Us vs. Them

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Since I’ve been spending more time in the world of games and tech, I’ve been encountering a lot more young people than I would normally spend time with, and I have to say, it’s pretty interesting. First off, I have to point out that while agism is really apparent in a lot of industries (again, film biz, absolutely), tech and games might be among the worst. If you’ve been watching the HBO series Silicon Valley, you’ll see this parodied hilariously, but it’s one of those things that’s funny because it’s entirely true: the overall belief in tech is that young people really are saving the world with these ideas that they think they were the first to come up with. Now, certainly there is a lot of technology that is being created and explored for the first time, and, as a result, as I talked about in my last blog, the way folks — often, yes, young folks who aren’t shackled by the old ideas of generations past —are coming up with new ideas that are “disrupting” in all sorts of ways is pretty exciting. However, some of them clearly don’t realize how much of what they’re coming up with builds on all what came before — how all art and science, in fact, does and has always done that (anyone else out there watching Cosmos?), which is, duh, a large part of what’s great about art and science.

Now, it’s not entirely the fault of certain people in their 20s and early 30s that they think everything that they do and think is awesome and original. Our culture is obsessed with youth, we all know this. The young are fresh, they’re hopeful, they’re supple, many of them can booze, drug eat crap and not sleep and still look frustratingly hot. Plus, in the tech world, VCs and other people with money fawn over this demographic, because, on top of drinking the Youth Kool Aid, they need people who literally have the time and energy, which people my age generally just don’t, to devote to the round-the-clock schedule required to get a start-up off the ground. Additionally, there’s the much-discussed fact, very apparent to anyone who watches Girls (yes, you’ve discovered my secret: I watch way too much TV) but also often seen in an age bracket that should be old enough to know better, that the Millennials were brought up by their baby-boomer parents to think that they are special flowers who can do no wrong. 

But regardless of who’s responsible, people in their 20s to early 30s — and bear in mind that I am really mainly talking about a certain subset of people this age who are basically the first-world, educated, upper middle class — are just different than those of us who are a little older, and prone to a certain way of thinking about things which suffers from and perhaps also benefits from…dare I say it? Lack of experience. Now I’m not claiming that people my age are all super awesome to be around either — no, ha, far from it. Only that it does sometimes feel like like folks born roughly before 1980 and folks born after are members of different species. 

Here’s how I sum it all up, this aging process from your 20s through your 40s, and how it shapes your personality.

Early 20s: This is when you’ve just gotten out of college, where you were first exposed to a whole variety of new ideas and people that (hopefully) blew your mind, and you are now excited about applying what you’ve drawn from all that to the rest of the world. As a result, you think you know everything. Case in point: I remember when, at 25 or so, I met up with some 22-ish former frosh of mine who had just graduated, and before I even knew I was asking for it (because I wasn’t), they quickly started giving me advice. Sure, it was amusing at first, and I kind of liked being able to say, “Yeah, it’s not so easy as that, you’ll see,” but of course they didn’t see at the time, because how could they possibly know how much there was out there to learn? Which ultimately makes these folks insufferable to anyone older who isn’t really just interested in having sex with them — and even then they still are, but you’ll put up with it if the sex is that good/important to your self-image.

Mid-to-late 20s: By this time, you have figured out there’s a lot you don’t know about the world, but you think that’s a good thing, and so consider it your oyster. You have that feeling of possibility and the desire to try almost anything once. This is a great age to try on a new career, or go traveling by yourself.  People in their late 20s also sometimes have the magical ability to make those of us who are older feel young. When I was last dating, in my late 30s, I found more men in their late 20s to be interested in me than men who were more age-appropriate. Why? Because they were curious and unafraid. It’s kind of wonderful, really. Even now, I still can’t help but like people in their late 20s, at least for the first half hour.

Early-to-mid-30s: this is when you start to think you’re old enough to have acquired “wisdom.” You’re far enough from your childhood and teen years that you have some perspective on them and, especially if you’ve finally started therapy, you’re discovering how damaged they made you, so that everything becomes about trying to figure out exactly why you are the way you are. So this is an age when you are really in danger of oversharing. My example of encountering this age group is when I went to a games conference recently where (surprise) everyone was younger than me, including nearly all of the presenters. Many had a lot to say — after all, they were chosen to speak for a reason — and many of them did actually have interesting experiences that were enlightening to me. But then there were others. One of the speakers talked about a disaffected rockstar who flamed out just before her time, as if his view of the world was a defining moment in history. I get that it was for her generation, but, no, it wasn’t for everyone. To some us, his disillusionment was part of a continuum — because we knew about punk, and the Smiths, and I mean, we were Generation X, for crying out loud, we invented disaffection. Oh, no, wait, the activists of the 60s did that — I mean, the social reformers of the 30s did that — I mean…you see what I mean. Suffice to say, this is another very navel-gazing time, and especially, again, for those damn Millennials, some of whom are arriving there right about now.

Mid-to-late-30s to early 40s: I think this, as a time period, is the hardest to define in the kind of broad and obnoxious strokes that I’m using here, because by this time people’s experiences — even in the tiny subset of the first-world-upper-educated-middle that I set out at the beginning — have really diverged. Some are married, some aren’t, some have families, some don’t, some have careers, some are realizing they don’t. I think what they often have in common, however, is that now that they’ve re-examined the past to death, they start to look more closely at the present. Very often, they start to see that their lives are potentially half over, and start to question the choices they’ve made — hence the term “mid-life crisis.”

Mid-40s: This is when we all definitely know we’ve hit middle age, because we get really cranky. It’s amazing anyone can stand anyone by the time we get here, because we are all such a compendium of past joys and disasters. Sometimes it seems we are like pinballs, bouncing between bumpers of pain and annoyance. And because of this you finally realize that being honest about how you’re really feeling doesn’t always solve things. Sometimes, in fact, it makes things worse. But there’s also a wonderful acceptance that comes at this point, when you realize you’re kind of stuck with yourself, and that not everything and not everybody out there is going to work for you. For situations in which you have to spend extended periods of time with people — work, travel, romantic relationships — you need to find those who complement you, in that their jagged edges somehow fit yours. Relationships and situations that don’t do that can just be exhausting, because you’re sure that they are pissing you off on purpose, when really they’re just being what or who they are. Sure, something about how you make each other crazy is what brought you together, and sometimes you can get to a point where you only allow them to make you crazy in a good way while avoiding the bad, but that takes a lot of work. In the end, you’ll probably look back on those experiences and say you’re glad you had them, but you’re really glad you’re not having them any more. 

Now, reading back, it seems like I’ve been more than fair, given that I’ve somehow managed to make people the age I am now sound worse than everyone else. Swell. For a similarly gloomy take on the late 40s, 50s and 60s, tune in again in the unfortunately-not-too-distant future. 

But here’s the thing: we need each other. Okay, “need” might be a strong word, as in “I need for these younger people to recognize how cool I am,” which I totally do not. Or maybe a little, being ignored always brings out the pathetic high school reject in me. Still, the point I’m trying to make is that, as far apart as we often seem, we will do much better work if we work together. Those young whippersnappers could benefit from a little bit of our experience, even if they don’t realize it, and we would profit from some of their fresh outlook and insouciance, even if it sometimes drives us nuts. Since we were once them and they will eventually be us, you would think this wouldn’t be so hard, but of course, that’s also what makes it that way. We can tell each other “Don’t think like that,” and yet it is somewhat inevitable that we must.

All I can say is, young ‘uns, I get where you’re coming from, I really do. I know how fascinating the world can look through your eyes, and I would never want to deny you the pleasure of that — and the pain of being disabused of it — even if I could. But someday, you will be my age, and you will be just as frustrated with the cult of the new idea, and how little we sometimes seem to value what, and who, came before us. 

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