Life Begins at 40 — Second Life at 20

Lynette has more clever thinking bouncing around Flickr … and I was drawn first of all to this one featuring Rupert Murdoch, but then found this other that captured my imagination a little more ruthlessly. The two quotes are conceptually related, and Lynette nails it with the explanation:

There used to be all this talk of the “digital divide” and it was between the haves & the have-nots in terms of what they could afford. But I think there is an even bigger gulf in mindset between the generations. It’s the difference between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”.

Even those of us who are immersed or engaged with the Interweb on a daily basis are only first wave immigrants. We walk around with our online passports claiming early adopter status for Amazon, Yahoo, Google et al; we write blogs, MySpace pages and update our LinkedIn profiles. We think we have seen it all and know where it will go.

But the very fact that we know the NAMES of these devices and sites tells us that we are wrong — because our tired old twentieth century brains are built for obsolescence. The WAYS of thinking we have wired into our brains through the mishmash of culture, genetics and repeat patterning have ensured both our success and our future failure. Sure, we have been able to smash through barriers to innovation in the business and political worlds while opening new markets; we have seen the opening of China, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the death (but not trial) of Pinochet, the end of Apartheid … we had many of the right thinkers and participants just at the right time. But then, humankind always has done — we are always "of our time".

And this is precisely why people over 30 have a degree of difficulty grasping the fundamentals of digital identities — because, dear (old) friends, our time is past and passing. We are not of the present because our victories are already in the past. There may, of course, be other successes — perhaps grander than those of web 1.0 still due to us, and we may all be able to still have the times of our lives — but innovation for us now must focus around the application of knowledge and learning — even if that knowledge and learning points back to the foundations of postmodernism.

The fragmented postmodern identity that we have known and loved in its forlorn, empowered and schizophrenic manifestations is slowly, but surely, ceding its energy to the coming generation. Many will not mourn its passing while others will insist on its primacy — citing the role of history, the importance of "this" or "that" and the continual reassertion of the dominant paradigm.

Me? I think there may just be something in the Nintendo Brain Game … and opt for continuous learning. The sheer fact that I tried to iignore blogging, social media and Web 2.0 for years rings warning bells for me — but I am not yet ready to give in. They used to say that life begins at 40 … and while that may be uncomfortably close, I could easily have a Second Life who is 20. And while I may be virtually young again, I doubt I will again share in the reckless intelligence that made my 20s so much fun.


10 thoughts on “Life Begins at 40 — Second Life at 20

  1. Dude! Reckless ageism cliche alert! Please do not include all people as having a ‘tired old 20th Century brain built for obsolescence’.
    If you look at ANY survey from the Pew Institute, or even the Generational Media Study from the Online Publishers organisation you can see less than a 5% differential in attitudes and usage in the 25-60 range.
    “More older (55+) Internet users, 89%, think the Internet is a good place to go for social interactions or communications compared to 85% of younger users.” (4% difference) “Among Internet users who communicate with friends and family, 87% of those 65 years and over will do it online, compared to 79% of those under 65 years”. (8% difference).
    The attitude you are talking about has nothing to do with age- it has to do with a lack of commitment to flexibility.
    Everyone on the planet on the planet is living in the same time: Now. How people choose to experience that time is up to them.

  2. Cliche? Don’t know the meaning of the word 😉
    Good stats, Katie! I certainly don’t dispute the wide adoption of technology by older age groups (55+) — my own mother recently setup her own broadband connection, Skypes with my sister in Europe and sends me IM chat messages while I am at work. But I was trying to touch more upon states of being, belonging and identity.
    As a member of the “blog diaspora” I am sure you have met the blank faces of friends and families (and perhaps colleagues) who simply cannot understand what, why and how you blog.
    Rupert Murdoch’s quote fascinated me and frames this nicely around the concept of “natives” and “immigrants”. For the natives there is no interrupt between on and offline lived experience. And this experience of life will set the agenda for a whole plethora of innovation that cannot yet be imagined. But that is part of the fun.
    Actually, I reckon this debate is up Roger van Oech’s alley. I am sure he has some interesting texture on creativity and ways of thinking.
    I am not yet convinced that there is no obsolescence in all this … but am open to being convinced. Go on … shout at me some more!

  3. Wow. This is an AWESOME post, Gavin.
    I understand Katie’s response but actually think you’ve hit on something, Gavin.
    Though it is heartening to see usage stats with older folks, I’m with Gavin and I don’t believe that us older folks relate to these technologies the same way as the younger generations.
    You might want to read some Ursula Franklin, Katie. She’s done some interesting work on this issue.
    I don’t use IM or MySpace broadcasts the way youth do. And I don’t believe this is because of a flexibility issue. One might argue it’s because I don’t DESIRE to use it this way. And to some extent this is correct. I don’t use broadcasts more than email like many youth because I don’t want to discuss everything with everyone.
    So it’s not that I’m averse to IM or broadcasts. So you could argue that I use technology to support my desires and aims. But the nut of it all is that my choices are likely made even before DESIRE. Or conscious CHOICE, for that matter.
    Perhaps they are made by the very way I relate to the technology.
    Shake it up more Gavin!!! We all need it!
    P.S. Someone in my office noticed that the Friendster profiles (address, postal code, etc.) show up in Google even when marked private. They freaked. I doubt many youth today would care.
    P.S. P.S. It’s about time they deleted their Friendster profile. Sheesh. 😉 😉

  4. OK Gentlemen: every single one of Thomas Edison’s 1000 patents were developed after he was 30.
    Technology can support desires-but innovation can invent new ones. As a marketer and a digital evangelist I aim to be supporting and inventing desires for a good long time to come.

  5. Perhaps we are just showing our age here … I am getting on towards 80, and my good friend Old Sean Howard, kicks in at a sprightly 75.
    It is not that I don’t believe that those over 30 can innovate or invent or create. It is as Sean suggests … more to do with the a relationship to technology. I might understand it, rely on it and maybe even invent something using it, but my relationship to technology is fundamentally different to a young person’s.

  6. Coolness, Katie.
    My aim is not to argue against you. Rather, I support your focus and commitment to using technology to innovate.
    My point is not about effectiveness.
    Nor even about the appropriate use of technology, at this point.
    It’s simply about how we relate to technology. And that our view of the world is shifted from those who use technology differently from us.
    For example, Edison probably found himself relating to technology in a way that was different from young children at the time. It certainly did not stop him from being effective. Nor is it necessarily a bad thing.
    P.S. I don’t think my parent’s have yet to come to terms with the phrase “generation gap” though I know one exists between us. Maybe it’s a tough word/concept to come to terms with when it applies to us?

  7. lol. THAT is funny.
    I hit Post and suddenly there was a new post ahead of me saying what I meant to say FAR more succinctly. Beaten to the punch. 😉
    A younger person would just shrug and move on. Me. I spent the next few minutes contemplating on how to improve the comment system on blogs. 😉

  8. Provocative post, Gavin.
    Some of the points you make remind me of what my elders used to say about my generation in the 1950s and 60s — namely that we were growing up with television and our whole attitude about reality, life, and the world was different from people who group up during the Depression and WWII. Everyone seemed to survive.
    I’m 58. One of the things I’ve gotten from blogging (and connecting with people in their late teens, twenties, and early thirties) is a greater appreciation for my own life experience. I did participate in the “Summer of Love” (’67), remember Khruschev pounding his shoe at the UN, fathered two children, and knew Apple Computer before it was a public company. These experiences plus many others give me a perspective that I didn’t have when I was 21. It’s fun to learn from the younger people. But I believe there will always a “new thing.” I think all generations share that.
    The best part of your post was discovering Katie Chatfield with whom I was previously unfamilar.
    Best wishes,
    Roger von Oech

  9. What a wonderful and thought provoking post and comments. Gavin, you’ve definitely hit on something! I think there is a nearly tangible difference between the way we view technology right now if we are 20, 40, 60 or 80. Technology has a different pull on us at these ages, a different use/purpose for us, and a differing level of importance.
    About technology, it seems to me that those on the younger end tend to see opportunities in terms of what isn’t yet available, seeking to fill that void. And those on the older end tend to look at what is available and think about how to apply it to past or present problems. For real innovation, even Steve Jobs says: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” — of course, the “smart people” he’s talking about in the tech industry are mostly the young.
    My colleague, Ron Baker at VeraSage, teaches that in recorded history there are about 4000 ground-breaking innovators. Certainly some important innovations came from older people (Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, etc) but for the most part, here is the breakdown he references:
    “The largest mass of great innovations in knowledge came in the 30s (42%), but a substantial amount also came in the 40’s (30%), and some 14% came beyond the age of 50. …only 7%…at or before the age of 26.”
    This is cited in a very provocative article Ron wrote about the lack of innovation from stodgy accountants. In the article, he lists several notable innovations and the ages at which they occurred as well as other resources for information on this topic.
    If you have an interest in that article, it is called Old Dogs Don’t Create New Tricks and is is found here:
    I’m really enjoying your blog and am thankful to the Z-list for introducing me to you.

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