Physical aging is nothing compared to the horror of not 'getting' young people
I thought I'd feel differently about aging. I thought I'd care more about graying hair, sagging flesh, and the pretzel dough paunch that collects on your stomach after you've let two large babies live in your body. Yet as I prepare to say goodbye to my 30s, I can't summon up more than a shrug about all that.
Instead, what I find genuinely terrifying about aging is that I've completely lost the ability to understand or communicate with anyone under the age of 35.
I've never been that tuned in to anyone younger than me apart from perhaps my own children. But now I find myself having completely slipped off the youth cultural cliff. In the presence of younger people, from loud middle schoolers to aloof bar staff and baristas, I'm bewildered — a toddler watching grownups go about their business. Half the time, I'm not even tuned in enough to be ironically amused by their generation-specific ridiculousness.
Months back, I gave our new 21-year-old babysitter a fairly lengthy briefing on how our television works. She sat listening politely and then told me she planned to be on her phone all evening. I just about knew she didn't mean talking on it.
I got coffee at Whole Foods recently and after silently acknowledging my order, my barista asked, "Room?" Was she after a number? Nope. It later emerged that she wanted to know if I needed space for milk, but she had initially asked in code. A code I don't know.
Up until more recently than I care to admit, I still got gifs and memes confused. And it was around Wednesday last week, when I decided to fully dig down into my ignorance to write this piece, that I discovered Drake is not, in fact, a male duck.
I need a warm bath to de-stress every time I have to remember a password, or book and subsequently locate an Uber.
I don't know how to make music come out of the big, expensive block with no buttons in our house that I've definitely seen my husband use.
My sister, who's nearly 30, recently broke the news that I am the only person in her life she emails. I also have no idea how to use Snapchat or Venmo.
Grudgingly, I have Facebook, mainly because I'm a British expat and it make sense as a method to, very occasionally, tell people back home how things are going. But I still can't stand to look at it more than a couple of times a week. And I have a virtually dormant Twitter account. Now, though, I'm sensing that turning your back on social media is becoming cool, so I may accidentally find myself, for a brief second, on-point. We'll see how long that lasts.
What do I do now? Try to close up the generational void, or embrace it?
A few years back, when I first sensed a linguistic and technological chasm opening up between me and The Young, I relished it, like an old person who's reached that sweet spot where it's acceptable to dismiss all new music as noise or thwack passersby with a walking stick.
Back then, these newly branded millennials, with their Pinterest accounts and rooms on campus for hugging and tickling, were still fluffy ducklings; more of a joke than a demographic with clout. My lot were still in charge of inventing culture, really, so I could turn my nose up at whatever apps were supposed to be cool, and merrily zone out anything vernacularly confusing. Shunning newness didn't seem like a big deal.
But now it's becoming a problem. The fallout from middle-aged me's disinterest, stubbornness, and mild fury at fast advancing technology and culture is that I don't know what anyone young is saying, ever. This becomes peak problematic when I actually need to interact with these people. The couple of generations behind me are becoming CEOs and parents, and I'm exactly what I've spent the last 20 years accusing my elders of being: angrily befuddled by everything needed to get by in life. Even my dad has an Instagram account and (so I'm told) posts a lot of pictures of attractive dinners and landscapes. I, on the other hand, still can't work out why anyone would want to look at someone else's doctored photographs.
At school, pop culture knowledge just seemed like currency you needed to not be bullied rather than something particularly fun, but I did pay attention. Part of the appeal of becoming an adult for me was that I could retire from the grindingly dull task of having to memorize the names of people in bands. Now, though, it turns out there's just as much for me to have to jam into my obstinate head, only I've been in an elective coma for a decade, having reached my progress and cultural evolution saturation point around 30. Just the thought of trying to catch up on everything I've missed is exhausting.
I'm part of a generation that remembers a time before email and texting and chat rooms. I learned these things in gentle increments in my 20s, and with my porous young brain, it wasn't a problem. I scoffed at, and even felt bad for, anyone older who said that they weren't prepared to try new stuff.
Now, I get it. When the world changes but you decline to take notes, it feels liberating for a while, but switches quickly to disconcerting before landing you in total bewilderment territory. So I think I want a do over on my 30s, and this time I'll pay attention.