she’s dead-on with the distinction between youth and adulthood, which is the difference between finding an identity and exercising that identity. But I think she’s missing how engaged older people are with the shaping of their community:
There comes a point when people stop thinking that they need to give give give. They’re done and they want to reflect and share and just be. Older people are proud of what they did do and they tell stories. They share with their children and grandchildren and they find utter joy in watching them grow up. They talk about their children and grandchildren to friends with proud voices, sharing the joys of their stories. Older folks are no longer invested in working and being productive citizens. It’s more a matter of life maintenance and reflection.
Look at the evolution of political action over the last 30 years of life, when older people find the time to engage with their community after a lifetime of work. During a working life we exercise our identity through action, but older people get the time to live the message they believe.