You know what’s my worst fear? I mean other than the nightmarish scenario in which all my teeth fall out at the same time as my fingers rot off as I go blind and fall into an endless elevator shaft with walls made out of centipedes. Cause that one is pretty unrealistic. My other great fear is becoming a future shocked grandpa unable to deal with the technological progress. You’d think that’s an unfounded fear but sadly it is not. Yes, I live for this stuff. I’m a sponge, and early adopter and a tinkerer. But entropy is a harsh mistress and as my telomers are not getting longer.
The aging process is cruel and unforgiving. And while I might be able to cope with frailty, decreased mobility and chronic pain, it is the mental deterioration that accompanies it that keeps me up at night. It has been scientifically proven that as we age our minds slow down, and become less apt at forming new neural connections. It is of course an evolutionary adaptation – our ancestors spent their youth learning survival skills in their environment, but after a while they knew almost all that there was to know and they did not need to specialize further. So their minds switched into fast retrieval mode – which made sense. The body moves slower, but the mind is able to react faster based on experience. If the environment changed requiring new adaptations the old would just die off, making room for the young ones whose minds were still flexible enough.
This of course is less than ideal in the information era with it’s exponential curve of progress. Ability to learn and adopt new technology as it comes in is one of the most important abilities you can have right now. Right now this sort of thing is as easy as breathing to me. I just absorb and move on. But how long can I keep it up? When is the breaking point? Will there be a day when I wake up only to realize I no longer understand the world around me?
I frequently see elderly people struggle with performing even the simplest tasks on their computers these days. I’m told it’s because these folks didn’t have computers and internet while growing up. Well neither did I really. Not until I was teenager at least. Besides, in 40 years we will likely have technology that is not yet around, which I will have to learn to use just like everyone else. Will my technology background be any help? Can I rely on it to fudge my way when I’m learning impaired due to the relative length of my telomers? I really hope so.
Frankly, I hope we can do away with the whole aging thing before I’m beyond hope for cognitive recovery. But to be pragmatic I must allow for a possibility for missing the immortality train by a few decades. While I’m relatively certain my children, or at the very least my grand children will probably never have to age or die, my ultimate fate is still up in the air. So I’m trying to prepare myself for the inevitable cognitive deterioration by differing to the intuitive wisdom of the young and reckless.
I’m in my 30’s now, so if you squint hard enough you could probably still lump me in with the “relatively young” demographic. But I’m slowly sliding out of that demographic bracket, and I can actually measure that progress by counting the hairs that have lost their pigmentation. Soon enough I will no longer be considered target demographic for video games and comic books by even the most generous web forms. And so I slowly have to treat my own convictions and intuition as slightly suspect – tainted by stillness of the ages.
You have to assume that the young netizens – those born to the digital world, those who suckled at the binary teat of the information superhighway – can grok the ebbs and flows of the web much more easily than us. We might have created this world and gave it shape, but they ultimately inherited it. They are the movers, the shakers and the ones who take our technology and apply it in novel, emergent ways we did not expect or predict. They are the architects of the brave new world that is being shaped to their specifications using our tools.
Granted, being young and reckless means they not always are using said tools responsibly or constructively. But whenever I see kinds doing something stupid on the internet, I try to stall the instinct to condemn it outright. Because what if I’m wrong? What if this emergent system is actually going to blossom into a new game changing paradigm. The fact that something doesn’t fit into an established pattern does not mean it is irrelevant or useless. Sometimes only a young malleable and relatively unshaped mind can stumble onto a new pattern, because it is not shackled into place by existing conventions. The young have the luxury of being stupid and being wrong, but sometimes good things come out of reckless abandonment of rules and good advices.
Therefore I will always look to the young for inspiration and boundless energy. My responsibility as I’m passing into later adulthood is to be their enabler and facilitator. I would have said guide but that would imply giving them direction which I don’t think is wise, because it immediately stifles the crazy unbridled creativity. It’s better to let them pick their own path, for better or for worse. Our job is to provide knowledge, technology and resources. We build tools and environments they can exploit to do their things, then we watch for sudden explosions of activity. We plug in and we build, and assist but refrain from steering unless we notice that the path they chose is definitely harmful and dangerous or that they have decided to re-invent the same old wheel once again. Cause they are prone to do that. Granted, sometimes reinventing the wheel might be beneficial as you might end up with a new, better wheel that runs in polynomial time or something. But mostly it’s a waste of time.
The Tabula Rasa state of a youthful mind can be an asset and we should not forget that as we chase after immortality. Because even if we retain agile minds, hundreds of years of accumulated experience will weigh us old timers down. We will have the wisdom, and the long view and the ability to build upon lessons gained from countless past failures, but that might make us static and predictable after a while. There will always be new minds created in the vast virtual worlds to come, and there will always be old men willing to take a scalpel to their memories in exchange for being vibrant, unbridled blank slate again, even if only temporarily.
I guess what I’m saying is that we should never underestimate the young and the reckless because the stupid shit they do sometimes may end up changing the world in ways we could never conceive. And it is best to instill that attitude in one’s mind now, while said mind is still capable of being reprogrammed. Perhaps that’s the only way we can remain at least marginally relevant as we age into oblivion, instead of just being in the way, and yelling at kids to get off the goddamn lawn.