Jessie Raymond: Getting older, and getting ‘the look’
On the whole, I’d have to say the pros of aging are so far outweighing the cons. But I do have one complaint: young people.
It’s not what you think: I’m not on the “millennials are lazy and entitled” bandwagon. I know a lot of millennials who work harder than I ever did at their age. You could say I was a millennial before the millennium.
No, my problem with the Youngs (by whom I mean anyone 30 or younger) is that they have no idea what life was like for those of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s (or earlier) — and they’re fine with that. All they know is our childhoods happened before their own, so who cares?
One of the fundamental memories of my childhood, for example, is the TV antenna. Down the hallway, far from the TV, we had a little console with a knob on it that would rotate the antenna up on our roof. One of us would crank the knob and wait for the antenna to turn — whirr, whirr, whirr — while someone else, monitoring the TV, would shout when the channel came in somewhat clearly.
While I think of that as a charming reminder of how much things have changed — now that high-def TV allows you to see the individual nostril hairs on NFL players — the Youngs express mild pity. If they manage any level of interest at all, it’s only to offer a half-smile that says, “Ew. What a primitive childhood you had to endure,” before turning back to their phones.
“No, no,” I want to say to them. “Those were the good old days. Don’t you get it?”
In contrast, when I mention our old antenna to my contemporaries, they jump right in and say, “We only got three channels, remember?” And that leads to a discussion of the shows we watched — “M*A*S*H,” “Mary Tyler Moore” — and how you had to be home when they aired; none of this “on-demand” nonsense we have today. (Hear my tone? It gets worse every year.)
The Youngs, instead of acknowledging how dull their short lives have been, seem to believe they’re simply too cool to have grown up in an era without cable or Netflix.
It’s kind of annoying.
The older I get, however, the more I realize that it’s part of a normal pattern. My childhood experiences don’t matter much to the next generation, just as theirs won’t hold up for those who come after them. We all feel that our time is objectively the best one.
It has only recently occurred to me that my grandmother — a well-traveled woman who lived through two World Wars, the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements, and innumerable personal triumphs and tragedies — perhaps felt similarly indignant when I laughed at her for not knowing how to program her coffeemaker.
Every generation has its day, only to be pushed out of the top spot by the next round of young people. Someday the Youngs will be the Middle-Agers, and they too will feel the amused dismissiveness of the younger generation.
I’m already seeing it.
The other day, my 28-year-old stepson mentioned that he had just started using Snapchat and was finding the interface less than intuitive. (Being a Middle-Ager, I have only a vague idea of what Snapchat is, but I do know it’s an app that does some kind of thing.)
“It’s starting,” I told him. “Struggling with technology is the first sign that you’re getting older.”
And then, to confirm it, his 18-year-old sister gave him the look.
It was the look I’m used to seeing from her and any of the other Youngs in my life. They give me the look when I talk about how, when I was a teenager, we had Sony Walkmans for playing music, “and there was no ‘shuffle’ feature on a cassette tape, let me tell you.”
They give me the look because, although I finally figured out how to “back up to the Cloud,” I don’t know how to retrieve anything I send there.
I get the look a lot. And if you’re of a certain age, you probably recognize it: a disbelieving, mildly disgusted smirk that means “Wow, are you seriously that far behind the times?”
Judging from my stepson’s stung expression, I believe it was the first time he’d ever been on the receiving end of that look.
But he’s a dad now. So you can bet it won’t be the last.
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