How do I not get old and out of touch?
July 10, 2013 12:00 PM   Subscribe

For the first time in my life (at age 32) I'm starting to feel somewhat out of touch with young people and youth culture. How do I address this?

What is someone my age probably unaware of? What sites should I visit, music should I listen to, technology should I use just so that the gap doesn't widen? Who should I talk to, who should I follow on twitter, what should I read? I'm talking direct interaction/viewing, rather than stuff filtered through adult media (like a stuffy magazine article about kids).

I'll add: this isn't a bad thing. I'm fine with not knowing. I'm not freaking out about getting older. I'm aware that there are way more big life things ahead of me than behind. This question isn't out of worry, it's more out of curiosity about how people out there stay in touch with kidsthesedays...
posted by jtajta to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I listen to a top 40 radio station at work (sometimes; it plays a lot of the same songs over and over). I follow some youngsters on Tumblr. I peek at my teen cousins' FB pages.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:01 PM on July 10, 2013

I'm 31. I know whenever I watch MTV and the garbage they show I feel all old and out of touch. So maybe watch MTV.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:07 PM on July 10, 2013

Okay. Here are some of my favourite things (I'm a HS teacher, so I spend a lot of time with students ages 14-18):

Following my students on Twitter does more for my understanding of youth culture than anything else. I don't know that you should follow MY students. But I've found that following young adult novelists (John Green, Sarah Dessen, Meredith Johnson, etc.) and musicians tend to help. Also, (per my next suggestion) YouTubers like Charlie McDonald, Hank Green, Alex Day, Wheezy Waiter, etc.

YouTube. Watch Vlogbrothers and their many channels. Their viewers tend to be in the 13-21 range, and they do a great job of addressing that audience. Read the comments too if you want to read what actual teenagers are thinking.

Tumblr is also good. I'd follow the same people, actually.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:09 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

The thing is, it may not be you. The top selling hits on the Billboard charts these days would be background radiation back in the 90s. Pop culture has become really wide and unevenly distributed, and more about personalities than it ever has before. If you really want to know what most people are tuned into at least a little, find the hottest and dumbest reality shows. Celebrity for celebrities' sake is now the most effective, global form of being famous.
posted by selfnoise at 12:09 PM on July 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Roll with it. There's so much information out there now, so much content, that you can too easily be overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of it.

The thing with music is you can keep up with the genre you like, but eventually it will start to sound terrible and you'll only want to listen to the old stuff. There's an excellent Cracked article about this.

I find watching The Soup can help keep me wired in without having to sit through tedious stuff. I mean how much did I really need to know about Jersey Shore. I know that a Snooki exists, and beyond that, I don't need to know more.

The thing about getting older is that youth stuff just won't appeal. And that's okay. You have age appropriate stuff to keep after all on your own.

Knowing kids will help somewhat, although they'll tell you things and your eyes may glaze over.

FWIW I'm 50 and I only feel like I need to know enough to keep the Godkids off certain sites on the computer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:10 PM on July 10, 2013 [10 favorites]

posted by Ideefixe at 12:11 PM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm starting to feel somewhat out of touch with young people and youth culture. How do I address this?

Embrace it!

Trying to keep up with every fad is a characteristic of kids and fashionistas. Concentrate on only whatever really interests you and let your knowledge of other trends joyfully atrophy. If somebody mentions some new mass market phenomenon you have never heard of then ask them about it without shame. Remember that you are old enough to be the parent of a young teenager who is starting to give you a hard time for trying to be a too trendy old-timer; channel the mocking voice of that imaginary kid.
posted by rongorongo at 12:15 PM on July 10, 2013 [18 favorites]

I am (not) old and my kids (23 and 27) complain that I'm more in touch than they are.

I swear, Metafilter helps a lot. I'm early in on music and political things and dopey internet stuff and also newer perspectives and approaches in many fields.

Also, keep looking forward! I avoid rereading books, watching reruns, replaying that same old DVD, listening to old music, dwelling on the past. I love New. Museums and galleries help a lot. Read The New Yorker, it's usually very current (it's a weekly). Take up mindfulness meditation, which helps all your senses stay sharp so you can continue to be open and observant.

Have fun with life! Keep seeking!
posted by thinkpiece at 12:21 PM on July 10, 2013 [13 favorites]

Perhaps a greater commitment than you had in mind, but as a Big Brother or Big Sister, particularly if your Little is a teen or approaching tweendom, you really get a ton of exposure to all of that. Back when I did this, I had my Little teach me texting shorthand, and insisted on hearing the favorite music of the moment during car time.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:24 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hang out with younger people, and talk about what they're into. Do you have younger relatives/friends that you could chat up? My 12-year-old niece is an encyclopedia of pop culture knowledge.
posted by Elly Vortex at 12:27 PM on July 10, 2013

I torn on this--I'm 38, and I really don't care what the kids are interested in. I don't see any more point in keeping up with what kids are doing or saying or thinking than finding out what pigeons are up to. It's one of the great privileges of aging that I can be entirely, blissfully unaware of cultural thing I want! And by the time I decide I want to listen to the awesome Frank Ocean LP from last year, I'm still ahead of the curve of 98% of my senescent cohort. Crack rocks, crack rocks!

But on the other hand, I do loves me some tumblr, and if you just follow a couple of tumblrs, you'll know more than you'll ever need or want to know about young people and youth culture.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:37 PM on July 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh No They Didn't!

Celebrity gossip blog. Entertaining, informative, sometimes incisive. I'm not super into following celebrities, but it's a fun blog to read. Because of it, I know which tv shows/bands/etc. are popular, even if I don't really follow them.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:37 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you have any young folks in your life? Having friends with a wide range of ages and interests helps a lot; you naturally hear about pop culture and social movements from all over the spectrum.

I have a zillion nieces and nephews, so they can clue me in to diverse voices in contemporary music, as well as throw-back interests that are sometimes idiosyncratic and sometimes zeitgeist-y. If one of the kids is hinting around trying to think up a birthday present for me, I'll ask for a playlist (or even a CD because I AM OLD SCHOOL) of their favorite songs of the moment.

I also listen to playlists posted on blogs and websites; in the background right now, I'm playing Xaphoon Jones' Triple J mix [some lyrics NSFW], which was linked by The Hairpin today. I pushed play not knowing what to expect and I won't decide if I like most of it until after I've listened to it all at least once. But it's there and, old or new, it's fresh to me because it's nothing I would have chosen from my own library.

My interest in music got jumpstarted recently, and I think it's because I started exploring genres I had kinda skipped as a teenager and young adult. For example, as a kid I listened to a lot of New Wave and post-punk but completely ignored R&B, soul, and funk. As an adult, starting to explore funk led me to (of course) George Clinton, which led me to Afrofuturism, which led me to Janelle Monáe.

And all of this (re)discovery of largely-unfamiliar music has awakened in me a sense I honestly thought was extinguished by age: the sense of significance, of salience, of the music speaking to me. It's not just that it sounds good to me; it sounds crucial in a way that I remember music sounding when I was still in the first blush of youth.
posted by Elsa at 12:38 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hang out with younger people, and talk about what they're into. Do you have younger relatives/friends that you could chat up? My 12-year-old niece is an encyclopedia of pop culture knowledge.

This can even be a two-way street. When I started singing along w/ my 15-year-old niece to "Mad World," her eyes opened wiiiiiide. "You know this song? ... well, I guess it's pretty old. Like, maybe 10 years old." She was boggled to hear that it's actually even more pretty-old than that: it was popular when I was her age.
posted by Elsa at 12:49 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am almost 30 and I was never in touch with youth culture even when I was younger, unless it was something I was interested in at the time. Not all young people are created equal. Some young people still flock to MTV and Billboard and what not. Some are nerds and geeks that shove their noses into books and play video/role-playing games. Some are plain. Some may be a copy of you when you were younger, just consuming the LATEST in a series of X or Y.

I think it's not about being out of touch with youth so much as it is being out of touch with what is trendy and new and exciting that young people tend to consume like ice cream because they have the time. You'll have a difficult time figuring how what is hot amongst all young people given how diverse they can be (even teenagers), but you MAY find that what is huge amongst the young is also huge amongst your age demographic as well. Tumblr memes/social justice and youtube and Instagram are huge in general, but these don't EXCLUDE people your age. Neither does MTV or Billboard or Cartoon Network, but I think that is LESS likely to appeal to an older crowd.

Just a thought: People are always commenting on here about how "hipsters" range from 20 to 40, so it is odd for me to think of being out of touch with someone who is 20 years younger but also shares the same attitudes/lifestyle and taste in music/clothes/humor/bikes/whatever. I wager that is an interesting development as well, since in the past there were always pretty clear cut definitions of YOUNG and MIDDLE AGED and OLD that don't seem to exist anymore, except in internal dissonance.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:52 PM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Entertaining, informative, sometimes incisive. I'm not super into following celebrities, but it's a fun blog to read.

Just so you know, Oh No They Didn't copies much if not all of their content from other sites and credits only with a tiny link at the bottom they know nobody will click on that just says "source." They're not really a blog that produces much of anything.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:10 PM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

At 44, I actually find I feel less out of touch than I did when I was 34. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I don't really think about popular culture anymore in terms of young people stuff and old people stuff, so I don't find myself wondering what the kids are into these days. I'm interested in new music and curious about whatever the new hotness is, but I couldn't tell you what the ages are of the people who consume these things. It just doesn't seem to matter anymore.

How I hear about new things -- generally pop culture websites like the A.V. Club or Flavorwire (which regularly posts lists of books/music/etc. that "you should be listening to" and whatever's new and interesting this month). Thought Catalog seems to feature a lot of (or mostly?) content by and for people in their 20s.

But yeah, I guess my advice would be to not think of things in terms of age and just let your curiosity guide you to wherever it goes. Access to culture is easier than it's ever been, and the amount of awesome stuff out there is HUGE.
posted by Mo' Money Moe Bandy at 1:31 PM on July 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've found that music-wise, NPR's All Songs Considered helps a lot. WIRED magazine helps out with keeping up with worthwhile technologies and web-focused things.
posted by bizzyb at 2:05 PM on July 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

41 y/o Australian here. I regularly check out the songs on Triple J's "hit list". I've found some great songs that way. I particularly like Tennis Court at the moment.

Disclaimer: Triple J tend to promote local music, so this may not be popular with "the kids" in your part of the world. But maybe that makes it even cooler :)
posted by Diag at 3:06 PM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Why do you think I hang out on Metafilter?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:12 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

For music, I second All Songs Considered. I also recommend checking Pitchfork's Best New Music every once in a while and reading best of lists for recent years.
posted by saul wright at 5:38 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is off-base, but where do you work? I have two categories of friends around my age (28) – those who seem older than me and those who seem younger than me. The younger-seeming people tend to work jobs in the arts or some creative field where they are more likely to be exposed to new culture on a daily basis. The older-seeming people tend to work jobs in law offices and the like where they're around older people all day. (The personality types attracted to these professions are probably a factor, too.)

As an adult, you spend more time in your workplace than anywhere else. When you were a teenager or in your early 20s, you spent a lot more time with your peers, so it was easier to accidentally pick up "coolness" from the people around you. It's likely that most of your "cool" knowledge just rubbed off on you by your environment – you didn't have to work so hard to seek it out. So one option might be to find a career where you're going to be able to mingle with younger people, or people who are more culturally inclined to care about music or film or twitter or whatever.
posted by deathpanels at 5:56 PM on July 10, 2013

I think music is discreet from culture, and that music is easier to stay on top of. I would suggest Imgur for culture. Most of the content is generated by late teen/early 20s people and you'll get celebrities you've never heard of before, memes you would have missed, web comics, tumblr 4chan and reddit hits you'd otherwise never see, and kind of hipstery things like really niche brands of liquor etc. It presents content in a way that's very digestable, easily dipped in and out of, requires absolutely no attention span.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:00 PM on July 10, 2013

Response by poster: These are awesome. I love you so much.
posted by jtajta at 6:39 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

MTV and Top 40 Radio won't do it. Tumblr is your best bet and volunteering with younger people. And I second all the comments about checking out NPR and Pitchfork for new music.
posted by bgal81 at 7:10 PM on July 10, 2013

(I meant to write that some people seem younger than their own age, not younger than me.)
posted by deathpanels at 7:33 PM on July 10, 2013

Yeah nth-ing Tumblr. Interested in what student activists are doing? Or how kids talk about race? Or youth fashion? It's all there.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:14 PM on July 10, 2013

Oh, but don't just have an empty Tumblr. A lot of the younger activists are wary of people just following them for "research." It would be more awesome if you actually used the platform.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:15 PM on July 10, 2013

Just so you know, Oh No They Didn't copies much if not all of their content from other sites and credits only with a tiny link at the bottom they know nobody will click on that just says "source." They're not really a blog that produces much of anything.

Came back to say: yeah, but this isn't much different than Metafilter in that respect. It's a user-based community where users post news and articles they find interesting. Sometimes the user comments are interesting or fun, and sometimes you just skim the post.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:16 AM on July 11, 2013

Nope. Not the same AT ALL. Metafilter doesn't take the entire content. ONTD takes the entire content, and specifically tells people not to post links, but to copy and past the entirety of the content, meaning the source never receives any traffic and rarely receives any credit unless somebody happens to hover on that "source" link. It's great for a writer to be MeFi'd. It's a disaster for a writer to be ONTD'd. Absolutely not remotely the same thing.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:06 PM on July 11, 2013

I'm 31 and MTV was never really much of a touchstone when I was a teenager - by then, it was showing few videos, and many of us didn't have cable anyway.

I watch adverts for a living so I tend to know about a lot of Young People's Music and things such as Geordie Shore and Honey Boo Boo that way., and also through reading the Guardian's 'Lost in Showbiz' blog as I frankly don't have the stomach for celeb rags.

However, I have a nephew who is eighteen and he loves Beck, Smashing Pumpkins and above all The White Stripes - very reminiscent of how I used to love new wave and C-86 at his age, music that was similarly around when I was very small but not old enough to really remember first-hand. I think pop culture has changed in that respect - at his age, it was difficult to seek out non Top-40 and older bands or independent movies where we both grew up, but he can see things on YouTube, subscribe to a service like Mubi, or download music instead of having a day-long excursion in order to get hold of the mid-career commercial faliure album by an older artist. And it seems to work the other way around - I work with people in their 40s who are incredibly different to the people in their 40s my dad worked with 20 yrs ago. I think as others have said the young people/old people divide isn't as clear cut as it once was.
posted by mippy at 4:44 AM on July 12, 2013

Here's the thing about Top40 music, shout rap and auto-tuned junk - most of it is bad and derivative. I visit Chicago a few times per year, and I find that an hour or two of flipping stations is enough to cue me in the trends in sonics and production. When a song consists of someone shouting "Shake that azz/Shake that azz" over and over, you're don't have to listen to it ten times to get at subtleties - there are none. This isn't Chopin.

So to keep up with that aspect of music, just tune in once in a while.
posted by 4midori at 2:51 PM on July 12, 2013

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