At 57, I don’t feel old, but surveys and forms I’ve filled out recently tell me otherwise. According to the vast majority I fall in the last age bracket. Up until 55, there are numerous classifications, often with a mere ten year span defining each one, but apparently after 55, the feeling seems to be, “Is there any point?” Is this discounting of age limited only to superficial and arbitrary categorizations in surveys or does it reflect a much deeper bias in general towards the value of older people?
Generations do not live out their lives in a vacuum. We learn from our past and this, combined with our understanding of our present, is passed on to the next generation. Religion, culture, family and social values, to name but a few, rely on this continuity – this passing of the baton. There are no short cuts to this kind of wisdom. It can only come from a life lived. This is not to say that we cannot learn from the young. On the contrary, we have a great deal to learn from our children but it is a different kind of wisdom, one that can only come from a life not yet lived, from fresh eyes and the innocence of childhood. Teachings from the old and young are both equally important to our survival and growth.
What’s changed? Two things: “Old” wisdom is no longer considered essential and ways for the old to share ideas has become prohibitively difficult. In a word – “technology.” The growing young generation has no need to turn to the old for answers, not when they have what they think they need at their fingertips. Smartphones define this generation. What can the old offer that can’t be found more quickly through an Internet search?
The simple solution would be for the old to share their ideas through the Internet but here’s the problem: The young wear technology like a second skin. We face this same technology with trepidation at best but usually with fear and despair and it is this hesitation that costs us dearly in the competitive world of communication. The road between our ideas and a public forum to showcase these ideas is difficult because we have in place a monstrous infrastructure that values the ability to process ideas rather than the ideas themselves. Entire publications focus on articles of “lists,” which unsurprisingly mimic the growing lack of attention span of this generation, who want information in bite form or not at all.
The publishing world that used to value writers who were wise, no longer exists. Instead, success in this much broader domain depends on the abilities of those who can shamelessly self-promote, a skill directly derived from confidence in navigating the system. The number of published articles with little substance abounds because young people have become our new experts. The young are learning from the young, a first in the history of mankind. So unchartered is this phenomenon that only history can be the judge of its outcome.
To clarify, I am not ignorant in this new era and have worked hard to understand technology. I have a website, Facebook page, Twitter and Linkedin; but understanding how to use them in combination to create a competitive online platform, is where I find myself lacking. And what of those who do not know that a Tweet is not a bird sound and Linkedin is not walking arm in arm? What of those who find mastering the ability to right click a mouse too daunting? What have we lost?
Even if we recognize our downward spiral, can we change direction? To do this, there needs to be enough dis-ease about our circumstances. We’ve heard the rumblings of our reliance on technology and our deterioration of emotional and social connection. Yet we still cling to our smartphones like they are lifelines. We are romanced by games to appease our boredom and Facebook friends to make us feel liked even though these relationships bear no resemblance to real ones. To take a stand we simply step off alone as this era of technology forges on ahead, with or without us, with momentum that has now become much greater in power than the combined power of those who invented it and set it in motion.