For all the talk of forty being the new thirty and age being only a number, it is indisputable that if we don’t die young, at some point we all get old. I feared this greatly. It wasn’t getting older that bothered me, but rather passing that line where I officially and beyond dispute was “old.” Yet knowing where that line lay was almost impossible for me to figure out.
I turned thirty-eight earlier this year. If I’d asked myself during my early twenties whether that would make me old, my answer would have been an unabashed “yes.” But that’s because everyone in their early twenties is a moron who doesn’t know anything but is convinced that they know everything. (This is in contrast to old people, who know something but are convinced that they know everything—a subtle but crucial difference.)
Why was I so concerned? Simple. I wasn’t as concerned about being old as about being old and thinking I’m young. Maybe there’s too much Bauhaus form-follows-function to my worldview, but the fact of the matter is that the old dude who thinks he’s young is one of Earth’s more cringeworthy, pathetic creatures. His female equivalent—the Botoxed first wife—is already well-documented as a subject of cultural derision. I didn’t want to be that man.
I began questioning my age when my buddy Rob started cracking jokes about it earlier this year, a first for me. On one hand, Rob was FIHS (fat in high school), so I took what he said with a grain of salt. On the other hand, old people who don’t realize their status are great at cognitive dissonance. I was left wondering whether his jokes stung because they had a bit of truth to them—and not because of the absurdity of a FIHS taking a potshot at someone.
I decided that one’s age can’t be the sole determinant of being old. There are plenty of people in their twenties who are grandparents, and clearly that automatically qualifies one as old. And there are many others who are in their forties who can still pass as young because they are young in every function other than their year of birth.
But if the actual age wasn’t the answer, neither was appearance. I still had all my hair and easily fit into size 30 jeans. The mirror was not going to be an effective advisor in this case. Many young people look older than their years, and vice versa. Or was I simply telling myself what I wanted to hear? Then there was a reprieve to my thinking. My buddy Kevin—24 years of age—PMed me to ask what I’d meant by “QFT.” If I was in a position to explain Internet slang, surely I couldn’t be old yet. So what was this elusive, objective criterion? Would I only uncover it when it was far too late?
This past May I went in for an interview at The Wire to discuss how I consumed media. The reporter wasn’t quite ready yet, so I stood around as she finished up a piece that she was working on. She had two monitors on her desk, and on the second one the entire screen was taken up by four vertical side-by-side windows. Each window was filled with tweets (or, as The New York Times prefers, “Twitter posts”) and was automatically updating. It looked just like a stock ticker, but reengineered for social media.
“Hey, what’s that?” I asked her.
“It’s TweetDeck,” she replied without looking up from her work.
I had heard of its existence, but that was the extent of my knowledge. “What’s that?” I said.
“Oh!” Now she turned around. She’d assumed that simply identifying the program would have been enough for me to follow. Clearly I needed an explanation, which she gave me then and there.
“So you can follow different categories of users in real-time,” I reiterated, feeling a quasi-awkward need to demonstrate that I’d followed what she’d told me.
“Looks very useful,” I said, while having no intention of ever looking at TweetDeck again.
And that’s when I knew that I was old.
My mind flashed to the three separate episodes of Judge Judy where she blurted, “What’s PayPal?” After hearing the explanation again and again, her reaction was always the same: “What happened to writing a check, and mailing the check, and the other person gets a check?” (Spoiler: PayPal happened.)
I thought back to my friend Janine’s work for a member of the British Royal Family. “Janine,” the woman wanted to know, “what is a ‘blog’?”
“Well, ma’am, a blog—or ‘weblog’—is an online journal….”
Now I had joined their ranks. I had encountered a new technology—I had comprehended its purpose and appreciated its utility—yet I had absolutely no intention of knowing anything else about it. I had my own way of doing things. It might be inefficient but it worked, and that was good enough for me. I was presented with a useful new technology and rejected it simply because it was a new technology. That, dear reader, is the objective criterion for deciding whether someone is old.
Now kindly get off of my lawn. Don’t you have schoolwork you could be doing?