Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why It is Harder to Get Old



I'm expecting my first child in a little less than five months, and though it comes as no shock to me that my perspective on certain things has already been altered, there is one area in which my constancy of perception may be surprising. I have no heightened sense of aging or, to put it more accurately, I have no sense that the passage of time is in any way accelerating.

I realize that conventional wisdom holds that as one ages, experience piles on top of experience, repetition of patterns become entrenched, and time moves faster. As we all know, one year to a five-year-old is a big deal, whereas one year to an adult is just another year. And conventional wisdom also holds that in regards to children, "they grow up so fast."

Yet I can't help but mull over how these two aspects of conventional wisdom are contradictory. How can they grow up fast if they are perceiving time so slowly? Are we really perceiving the "growing up" as occurring rapidly as it is happening, or is this actually a retroactive determination? I guess I will find out for sure and report the results in a couple of decades, but for now, I lean toward the latter hypothesis.

I realize that I have no firm memories prior to the age of about five. And I really didn't have a grasp of what was going on in the world (e.g. politics, pop culture) until I was seven or eight. So that means that my son won't really start to comprehend the external world (on a global scale that is) until 2016 at the earliest. By 2016, The 9/11 attacks will be as old as the Challenger explosion was then. The Challenger explosion will be as old as the birth of rock and roll was on that fateful day in 1986, and the advent of Elvis will be as old as the Spanish-American War was when Mr. Presley first took the stage at the Ed Sullivan theater.

When my son is 10 years old, he should be old enough to have memorized the names of the Beatles. At that point, the Beatles will have been broken up for 50 years. (And it will have been 63 years since John met Paul).

So in light of all this, how can I still maintain that I have no sense that time is accelerating? Well, it helps that culture itself has slowed to the point of stagnation. To wit:

1) After remastering their catalogue, The Beatles have sold 2.25 million CDs in the last week. This is a band that last recorded an album when the cassette tape hadn't hit the mass market yet.
2) Last week I overheard some of my students (college freshmen) discussing the playing of Super Mario Brothers 3, a game that was popular when I was in middle school.
3) I just randomly searched my facebook friends list for a person under 20. The first movie he lists under "favorites"?: Its a Wonderful Life.

Because of the cultural fragmentation that the Internet age has bestowed on us, it is harder to get old. When more 15-year-olds have seen Star Wars than any current release, when more 16-year-olds have the Beatles on their ipod than Lady Gaga, not only is there less of a cultural generation gap, there is less generational definition. Whereas once young people constructed generational identity largely through embracing the opposite of what came before, now matters of collective identity are secondary (if they register at all).

An important clarification: I'm not suggesting that we now have a cross-generational shared set of cultural reference points, but rather that there is no longer a centrality of reference points, specifically a centrality constructed by youth. We may still have popular phenomena, (e.g. Harry Potter, Twilight, or Hannah Montana) but ultimately, a person's decision, either conscious or unconscious, to avoid such phenomena is imbued with more legitimacy, and no longer considered a sign of being outmoded. Somebody who had no knowledge of the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1986 was a rube; somebody without that knowledge today is a normal person.

Or perhaps I'm just being selective in my analysis. If that is the case, I'll know it the first time my progeny refers to me as his "old man."

1 Comments:

Blogger JadesMan07 said...

congratulations on being a father soon. Things do seem a lot older as your child gets older. just remember though, your only as old as you feel.

12:29 PM  

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