Old People Problems – Or Life Is Too Short For Cynicism And Contempt
It’s tempting to respond to change with cynicism and contempt. It might also be the worst thing we can do.
Live for a while and the world starts to change around you. In your younger years this can be exciting. Things are getting better, becoming more how you want them to be. People your own age start taking places of influence, especially in popular culture, and it feels like your moment to shine.
But as you get older, maybe as you go from being the same age as star athletes to being the same age as their coaches or managers, the flavour of change starts to taste a little different.
Noticing The Problem
You notice it first in the generation above you. You suddenly become aware of how violently cynical they can be. I first noticed it in baby boomers’ attitudes to rap and hip-hop. Sure, a new(ish) genre going mainstream might not be to your taste. But is it dumb, stupid or non-musical? No; no way.
Then you notice it in your own generation – not just the cynicism, but the contempt. I feel it in my generation’s attitude to cosplay. OK, so you wouldn’t do it yourself. Fine. But being unable to see how it might be a fun hobby, or worse, to try and make out it’s some kind of generational moral and creative failure? Wow.
Cynicism and contempt are ways of expressing the fear of change, and especially of what change, new trends, new fashions, new ideas, new ways of doing things, what it all might say about us. We fear not being able to keep up. We fear not having influence. We fear being left behind.
We fear getting old.
Of course, it’s easier to make fun of social change, to criticise from a safe distance, than to change ourselves.
We Often See It Clearly In Technology
A lot of my personal identity has been tied up with being “good at computers,” from early programming experiences with a TI 99/4 to simple websites, and being certified in professional software from DB4 to Logic Pro.
For the longest time it was fun to be the early adopter, the familiar expert, the one who knew the tricks, shortcuts and hidden features. It partly defined my social status.
But, that’s started to change. It feels harder to keep up and maybe it isn’t as important any more. I’ve started to resent being asked to “help.” Increasingly, my answer is: I’d just google for a solution, why don’t you do the same?
Apple recently released Logic Pro 10.4, which included some beat-mapping improvements that are quite revolutionary. Sadly, it won’t run on my old 2008 Mac Pro. Do I want to buy a new computer to take advantage of this new software? A few years ago the answer would’ve been an automatic yes.
Now, I’m not so sure.
Of Course You Can Opt Out
I sat in my studio looking at that storied old Mac Pro. Bought in Hong Kong, lugged to Singapore, then shipped to Tokyo. I’ve built my music studio around it, built a noise-reducing cabinet to hold it, and spent, on its purchase, upgrades and software, more than on all the cars I’ve owned in my lifetime.
But is this where I get off the computer express and get onto a slower, local technology train?
Rather than resort to cynicism and contempt, one option is to simply accept change, and our place in relation to it. The newest tools are not always the best. This is who we are and here is our place in the world; now go make the most of it. If you do it without taking potshots at new trends, just doing your thing in a time-honoured way, it can have its own power.
Or We Can Change And Grow
Sometimes, when we try the new way, the experience is disorienting. For years I flirted with Adobe InDesign and Illustrator with no real commitment to making the relationship work. I knew my way around Photoshop (and Apple’s Pages) but it was clear that InDesign and Illustrator were better tools for specific kinds of work.
Part of the reason I created my zine, Modularity, was to force myself to explore InDesign and Illustrator. I could’ve done it with Photoshop and Pages but I forced myself out of that comfortable corner.
This was humbling. I know a little about computer typesetting and graphic design. But, that was all memories consigned to a tech graveyard. I learnt to lay out pages back when it was called Desktop Publishing, on programmes like QuarkXPress and Pagemaker (Adobe’s precursor to InDesign). When my focus shifted to online design, I took a course on Macromedia Freehand, which I used for a few years, but had stopped using by the time Adobe acquired it (and then eventually shut it down).
This kind of personal re-tooling is unpleasant and full of “why can’t I do this” moments. In many ways it’s worse than being a beginner because you know what you don’t know. It’s tempting to retreat into cynicism and contempt, to blame the software or its makers.
It’s tempting and pointless.
The Answer To Cynicism And Contempt Is Curiosity
“Misery loves company,” they say. Well, so do cynicism and contempt, and we’ll always find a listening ear if we indulge then, especially with a nice serving of nostalgia. But, we’ll also be assigning ourselves to an increasingly irrelevant place in society.
This isn’t a function of getting old. It’s a function of not playing the role that fits our age.
We look to our elders for their wisdom and experience, sure. But why? Because we want to believe we can make it too. We want to hear stories about overcoming adversity because we want to believe we can surpass our own challenges. The most attractive older people are always the ones who make us believe it’s possible, not just to survive, but to thrive.
Your ability to lead, or at least to stay relevant, will depend on being able to bring your wisdom and experience to the world as it is now, and to make life as it is today better, lighter, and more fulfilling.
The best way to overcome contempt and cynicism is to stay curious. The unfamiliar, the odd, the different, the new way of doing it, are all moments when we can choose to learn. Rather than look out and blame, look in and enquire, asking ourselves how we can grow in understanding and grace.
This involves being mindful of change. We might consider it a threat. But we can choose to experience it as a source of curiosity and wonder.
Ultimately, when we indulge cynicism and contempt we indulge fear, and decisions born of fear are seldom our best and never our most creative. Fear-based decisions make our world smaller and the barriers between us greater.
By contrast, acting out of a sense of curiosity is attractive, generous, and expansive. It feeds our creativity and fuels our relationships.