Anyone who has watched Star Trek, which is about everyone, knows that the Romulans have developed a cloaking device which renders their spaceship invisible. Here on Earth, scientists are trying to develop the technology to make this Romulan sci-fi device a reality, rendering objects invisible to the human eye.

Imagine a cloaking device that can make people invisible! You could walk into a store or stroll down the street without anyone seeing you. Think of the possibilities.

Well, you can now have your own cloaking device. That is, if you are over 55.

No, there is no age requirement for owning this device. Actually, you don’t own it. It is not something you can buy. It is something you become.

In short, we discovered that the easiest way to become invisible is to be old and gray. That’s it. Get old and have gray or white hair, and you will be invisible.

We happened upon this discovery, strangely enough, at a social gathering, which was attended by people of all ages. We found that older people were ignored by the younger generations. It was as though they were not there. No eye contact was made. Old people were noticed at first, and then became invisible to the rest of the crowd.

The key to being invisible, then, is to look really old. The older you look, the more powerful your cloaking device.

Being an anthropologist, I needed to test this cloaking device for myself to see how it worked. I am in my late 50’s, with white hair. At least, the little hair I have left is white. And when I grow a beard, it’s white, too.

I did this experiment in Hawaii, where the locals appreciate a cleanly shaven head. To create a baseline to measure the power of my cloaking ability, I decided to shave my head and face. This left only my eyebrows, which are still slightly blonde, and my nose and ear hairs, which I trimmed as best as possible. Clean shaven from the neck up, I looked like I was in my late forties.

I went to the supermarket, post office, and shopping mall and tried to notice how many people made eye contact or smiled. As a bald man seemingly in his late forties, I was pretty popular. Lots of smiles and eye contact. I felt part of the crowd.

I then let my white hair grow back on my head and face, which took about a month. As it did, my apparent age seemed to rise steadily, until I looked like I was in my mid to late 60’s. I went from looking ten years younger when shaven to looking ten years older, a span of 20 years of apparent aging.

Going back to test my new appearance at the same public places, the reaction from people was plain to see. Less eye contact. No conversation. I was able to walk past people, right past them, without their even noticing my presence.

In several instances, I had been walking with my 23 year old son, who came upon some people he knew. We stopped walking so he could chat for a moment. I stood there next to him. Nobody made eye contact with me. When I was introduced I received a quick glance, and again became invisible.

It was as though I were not there. I was no longer a person with something to say. I was less interesting than a dog on a leash, or a baby in a stroller. I still filled space. But the others just looked through me and walked around me.

It worked! I had become invisible.

But I soon learned that there were some others for whom my cloaking device of old age did not render me invisible. I was seen by other people cloaked by old age, who smiled with some faint recognition that we were in the same invisible club.

The results of my little experiment made it clear that invisibility is not really about you, but about how other perceive you, or don’t perceive you. It is a reflection of who they are, not of who you are. It’s not that old people are invisible. It’s just that others are blind to them.

People are blind to many things, rendering much of life invisible. All prejudice and bias causes blindness. Some people are so convinced of their world view that they cannot see anything else. And in a culture where old people are devalued and regarded as irrelevant, their presence is ignored and they become invisible by the blindness of ageism.

Ageism is thus a cloaking device, a source of blindness of the young. Ignorance, prejudice, bigotry, dogmatism, zealotry, hatred, and extremism are all causes of blindness.

Instead of trying to develop cloaking devices to expand the invisible, we should be focusing on increasing our ability to see what really is, even if it is old and gray.

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Sydney Ross Singer is a medical and environmental anthropologist, author, and director of the Good Shepherd Foundation, located on the Big Island. Sydney is a pioneer of applied medical anthropology, and he is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease.