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Learning doesn't stop at 22
By Dave Winer on Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 2:01 PM.

A picture named bed.jpgAt least some young people have a blind spot, and it's easy to find if you try a little experiment. I stumbled across this at a workshop a number of years ago, when I was 44. You might wonder how I remember my age so specifically. It's part of the puzzle. permalink

Picture this. A group of about 20 people seated on the floor in a circle. A young man, opposite me, says directly to me, "I know as much as you do." It's part of a discussion about the differences between people of varying ages. According to the younger folk, they have everything we have, and of course their bodies are younger, and stronger. We older folk are nothing but older. This was the point the young man was trying to make.  permalink

I wondered for a moment if it was true, but then I thought back to what I did and didn't understand when I was 22. I was tall and slim and beautiful. I had a 19-year-old girlfriend who was cute as a button and had a body made of elastic. The sex was fantastic. Life was great. But I didn't know very much about life beyond going to school and concerts and eating, having sex, taking drugs, drinking beer, hiking, reading, going to the movies. I knew I didn't want to go into the army. I loved writing software. But I didn't understand much about the life in front of me. I was scared of a lot of things that now I think it was silly to be afraid of. If I had to visualize myself at age 40 or 50 I would have been completely at a loss. I dealt with it by assuming I wouldn't live to be 40 or 50. It was my way of shutting my eyes to the unknown. It really was unknown. permalink

Back to the 22-year-old in front of me.  permalink

I asked him a question. permalink

"Do you know more now than when you were 12?" (I picked an age before puberty, when he lived with his parents. Before he had a beard. Back when college would seem as vague as high school, when he would have had no sense of his future life independent of his family.) permalink

"No comparison! I didn't know shit when I was 12." permalink

"Do you think learning stops at 22?" permalink

It's as if he didn't hear me. He didn't extrapolate. Had I pressed it (I didn't) I imagine he would have admitted that learning probably didn't stop at 22, but nonetheless he knew just as much as I did, even though I had 22 more years of learning than he did.  permalink

Over the last couple of days I've had younger people tell me I'm ageist when I say I know more than they do because I've lived longer. Of course I don't agree. Would it be ageist to say they can run faster than I can? Or heal from injuries faster? That their blood pressure is lower or their metabolism more efficient? What if I said they could please a woman in some ways I couldn't? But what if I said I could please a woman in ways they don't even know exist? Heh. permalink

One of the things you learn as you go through this journey is that every age has its advantages. I love myself now much more today than I did when I was 22. Back then I didn't even get that you could love yourself. I tolerate my limits much better, even though I had limits then as I have them now. I wouldn't even know how to describe it to a younger person, it's as if we were different species in some ways. But you'll never get me to say there aren't big differences betw being 54 and 22, even 54 and 44. But I think I could have a more interesting conversation about it with someone who is 44. Because one of the things that happens as you get older is that you learn to listen better. And I can have an interesting conversation with a 70 or 80 year old, one that's more balanced than I could have had 32 years ago when I was 22. permalink

The thing that we shouldn't do is limit what someone can do based on their age. Age itself already imposes enough limits. If a younger person wants to hazard a guess as to what it's like to be our age, let them have fun and don't laugh. And if an older person says they understand electronics and blogging and texting, likewise, humor them. You never know what you might learn. People of all ages should keep their minds open. It might suprise some young people to learn that this advice applies to them as much as it does to older people.  permalink

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