The last list you’ll ever need | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Dec 23, 2013

As it turns out, “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 hardcore pornography was hard to define but “I know it when I see it,” thereby providing lazy writers with a pocket metaphor. Much appreciated.)

This is true for the British, anyway, or at least some of them, the ones who knew a survey when they saw it and took it.

Recently, Beneden Health in the UK conducted a sampling of 2,000 adults and came to this conclusion, although nobody is surprised.

Middle age is a concept ripe for definition and 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 take that, 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.

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.

We’re not quite there yet, in other words. We’re not young, but we resist the natural conclusion. 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 (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).

Aside from the language barrier, though, I was happy to find out that fear and paranoia are common states for people of a certain age, regardless of how we flog a car.

Nobody wants to get old. I’m not talking about aging, which we can only ignore, not avoid. But getting old seems to be more of a semantic distinction, and a negative one.

Our opinions harden, our taste in music and fashion becomes frozen, our priorities shift and our backs hurt. All the time. Just hurt.

And so while these British respondents were attempting to locate middle age on the human map, they mostly were defining it as the beginning of getting old.

Perception plays a big part, apparently; once the music seems too loud, the doctors and police officers too young, the movies too racy, or The Antiques Road Show too interesting, we’re done, finished, on our way to elderly and not turning around.

Then there are the sneaky signs, the behaviors that look benign but could be signs of approaching oldness.

Becoming very interested in gardening. Finding the idea of taking a cruise exciting. Finding the idea of naps even more exciting.

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 as we all know, I think about stuff a lot.

Technology is tricky, though. All sorts of us, of all ages, use the latest bells and whistles to varying degrees, so if I were making my own list of creeping middle-agedness, I’d probably paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy.

If you use your phone mostly to make and receive calls, you might be old (if you wear a Bluetooth ear receiver, you are definitely old. Sorry).

If there are only specific times of the day when you “get online,” you might be old (if you say “go on the Internet,” that’s a definite, too).

If you have the latest iPad or other tablet but you use it mostly to play solitaire, you might be old (if you use it to play Minecraft, you might actually be young. If you use it to play Angry Birds, you just have too much free time).

If you still have a landline, you might be old. If you still have an AOL email address, you might be old. If you still have a Blackberry, I just don’t know what to think.

If you think the biggest threat to your computer is a virus and not your incredibly short and easy-to-remember passwords, you might be old. You’re definitely at risk. Fix that.

If you use GPS just to drive to the grocery store, you might actually be me.

And if you see the latest technology and decide to pass on it, that it’s not worth your time or energy or money, then you might not only be old, but also wise.

Let the young people figure it out. Which is inevitable anyway, just part of the life cycle. The human lifespan is planned obsolescence, after all. We’re supposed to get old.

Not that I’m personally giving up without a fight, or a list to check. But sometimes gardening sounds peaceful, a nap is always welcome, and my car can just flog itself.


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