And, to be fair, some aspects of the picture are grounded in fact. We do tend to become sicker as we grow older, which makes us less independent, and many of us eventually require care. Though most will never experience dementia—and the implications of non-dementia-related cognitive decline are seriously overblown—it’s true that when dementia happens, it almost always occurs in old age. The same can be said for death: In 1900, when most people in the United States died before age 50, death was a constant threat that stalked everyone, all the time. Today, by contrast, 81% of U.S. deaths occur after the age of 65, which represents a great victory over a world that is always conspiring to kill us. In the process, however, age has taken on morbid overtones. It is now the only time when we expect to die.

The fact that old age is also the only time in life that routinely sees new years added to it, meanwhile, gets lost, as do many other possible reads on aging. “The old” make up a population so diverse that it almost defies characterization. Depending on when you decide old age begins, the group can be said to account for people found anywhere along a 50-plus-year span of life, with every imaginable level of physiological health, cognitive ability and wealth represented, along with every type of personality; ideologies of every stripe; and every race, nationality, creed, gender and sexual identity to be found on this blue Earth.

The idea that there exists one single state of older being that kicks in at age 50, 65 or at any other single age, defies all logic. So does the idea that there is one single, normal way to live a later life. If the way we conventionally think about old age is not tied fast to the facts of biology, economics or sociology, it must contain elements of fiction.

Our narrative of old age has already cost businesses untold losses in terms of failed launches, missed opportunities, and off-target products. Worse, because products and marketing reinforce social norms, the narrative’s prophecy becomes self-fulfilling. Products that treat older adults merely as a needy, greedy headache to be taken care of, not an enormous group of people with diverse goals and motivations, remind us every day that to be old is to be always a taker, never a giver. Always a problem, never a solution. Even more troublingly, subpar products restrict what we can do with ourselves. When we grow old, we simply don’t have the tools we need to stay competitive in the workforce, or contribute culturally, or stay connected or remain independent for as long as possible, because those products either don’t exist yet or are built for younger users. If they are intended for older users, they are presented in such a way that people find them embarrassing or alienating to use.

Such failures to connect with older consumers, however, are about to come to an end. Our new, older world is arriving, and the going narrative of aging will soon give way.

The People Our Parents Warned Us About

In a twist of poetic justice, the baby boom—a force responsible for much of the explosiveness of the “demographic time bomb”—is in fact poised to significantly improve the experience of old age—right in the nick of time before the world grows older for good.

One thing is certain: What the boomers wanted, they got—and it didn’t matter if it squared with what prior generations said was good or right. In the humble words of Jimmy Buffett, the baby boom generation’s mixologist-in-chief (and my favorite waterlogged poet): We are the people our parents warned us about.

Now, however, the boomers are facing a future that is not set up to give them what they want. Today’s products have been built in the context of the going narrative of age, and that monolithic, homogenous story diverges wildly from the lived existence of the many varieties of older people.

Enter the boomers. Technology permitting, businesses and products have always attended to their every whim. When they discover that old age won’t work for them the same way, I don’t expect them to take it quietly—I expect a revolt. They will demand products that dovetail with their wants and needs, and punish companies that fail to provide them. Objects in institutional shades of beige and grey, services suggested because “they’re for your own good”—that kind of approach is simply not going to fly anymore.