“Middle age” is a Potter Stewart condition, mushy in terms of definition but knowable when seeable. Or feelable.
(Potter Stewart was the Supreme Court Justice who said that hard-core pornography was hard to define but “I know it when I see it,” thereby providing lazy writers with a pocket metaphor. Much appreciated.)
At least for the Brits, or at least some of them, the ones who knew a survey when they saw it and took it. Beneden Health conducted this sampling of 2000 adults with accents and came to this conclusion, although nobody is surprised. Middle age is a concept ripe for denial; like the existence of God or most roughing the passer penalties, everybody has a take and they know they’re right.
I specifically remember someone calling me on my own personal definition a couple of years ago, in fact, teasing me a little about referring to myself as middle-aged. So screw you, buddy; it turns out a majority of the Queen’s loyal subjects think you enter this phase at around 53, which MAKES ME EXACTLY RIGHT.
I mean. It doesn’t mean the numerical middle of your life, we all know that, right? It’s a stage and a state of mind, a biological but mostly philosophical purgatory where we review our exaggerated youth and wait for joint replacements. Where we’re not there yet, which is all it is. Not there yet. Middle age. I know it, I see it, I am it.
What made the survey interesting to me, though, was the nice listicle-like finish to the piece, a top 40 of the signs and symptoms of The Beginning of the End (look, I used “listicle” in a sentence, only slightly inappropriately! I am so not old).
Looking this over, as I did sort of obsessively, it seems the Brits are pretty much like Americans, except for the expected vocabulary oddities that don’t cross the water, and a few references (“listening to the Archers” is a sign of middle age. Good to know). And I admit that “flogging the car” threw me at first. But hey. I like it. “Gonna flog the car this weekend” is now just waiting for an opportunity.
And while attitudes and tastes about music showed up several times, I have no such attitudes or tastes with which to compare. Seriously. Even when I was a kid, I was only barely aware of what the kids were listening to. Even when I was a DJ at my college radio station, I sometimes took a song request and then had to ask somebody else. I’ve always been a little neutral with music.
But I was surprised to see technology only show up once, albeit in the top spot. I can’t think of anything driving the zeitgeist in our time more than technology. And I think about stuff all the time.
It comes up because I’m heading out to lunch today with a couple of guys my age who hold different places on the technology ladder, although more in a horizontal sense than vertical (they’re aware of what’s there, just don’t have the need or desire).
I compare them to people I know who are slightly to more than slightly older than I am, half to two-thirds of a generation ahead. An aunt of mine at my niece’s wedding last month asked about my grandson and assumed I had “a whole stack” of pictures somehow miraculously stashed inside the pocket of my JC Penney sport coat, and then backed off when she saw me pull out my phone (“Oh, you have them on…”, trailing off exactly like that, a dangling preposition that told the whole story). These are people who have reluctantly agreed that yup, a cell phone might, on certain special occasions, come in handy, but they tend to carry the latest 2002 model and they treat it as we used to treat long-distance calling in my childhood: Only when absolutely necessary.
And they certainly view it as a phone and a phone only, just a portable version of that old reliable. Last week, in fact, having coffee with a couple of guys who (with their phones) match this description, I pulled my iPhone out on several occasions and they both asked me – NOT JOKING AT ALL – if it was the same phone. Which makes sense, really, given that I was demonstrating different functions and moving fast, slipping it in and out of view like either Penn or Teller (whichever one you like more), but even a couple of smart and savvy guys like this can’t fall behind the technology curve and ever hope to catch up.
So this is a sign, and I know it’s coming. I’m currently caught up, I think, but it’s heading my way. One day soon something new will show up and I just. Won’t. Do it. I’ll realize my comfort in obsolescence, and while I might pretend to be just “retro” we all know that it means I’ll just not want to learn anything new anymore.
And then I’ll be middle-aged, truly. And middle age is the new old age, and so on. Looking forward to lunch with my friends, at any rate. I’ve got pictures to show them, after all, and if they’re surprised by my phone, then, well. I know old guys when I see them, and look, nothing up my sleeve.