Residues of this practice of valuing the past, and the elders as living bearers of the past, have continued into our own times. But over the last few hundred years, and especially since the middle of the last century, things have changed. We live in times where the people we interact with in our daily lives are not the people among whom we learned to successfully please when we were younger. We live in large social complexes, often and mostly amongst strangers. The ways we do things to earn our daily bread is no longer timeless and stable. We live in a highly technological age where the ways of doing things change every few months. Knowledge is exploding at a rate that is much faster than most of our ability to keep up. For example, computing power doubles every eighteen months. How we are expected to do something today that is no longer as it was yesterday, and will be different again tomorrow.
Under these conditions of constant and exponential change, the conditions under which we first learned to successfully please are no longer the same conditions under which we are expected to continue pleasing. What we know becomes quickly outdated. The wisdom of experience might no longer be the way forward. The accumulation of experience over time under these constantly changing conditions becomes no longer useful, and the bearers of this outdated knowledge become themselves outdated and no longer or less useful.
By contrast, those with the most up-to-date grip on adaptive and useful information are the younger rather than the older members of the group. It is the youth who are closest to the newest innovations and technologies. And because of that, it is the youth who are most familiar with the information that is best suited to surviving in our rapidly changing world. We have to look ahead, not behind, to know what we need to know in order to increase our chances of survival.
How is the 8-year-old child expected to revere his 85-year-old grandmother when he teaches her to use email, the Internet, Skype or any of the rapidly emerging means of communicating? How can teaching your grandchild an heirloom recipe compete with the availability of millions of recipes, several for every occasion, on the Internet? This is the essence of the shift and the nub of the problem.
The closer we are to the information that is best suited to survival, the better equipped we are to survive, and since approval belongs to those best equipped to survive, our culture reveres those best equipped, i.e. the young. This is why so many in our culture strive to be younger, why we tolerate rather than revere our seniors, and why we are so fixated on youthfulness and try so hard to emulate or recapture it for ourselves. We live in a modern era where it is the youth, not the elders, who hold the promise of the future and so we shower our approval on them.
I think we’ll be able to find a way back to more balanced cultural values in this area once we understand this essential shift in our culture; only then will we be able to pull back from our unseemly and craven pursuit of the elixirs of youth and regain a mature appreciation of the ageing process.