Technology reduces the value of old people

Old people have never been as quick or energetic as young people, but societies have often valued them for their accumulated skills, knowledge, and wisdom. The ancient Egyptians considered a person to be truly old at age 80, though Ramesses the Great lived to perhaps 90 or 91 and Pepi II may have lived to 98. In a continuous culture that spanned 3000 years it would be quite reasonable to ask someone born 80 years earlier about best practices in art, agriculture, architecture, construction, or military technology.

What has the increasing pace of technological development done to old people in our age?

Let’s start by considering factual knowledge. An old person will know more than a young person, but can any person, young or old, know as much as Google and Wikipedia? Why would a young person ask an elder the answer to a fact question that can be solved authoritatively in 10 seconds with a Web search?

How about skills? Want help orienting a rooftop television aerial? Changing the vacuum tubes in your TV? Dialing up AOL? Using MS-DOS? Changing the ribbon on an IBM Selectric (height of 1961 technology)? Tuning up a car that lacks electronic engine controls? Doing your taxes without considering the Alternative Minimum Tax and the tens of thousands of pages of rules that have been added since our senior citizen was starting his career? Didn’t think so.

The same technological progress that enables our society to keep an ever-larger percentage of old folks’ bodies going has simultaneously reduced the value of the minds within those bodies. It is sad to contemplate. Perhaps the answer is for every old person to become an expert personal computer and network administrator. Those skills always seem to be in demand by the general public.

Another answer would be to develop obvious wisdom. Unfortunately, the young people who are most in need of an elder’s wisdom are the least likely to realize it. Only a small percentage of old people throughout history have managed to maintain high status and value purely through wisdom. Examples that come to mind include the Buddha (died at 80) and Confucius (died at 72). Their would-be modern counterparts are most likely forwarding cautionary emails to younger relatives about the dangers of opening particularly virulent email messages.

I recently wished a friend a happy birthday. He is in his 50s with a young wife and two-year-old children. All his life he has been valued for and earned his living with musical creativity. Here’s his reply:

I have been declared inept by my household! It only gets worse. You are not judged by your intelligence but by how well you do menial tasks. I have been spiritually castrated. I am a walking corpse. The only freedom is when I write.

Good ideas for maintaining relevance and value in old age would be welcome in the comments section.

46 Comments

  1. Jake

    October 30, 2009 @ 12:02 am

    1

    I actually wrote about this in some detail in On The Wisdom of Elders and [Its] Decline, which in turn responds to another blog post.

    Good ideas for maintaining relevance and value in old age would be welcome in the comments section.

    My best guess: don’t assume age automatically earns respect. Given that this comes from a 25-year-old, however, you should consider its source.

  2. Roger

    October 30, 2009 @ 12:55 am

    2

    Let’s examine the skills examples given….

    Orienting a rooftop television aerial? We have dishes now, I just break out my sat finder and it’s a breeze…
    Changing the vacuum tubes in your TV? Everything in a TV is now surface mount, I dont know anyone (young or old) who changes the transitors or chips in his TV whan it goes wrong.
    Dialing up AOL? With th internet it’s all plug and play (nothing to do). How many of you young hackers can configure pppoe from the ground up?
    Using MS-DOS? Gone, and whats replaced it is simpler….
    Changing the ribbon. Anyone who could change a ribbon, can sure as hell change the toner tank on a modern printer.
    Tuning up a car… Not possible any more without special and expensive workshop tools…
    Doing your taxes … There are programs that I can buy that do that for me…

    I wold be very suprised if someone who could master the old skills could not master the modern technology, which is on the wholöe simpler.

    My father (who is over 80) was happily using windows to create documents and labels, send e-mails up until his stroke. I am 60 and a programmer/electronics engineer. I can program in 6 programming manguages, and actively use 4 (c, python, javascript, Erlang). I can solder surface mount compinents using the latest techniques.

    The skills that the yoiunger generation lack are:
    - Fluency in combinational logic and Boolean algebra.
    - Using an ocilliscope properly (including the a delayed by b feature!).
    - Understanding pointers (c and c++ …).
    - Understanding computer internals well enough to program assembler.
    - Fluency in hex and binary arithmetic.
    - Understanding of protocols at frame level (e.g. TCP/IP).

    It’s also interesting that some older techniques have fallen into direpute simply because the majority of the younger generation just dont understand them , or don’t know how to use them. For instance the vi editor or pointers in a programming language….

    Just my 20cents worth …

  3. Gary Bloom

    October 30, 2009 @ 1:03 am

    3

    Understanding human relationships seems to remain beyond the grasp of technological solutions and comes only with time.

  4. philg

    October 30, 2009 @ 1:11 am

    4

    Gary: I did not argue that young people WERE as good at understanding human relationships as old people, only that most of them THINK that they are as good. Further, my argument was not that technology rendered old people worthless. It was that technology has reduced the value of old people because it has rendered their skills and fact knowledge less valuable to younger folks.

  5. Miron

    October 30, 2009 @ 3:16 am

    5

    Hi,

    just wanted to point out that even though information may be available, a more experienced brain will receive it differently and may use it better. The human relationships example given by Gary is just one instance of this. There are many things that can be understood only by experiencing them. Some of them can be grokked faster by learning from someone who already experienced them, thus speeding up the learning process.

    Another example, related to the human relations one: Aikido or martial arts. You can’t get better at it by studying Wikipedia, you need to practice _with a good sensei_ for a long time to improve.

    I suspect most things that are hard can be understood only superficially by reading about them on the internet. Even if one has a lot of information available, one still need a good guide (older person?) or will get distracted by irrelevant issues.

    So no, I don’t think more data is replacing the need for people with the ability to interpret the data in useful ways.

    (30 year old here, and maybe I’m biased towards favoring old people because of recently reaching 30 :-) ).

  6. John

    October 30, 2009 @ 5:14 am

    6

    Well, to state:

    “technology has reduced the value of old people because it has rendered their skills and fact knowledge less valuable to younger folks”

    is to assume that the best way to measure value is by the tastes of “young folks” which I would think is an enormous mistake that could only be made by a younger person.

    If one really has to assign a value to a particular age group then one of the values of old people – that is a value that is specific to old people, because old people clearly possess many of the valuable attributes that other age groups have – is, and always has been, that they have experienced life. One of the things that old people have is an understanding of process – something you will not likely get from Wikipedia, although I will admit it is sometimes present on youtube. And while Wikipedia etc. may make it seem like facts are now suddenly accessible that is really not the case. Libraries and reference books have always given easy access to facts.

    And btw, young people have *always* assumed they knew more than old people – the net hasn’t changed that one way or another.

  7. Jérôme Radix

    October 30, 2009 @ 6:25 am

    7

    Some technologies of the “past” are still useful today, even in a field like “software development”. Those technologies are thoses that take a long time to master completely but that give a great power, much greater power than any other “new” tool tried by a young people today.

    For example : imagine someone who have started to learn the following technologies 20 years ago and have constantly improved their skill since then :
    - perl (1987)
    - emacs IDE (1976)
    - oracle database (1979)

    Would you dismiss this person because he’s old and works on “old” technologies ? From what I’ve read from your articles, you (Philg) still “master” those technologies, don’t you ?

  8. ai

    October 30, 2009 @ 7:45 am

    8

    I am 25. For me, the value of “old people” is not their knowledge, experience, or judgement — it is that they are, in some sense, me at a later point in my life. Hanging out with “old people” is valuable because it gives me some external perspective and insight into what my own experience will be like some day. An experience which, from a subjective perspective, must no doubt be very bizzare indeed. If the trend of expontential growth in knowledge continues, my own knowledge will one day be useless to those younger than me as well. Hanging out with old people may be the only way to know how to best adapt when the time comes.

    Oh and the other thing that’s valuable about old people is their assets, meticulously accumulated over a lifetime, and their life insurance policies. And while they are gullible and senile, they seem to be aware of it to some degree and compensate appropriately with extreme aversion to risk. However, knowledge of this enables one to manipulate them easily nonetheless.

    That last part was a joke, of course. Or was it…it was. Or was it……it was.

  9. Apreche

    October 30, 2009 @ 8:19 am

    9

    I think that it is very easy to be valuable in your old age as long as you are still young at heart.

    Most of the seniors I know strongly resist change, and refuse to adapt to the world changing around them. It’s much the same way that record companies and newspapers have refused to adapt their business models.

    Not only do they resist change, but they also resist learning. If you try to teach them anything new, to help them out, they refuse to even try. When someone resists learning, it is very difficult to believe they have any worthwhile wisdom to impart.

    But that is not all seniors. I know many people who are advance in age, yet are younger at heart than many teenagers. They live as young people, and don’t let biology get them down. You’ve seen these people around too. They’re easy to recognize because they usually aren’t retired. They’re still doing things. The college coach who won’t quit. The world travelers who are live in an RV and don’t have a permanent residence. The sporty ones who are going hang gliding and sky diving. These are people who still have life in them. It’s much easier to believe these sorts of people have wisdom, and they are a pleasure to be around.

    The people who slow up the grocery line because they are complaining about an expired coupon and then pay with a check, can they really offer great wisdom if that’s where they’ve ended up in life?

  10. Jay

    October 30, 2009 @ 8:27 am

    10

    I think a useful point in this argument is art. Sort of like many people know lots of words, but how many know the art of writing well. I don’t believe technology has changed how we learn this.

    As an example, if you look for a recipe to make chicken pot pie on the internet you’ll find many of them. How many will taste good? What if somebody could show you how to do it and give you their recipe that they’ve used for 20 years?

  11. David

    October 30, 2009 @ 9:27 am

    11

    In your “skills” section, you mention things heavily slanted towards technology. I can certainly agree that technology has rendered old peoples’ technology skills less relevant. I just don’t think that’s such a large slice of life.

    There are other skills in the world, and many that do not lend themselves to teaching over the internet. Here are a few examples from my personal experience:

    (*) Getting the right kinesthetic feel on a coping saw to make the right cut and join pieces of wooden molding “just so”. You can’t get “the feel” for something over the internet, or perhaps you’d like to start giving helicopter lessons online. :)
    (*) Learning about exactly how different variations in the steps of bread making affect the flavor of the final product…lots of sites on the internet cover individual recipes, few or none cover the catalog of variations, and what works together/what doesn’t.
    (*) Simple conversation in a foreign language, with someone who has studied 6-7 different languages. They tend to have really wild mnemonics (like “this word in turkish reminds me of an unrelated word in greek”) that can help, but that are their own personal mental creations — not book learning. Language learning on the net is lousy at best.

    If an old person wants to maintain relevance and value, they need to do what any business does — differentiate themselves. Don’t compete with google on factual answers. Focus on the stuff that they have, that the whipper snappers don’t usually have
    (*) First-hand accounts of historical events (“what was it like when JFK was shot?”) not published anywhere.
    (*) “The feel” or “the eye” to make the right cut, or play the right string. Not talking about wisdom. This sort of thing *can* be taught.
    (*) Counsel. You can’t make young people follow it, but even if they don’t choose a recommended path the recommendation has some effect. Anyone who gets their counsel from google is a fool.

  12. David

    October 30, 2009 @ 9:29 am

    12

    Come to think of it, in the research world, old people are also quite helpful. People’s literature review usually only runs back a few years, except for famous/well-cited articles. Old people have catalogs of stuff that they know failed…which is useful to detect unsuccessful or faddish research ideas that can be resurrected after 10 years of gathering dust.

  13. Sai

    October 30, 2009 @ 10:00 am

    13

    I think old people are needed for pearls of wisdom like this guy’s 73 yr old dad says :)

    http://twitter.com/Shitmydadsays

  14. Matt Henderson

    October 30, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    14

    If there’s any truth to the notion that wisdom comes with age and experience, then perhaps the relevance and value of the older generation could be in the careful targeting of the transfer of capital and resources (the proportion of which they control hopefully being a function of their capability) to the younger generation. Paul Graham seems to be doing a good job of this with Y-Combinator.

  15. Dave Lapierre

    October 30, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    15

    Reading you essay “Universities and Economic Growth” an old person might have done a better job parking your car or may have learned in his/her life not to put hot work lights behind a $3000 hi def camera. A scene from Good Will Hunting comes to mind. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM-gZintWDc

  16. Burton Hanson

    October 30, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

    16

    I wrote a position paper against mandatory retirement of state court judges in my failed campaign for chief justice in the general election in MN in 2000. It’s still available in the archives section of my blog, The Daily Judge at this link:
    http://www.thedailyjudge.com/id190.htm
    Our society is good at spotting unfair discrimation against various groups but has a blind eye toward unfair discrimination against and stereotyped thinking about people of a certain age. Of all areas in which it is foolish to get rid of the older and wiser, the judiciary ranks near the top of the list. As Judge Posner has pointed out, judging, unlike many fields of endeavor, is a “late-peak sustained activity.”

  17. Mark Verber

    October 30, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    17

    I think it’s important to distinguish between knowledge, skills and wisdom. Even in fields that change rapidly, there can be a huge value to age and experience. There are several professional colleagues that come to mind. One in particular was involved in computing from the early days until the mid 1970s at which point he started a second career as an elementary ed teacher and completely stopped following computing. Yet, he repeatedly was able to help me when significantly more “current” and “knowledgable” people couldn’t. How could he help? He had a sharp mind, knew how to break problems into pieces and was a good a reasoning from first principles. On top of that, he had seen so much, in his first career that it was easy for him to recognize patterns that I didn’t even know existed.

    Additionally, as others have noted, there are many areas of life that haven’t radically changed. In these areas an older person with wisdom is a godsent. When I am dealing with really difficult things, especially when it involves inter personal relations, things of the heart, etc I certainly am willing to talk to my peers as well as the college students I interact with, but the first people I think to talk with, and the people who most often help me are in the 60+ crowd.

  18. mjk

    October 30, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

    18

    I think what’s worse is that effect that the mobility required of a modern workforce has had. Grandma and Grandpa used to be valued for their babysitting services if nothing else, but today they’re likely living a thousand miles away. Probably the thing to do is to use your youth to get rich. Then who cares what the young people think when you’re old?

  19. solidgoldsuleyman

    October 30, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

    19

    this is an interesting argument; a lot of the general value of older wisdom has declined but I see two areas older technology workers have value that cannot be replaced by Google or Wikipedia. I have found that in technology the problem you are solving has often been solved before in a different context. Making the link between these problem domains is not always obvious! Adopting the best practice of the solved problem as a starting point can save a lot of time. Second, there are some problems that you simply cannot find a solution on the internet. One example is in digital signal processing for telecommunications, preventing your feedforward and feedback filters from fighting each other if they equalize the same part of the cursor There are two obvious solutions that you will read about in books or from lecture notes, which may not work in practice. I know one company filled with 5 young PhDs (including one from MIT) who shipped a product in the millions before they realized they not solved this problem sufficiently. I have seen 3 ways this problem can be solved that are common knowledge in the industry but not documented publicly anywhere, not in adaptive filter textbooks, articles, the internet (go ahead, try to find some info)– an old (60s) guy with a lot of domain-specific wisdom pointed me in the right direction which helped me figure it out. So, I think when you think you are solving a new problem, or you have a squirrely problem in an esoteric technology field, you need wisdom. Perhaps old people should seek to build niche but necessary domain expertise.

  20. Richard H

    October 30, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

    20

    See also
    Living Retired by David Stove
    http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/retired.html

  21. philg

    October 30, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

    21

    Matt: You’re citing Paul Graham as an example of an ancient who continues to be useful? The guy was born in 1965. He’s 44. That’s barely middle aged by the standards of Egypt circa 2000 B.C. or the Hebrew Bible (where years beyond 70 are considered bonus).

    David: Thanks for the Robin Williams clip. Unfortunately most old people don’t have screenwriters handing them great lines to speak!

    mjk: “Probably the thing to do is to use your youth to get rich”. By the very definition of “rich”, I don’t think that this is a viable strategy for the average person, who can expect to attain at best average wealth.

  22. Don S

    October 30, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

    22

    I’m 49 and I recently learned some interested mechanical processes for maintaining my vintage airplane. I learned this from someone about 5 years older than me.

  23. dan

    October 31, 2009 @ 4:22 am

    23

    the increasing pace of technological development is changing us as a species. we are adapting to it i think.
    slowly we may begin to reframe the issues mentioned above.
    why do i need to be considered ‘relevant’ when i am 80? perhaps i will get my sense of self worth from things other than being valued by society as a ‘contributing’ member.
    it could be the beginnings of a really positive future, a future where we no longer require that kind of confirmation.
    i hope so.

  24. Jef

    October 31, 2009 @ 11:58 am

    24

    I am 47 and approaching the point where I care about this for quite selfish reasons.

    As an IT person (database administrator) in the waning years of the American Empire, I have no illusions that there will be a safety net to take care of me when I am old. I am convinced that I will have to work and continue to learn survival skills well into my senior years.

    My parents and grandparents felt that they were entitled to respect and a stable level of social status regardless of what they did or didn’t do. For my generation, there is no entitlement. We need to keep bringing it, day after day. I will have to constantly fight to stay relevant and up-to-date and valuable to the work place and my friends and family.

    I have gone to Burning Man a couple of times now. Many of the movers and shakers, the most relevant people, are in their fifties and sixties. They earned their respect through hard work and sweat at that festival. Some of the best role models for the New Old are people I have met at Burning Man. You have to keep bringing it.

  25. Matt Henderson

    October 31, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

    25

    Phil,

    Reflecting on it, I cited Paul, I suppose, because I’m just shy of his age, and, being surrounded by 20-something year-olds in my company, often feel like the ancient of the past generation. :-)

  26. Florian Degner (34)

    November 2, 2009 @ 9:16 am

    26

    This story somehow fits the discussion:

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/rebuilding-the-ibm-1401

    Apart from the obvious (there are certain tasks you don’t want to have done by 20-year-olds) it also shows that – according to the implicit definition of “value” given here – there is value when there should be none. Do you think this 1401 is cared about because of the workload it can handle or the data it has stored?

  27. Chris K

    November 2, 2009 @ 5:30 pm

    27

    The way I like to think of it nowadays is that age has become irrelevant. The good news is it works in both directions.

    That said, one thing that experience matters for is something that requires muscle memory (or the mental equiv.)

  28. Old software guy

    November 3, 2009 @ 9:54 am

    28

    As an aside, I’m Medicare’d and, hence, probably the oldest technologist around.

    Technology reduces the value of everyone’s being, irregardless of age. That we have the current financial mess is in large part due to flim-flam based upon misuse of mathematics brought about via our computational prowess which seems to have no end. There are limits, folks, that we do not yet understand. Technology, as we know it now, is sufficiently new that we, as the human race, have not learned how to keep up. That problem is where ‘age’ will eventually win some credence.

    That those of the younger age seem to be of more worth is due to the fact that they are more easily turned into fodder, many times willingly (actually, by necessity, for both themselves and the system).

    As those of Phil’s, and his younger followers’, age advance in time, they’ll be able to raise the level of understanding, it is the hope, of the good and bad sides of technology. In doing so, they’ll demonstrate how under-the-belt experience (existential issue, folks) does have its rewards. In doing so, as well, the virtual beasts, that have been let lose in the cloud and elsewhere, will be tamed.

  29. Dan

    November 4, 2009 @ 5:49 pm

    29

    There is another senior who is still highly regarded for his wisdom – the “Oracle of Omaha” Warren Buffet.
    He is 79 and people still come in large numbers to gather at his feet for pearls of wisdom.
    I guess that means that becoming extremely wealthy is one way to remain relevant in today’s society.

  30. Christina

    November 5, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    30

    My suggestion: mentoring programs. They could work to help younger people learn the lessons (for history is circular, at times) of older generations, and they help older people stay engaged in the changes of the modern world. But they require buy in from both old and young.

    Your essay seemed to suggest that the valuation of older people relies solely on how younger people perceive them. I don’t buy that. Older people (in America and many industrial/post-industrial societies) are an increasingly large portion of the population. As a group, they have considerable political power through their votes and economic power (even if the recent meltdown did diminish their 401K). People 65 and older are not powerless; they do have the ability to shape their community and the image of it.

    Here’s where Apreche’s comment is significant. S/he pointed out that older people have to be willing to accept some change — just as younger people have to recognize that there is wisdom greater than technology and the facts found on Wikipedia. Another commenter suggested that older people can’t just expect respect based on age; they have to reach out to younger people. Often, younger generations are blamed for ignoring older people, but I think this gives younger people (who are busy trying to figure out their lives) too much credit and older people (especially those who are retired) too little credit for how much they could accomplish with their time and efforts.

    While it’s true that technological changes may devalue the technological knowledge of older people, human experience is more than technology, and I think there are young people who understand that. I do acknowledge, though, that young people are often unwilling or unable to listen to the lessons of the past. This is why I think mentoring programs that bridge the gap — and most importantly, that value the experiences of both young and old alike — are beneficial. As long as both people in the relationship understand that they have value (that age and experience don’t trump the flexibility of youth and that understanding modern technology and being more physically agile don’t trump the experience of the past), then these kinds of programs could help “maintain relevance” as you put it.

  31. Barbara

    November 5, 2009 @ 9:04 am

    31

    The presence of technical or accumulated information doesn’t stand alone in the human brain, regardless of age. What becomes most useful is insight. Is that what you mean by wisdom?

    What age can -although it doesn’t always- confer is the mixing and matching of experiences to reach relevant new conclusions, spawning new idea structures. Google, Wikkipedia, and the other cybersphere tools are simply repositories and mechanical means for getting core information. It’s the global library that I access in my study while I’m still in my pajama’s with my first coffee of the day! But the value/devaluing of elders depends a great deal on how the information is applied, and the insight that spawns the mix-and-match combinations that age and experience can provide as a benefit.

    The integrating function of heuristic thinking benefits from the accumulated knowledge of elders. For example, how many of us turned to our parents or grandparents in this recent economic turbulence to learn how they survived the Depression? I am 64, my mother-in-law is 93, and my mother is 89 although somewhat dementia’d. Yet both elder women had wise suggestions for how to manage in the economic downturn, with notions that may not yet have found their way into the Google-sphere, and might not unless I post them!

    In December, I will be running a strategic planning workshop on the technology corridor near MIT for the senior execs of a robotics company…some of whom are your peers. They don’t seem bothered by my age, and in fact, they seem to want the insight I provide them through my accumulated experience in group facilitation of collaborative thinking. So my experiences in the value/devalue arena have been largely on the plus side of value.

  32. tom c

    November 5, 2009 @ 9:20 am

    32

    I see three different areas being discussed, with everyone’s definitions overlapping.

    1) knowledge
    2) experience
    3) critical thinking

    1) The internet has been a boon to accessing knowledge. It has made the domain expert less valuable since information is now so readily available. An old prof told me “the real world is open book”. His hint was obviously that you’d better be able to use the information once you find it.
    2) Experience. You can find any level of experience you want on the internet, from an infinity of self proclaimed experts. I still prefer speaking to someone with known real world experience rather than sifting through multiple web sites to find if their experiences are common and somewhat trustworthy. Point goes to the local domain expert I trust.
    3) Critical thinking. Critical thinking is still the pinnacle of the three areas I’ve outlined, and is still in short supply. If someone who’s older has honed their critical thinking then I’m going to respect and listen to them. If they haven’t, then yes, they are less relevant than they were before.

  33. philg

    November 5, 2009 @ 11:15 am

    33

    Tom: I believe that “critical thinking” is what our public schools say that they are trying to teach, rather than the facts and skills that were formerly taught. Assuming that the world’s most expensive schools are delivering on their goals, we have demonstrated that critical thinking has no economic value. Employers prefer to hire workers in China and India who have been taught facts and skills. The engineers at Honda and Toyota, despite their lack of education in critical thinking, are able to design cars that are preferred by consumers to cars from GM and Ford.

    Separately, critical thinking may be in short supply but to determine the question of value one has to know demand. The people whose thinking is the most muddled and least critical would have to recognize that and be eager to get assistance from someone whose critical thinking skills are excellent.

  34. Phoebe Borman

    November 5, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

    34

    I agree that age has lost the automatic respect it used to have. But I wonder even about that. Thoreau opens WALDEN with the observation “I was always told to listen to my elders but I never heard anything from them worth listening to.” In my retirement I started a small production company that produces murder mystery dinner theater. I have a company of young and middle aged performers. We make a little money and have a lot of fun. I am not stuck in a ghetto with only people my age. Don’t worry about how much respect you will have as you get older. Dump your ego and do what you always wanted to do. Let the young ones learn that it is never to late to be what you could have been.

  35. Tom E. Turner

    November 5, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    35

    congrats, as of noon u got 7 more comments at the NYT too…
    http://ideas.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/does-technology-devalue-old-people/

  36. James

    November 6, 2009 @ 9:49 am

    36

    Leave it to an egoic western civilisation to value people purely on the basis of their economic ‘use’.
    Your ancestor is valuable because you are an extension of her. The path she follows is the path you follow. Respect is based on what you are and not how ‘economically viable’ your skills remain.

  37. Dave Newton

    November 6, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    37

    Technology is only one excuse for devaluing people of age. In the U.S., blame it on marketing, which only sells us youth, a disappearing commodity. The only remedy, I’m betting, is one’s own to create. Simply don’t go gentle. Persist. Do stuff.

  38. Dan Green

    November 8, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    38

    Interesting article. I am 71, and often think our youth , or prior overwhelming large population of Baby Boomers, were simply not intelligent enough, to recognize the value, of wisdom, of older generations. I certainly do not have all the answers, but I sat in silence, and listened closely, to my parents, and their friends, the generation we call ” The Greatest Generation ” I received more insight, than my text books, or work place. Next one needs adopt a mentor. I picked two, quite my senior, in years. Then of course, we have to accept, our culture thrives on youth, being young, and for females being thin.

  39. Davis

    November 8, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

    39

    While our young’uns were busy finding the gold coins in this or that video game, a tidal wave of common sense skills were passing them by. My niece is working on her MS degree, she’s 30-plus, and panicked when a button fell off her suit – she knew not how to use a needle and thread! My child (an ivy-league
    law student) needed to make copies, so she purchased a copier, sans paper or
    extra cartridges! More to the point, life is always becoming more layered and
    complex. Thus, the value of someone who has successfully negotiated from the
    days where we had to ask the operator for a long-distance line, till today, seems
    pretty obvious to me. Not that they know all the ins and outs of how to use the
    remote control. Having a steady hand of experience in the big mix helps keep all
    of us on course in this boom-or-bust epoch. They’ve seen it all before!

  40. Joel

    November 8, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

    40

    I was talking with a young med student the other day. He said a middle-aged cosmetic surgeon told his class that it took him 15 years to become a truly competent surgeon. Obviously there must be a lot of intrinsic knowledge that one acquires, maybe learning how to “read” a clinical situation. Even more obviously, it takes someone at least 15 years older to tell med students this. The fact that young people may not fully internalize this notion of apprenticeship when they’re 20yo and full of joie de vivre is a different problem. But I think most young people tend to appreciate and look for teachers or coaches, maybe not elderly people, but someone ahead of them in whatever their current pursuit — whether in academia or in business or in the military — to share the benefit of their experience.

    This argument about experience versus information retrieval goes back to Socrates (or was it Plato? I’m too lazy to Google it) complaining the then-new technology, writing, will downgrade the importance of memory. But being able to Google Shakespeare is not the same as being able to quote him from memory. It’s hard to draw insightful analogies or to critique their limitations if you are not already familiar with their full context

    A work colleague who had been a Marine pilot told me the air force had studied the attributes that make for a good fighter pilot. He said quick response time was near the top of the list. And 18 year olds had the best response time. I said that may be buy they also have among the highest auto accident rates. A result, no doubt, of not enough driving experience and maybe too quick a response time. When i was in my 30′s I once told a friend that I suspect what passes for maturity is just the slowing of the metabolism. Maybe there’s something to be said for being a little less quick and energetic.

  41. Robert Gagnon

    November 9, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    41

    How old to you have to be to an “old people”? What about old people who actively use all tech that is useful to them?

    Your premise seems to be that old people don’t use technology which is kind of non-sensical. I find that at 74 my old person can mix it up with young punks as well as I would like! But that’s just my own view, for what it’s worth.

  42. Jan Curtis

    November 9, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

    42

    While computers are great in providing digital information, the human brain has the unique ability to use fussy logic effectively. A digital computer cannot do what an analog computer (and humans) can do. Experience, imagination and the human factor cannot be replaced or reproduced by computers quite yet.

    Computers are great in enhancing our quality of life but not the essence of life that we share with our elders. Even if they are far from perfect, through error can we only learn and progress.

    Spoken by a 57 year old.

  43. Victor

    November 10, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    43

    This is the beauty of nature and the cycle of life. Evolution created this perfect lifespan for people. People must die so that their out date values and ways can also die as the brain cannot change easily that which is so ingrained in us by culture and experience.

    Everyone is somewhat damage and carries with them a museum of negativity and usefulness attached. There is bad and good in old people knowledge, thinking, and experience. The young are learning new ways and that which we think is important may not even be relevant. It is true experience, just history, even 1000 of years history continues to be relevant to create even better systems to support life but that information does not come from people’s minds, it comes from their writing, and constant participation in the progress of life.

    I’m getting old, and I know the only way to be useful is to continue to assert my own value, not to give up, not to stop learning, and to continue life with a positive outlook. We all create our own value in our heads, and so we create our own hell. Do not look outward for happiness, it is inside you, and can only create value by being valuable to those around you. The moment you become a needed, unhappy, esthetically non-pleasing, dirty old person. The you lost you value. People’s perception of you don;t change, then why do you change your perception.

    life is good, live it up.

  44. proosle

    November 10, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

    44

    The value of old people is reduced because there are so many of them. Advances in medicine have meant they do not die as quickly. If you flood the market with something (old people) of course they will not be considered as valuable.

  45. Z. Constantine

    November 12, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

    45

    To advance proosle’s position: getting to the advanced age of 80 used to require some truly remarkable genes, attitude, and luck. The mere act of being alive meant something in an era in which the average life expectancy was 35 (… or 45, 60, et cetera).

    Technology has devalued the anecdotal wisdom of the elders by altering the average life expectancy sufficiently enough to make an 80 year old less of a novelty – and, in the process, medical advances have kept those who would have died earlier (whether as a result of congenital deficiency, poor lifestyle choices, or misfortune) around to the benefit of the medical industry and the ostensible detriment of younger people. You don’t have to be remarkable to live to 80 – you just need a good doctor.

    I have the privilege of being the grandson of a particularly bright man – he has demonstrated to me that the elderly can remain very relevant for many of the reasons described by prior comments (metacognitive outlook on problems, ability to understand people and their actions, et cetera).

    The formula for success, if his is any indicator, would be to take the approach to retirement which stands in stark contrast to the “go on some cruises, play some golf, go to a retirement facility and watch television until you die” approach: he still reads the paper, is an avid internet researcher, plays the stock market, and walks a mile or more every day.

    You don’t hear him pining for “the good old days” and, in his company, you can see that he’s living in the present and ready to engage it: the new wisdom of the elders is the example set by those who live happy, productive lives well into the twilight (because there’s a good chance we could stand to benefit from their example).

  46. Ray and Corrine

    February 16, 2010 @ 12:57 pm

    46

    One thing the elderly could teach the young is the importance of accuracy. For example the news media. In recent years there has been so many errors, or just plain inaccuracies in the news media. That includes online news sources, as well as in the broadcast media. We have noticed many more typos than ever before. Some so bad that it is difficult to follow what they are reporting. In the televised news we have seen so many errors by the directors of these broadcasts that it is pathetic. This is particularly true of local news. An anchor, for example, will be talking about a car accident, and on screen is a video of someone talking about a local crime. Obviously some young camera directors fault. And the uncountable “ahs” and “uhs” pauses, when watching some reporters, or interviewers. These things never happened before the IT revolution. Can it be that the younger generation, that have been taking over the management of the dissemination of news, have not learned their trade as well as those in the past did? Or maybe they just don’t care. We have noticed that many people these days, in any occupation, just don’t care anymore.

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