Future Shock 2014 Edition
March 2, 2014 6:23 AM   Subscribe

As an over 50 being, I am feeling daunted by the pace of change. In this weeks encounters with the future were my android which is smarter than I am, the cloning of the wooly mammoth, three parent birth families, and a friend said "that very soon the entire world will be eating gluten free, to which I replied "only when you pry the pasta out of my cold dead hands." I don't want to become a Luddite but the rapidity of change feels like too much. I need suggestions for coping and adjusting to change as I age.
posted by Xurando to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it may comfort you to know that your android is not smarter than you, no one has cloned a wooly mammoth, non-nuclear families are old news, not an innovation, and the entire world will not be eating gluten free soon.

Change is rapid, and it may be difficult to deal with, but none of the things that are making you feel anxious are actually happening. Maybe just a hiatus from the sensationalist news media would help?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:35 AM on March 2, 2014 [39 favorites]

Well, I am over 50 and in some ways feel the same, yet in others, I have embraced change. I think that having 3 kids, the youngest of who is a junior in hs keeps me embracing change. I was thinking about this just the other day. Here is what I suggest. Think back on your own childhood in the 60s and 70s. Think about the change you have already embraced/endured. It is huge. For example, in college, I was telling my kids how I was so excited because my grandparents bought me an electric typewriter so I could type my papers. I still have that old rig, but could not imagine using it and haven't for 25 years. Think about how many times they have changed the food pyramid or changed from fat free eating to Atkins, to many small meals to whatever.

I had a great aunt born in 1910 who died in 2010. 100 years old. In her early 90s, I started asking her a lot of questions about her life. I asked her what, to her, was the biggest change in her lifetime. I was actually expecting her to say the plane. She was born right around the time the first flights were happening and now we have gone to the moon. Her reply? The toaster oven. The friggin toaster over! "Why auntie the toaster oven?" Along with the frozen meal, it gave me the time and convenience to live my life. I could come home in the evening and pop in a meal and then go back out to visit with friends. What a waste of time cooking a whole meal from scratch was." (I was scared to ask her if she thought the TO was great what about the microwave, but...)

I chose to look at change this way: the change that seems to appeal to me or can make my life easier/better, I embrace. For example, I have an S4 which I love, but I won't use the Google features that require me to give up more personal information than which I am comfortable. No Google Now for me, no apps that know where I am and ping "friends", none of that crap. But, I am going to pick my son up in CT later today, and I am just going to plug the address in and let my phone tell me where to go. I don't have a Facebook account. It would serve me no purpose. Gluten free? I am with you, ain't happening for me. Loves me my pasta, but I am dating a woman who eats gluten free. God bless her for it and pass the bread.

But here is the key point: Just don't take the change personally as if it is a repudiation of your long held beliefs. It is not. For some it is progress. for others it is a nuisance. That is all.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:43 AM on March 2, 2014 [11 favorites]

I attended a meeting about traditional publishing in the wake of the ebook. I sat through an hour of markeying execs rhapsodising about the ebook and tablets. I then asked "What about schools in Rwanda where you have no stable access to the internet and three hours of electricity (if you are lucky)?". They couldn't answer.

The world is constantly changing but it will never change at the ridiculous pace predicted. People will still eaten glutinous pasta five years from now, simply because most people do not live in that very little, insular pocket where gluen-free pasta seems inevitable (or ebooks will conquer all).

Look at the people predicting all these massive changes - and then think about how all those predictions will actually only affect a very small selection of humanity. And then go on living the way you live and occasionally upgrade your phone contract and your fridge.

Everything is going to be okay.
posted by kariebookish at 6:44 AM on March 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Failing some quantum advancement in flavor and texture technologies, gluten-free foods will not be taking over your grocery shelves any time soon.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:00 AM on March 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yeah, you're doing a bit of distorted thinking there... change happens, but it's not going to run over you and leave you in the dust.

That said.. I'm a few years older, and I've come to grips with the reality of the fact that I'm not going to always be up to speed and on the cutting edge of knowledge or technology. It just isn't possible. Understanding that, and letting go of the need to be an early adaptor of "everything new" was a huge weight off my shoulders.

Besides, I've got enough to do waiting for them to deliver my jet pack, flying car, and my ticket to the moon.
posted by HuronBob at 7:02 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm nearing 50 and I think you are totally misreading the situation. Your Android phone doesn't really do anything new. It's just more efficient and in a smaller package. We've been talking and texting on phones for years. We've been playing video games for years. Instead of checking the TV in the AM for weather and traffic, Google Now sends you a proactive message with the same info. Instead of carrying a camera it's now combined with your phone. Technology may be changing how we do stuff. But the important part, the actual human behavior, isn't really changing much.
posted by COD at 7:07 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recommend Robert Sapolsky's essay, "Open Season," on this topic (summary from The New Yorker; also published in Sapolsky's "Monkeyluv"). Fear of change might be alleviated by committing to learning something new: gardening classes through an extension office; cooking classes at a local community college; whatever floats your boat, in a live setting. That way, you can push back against the feeling of being knowledge-gapped and do so with the support of others who are picking up a new skill.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:20 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I am considerably older than you and though I understand your unease, I have adopted the attitude of my grandfather who was born in 1908 and died at nearly 90. I was fortunate to be one of his primary "helpers" in the last decade of his life. He repeated often, "I am incredibly lucky to have lived when I have lived. Think about it, I was born in a world of horse-drawn wagons. I remember like it was yesterday the first time I saw an automobile. Now I've seen men walk on the moon! And there are things going on with computers now I don't even understand, but it's clear they are revolutionary. What a world! There was never a better time to live."
He is still with me in my head every day. He was the wisest man I've ever known.
posted by txmon at 7:27 AM on March 2, 2014 [23 favorites]

I'm over 60 and the pace doesn't bother me... I kind of like it. I find it rather exhilarating. A lot of it is just pop culture, but there is a load of very cool science being done. Then again, I've been reading and writing science fiction for most of my life, so maybe that helps. It is possible that we'll kill ourselves off in one way or another, but hey -- no one promised you a rose garden. Maybe the fact that I am happy in my life helps, too.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:29 AM on March 2, 2014

I'm your generation too and though I appreciate the comforting messages above that it's not that big a deal, I think it's a mistake to minimize the kind of change that is occurring. The fact that indeed there has always been change can be lulling as we try to think about the change happening now. Certain things now are happening that make life now more different than it was 100 years ago for most people than life had been for thousands of years before that. The small changes we contend with in our lives as we adapt to new devices might be giving us anxiety not only because we aren't sure how to use these devices or don't want to eat the kind of food that's trendiest but also because they hint at the larger global changes they represent. For example, the recent book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary reminds us of the giant change in many people's natural sleep rhythms as a symptom of a globalizing economy. Although it feels tiny, the fact that people are constantly checking phones while out walking, in conversation, etc. is having a significant impact on the feeling of sociability. It is pretty huge when something that would have been a casual error in your life potentially can live forever and circulate everywhere on a youtube captured by someone's phone video -- this changes the spontaneity with which professors teach, for example. The fact that gluten free is so prevalent hints at the fact that we're surrounded by a crazy amount of food choices, and that this is because of destructive changes in global corporate food production. So yes, there is something significant to notice and feel something about here, and while change has indeed always always occurred, and always been unsettling, the changes we are living through right now is at an accelerated pace and has more ambiguous consequences than anything since the industrial revolution.
posted by third rail at 7:37 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry, so to actually answer your question, I would say it's best not to minimize your feelings about these transitions or pooh-pooh your sense of rapid change, but rather to try to decide which things you wish to use for yourself while feeling confident that you don't have to choose or embrace it all -- it can be an environmentally and psychologically sane thing to decide NOT to plunge into every new technological transition.
posted by third rail at 7:47 AM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'd like to recommend a wonderful book by David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old. He's a historian of technology, and a lot of the book is about the ways we tend to dramatically overestimate the significance and impact of glamorous, thrilling, chilling high-tech innovations. That is, we tell ourselves stories of overwhelming future shock about things whose effect is vanishingly small in the lives of almost everyone compared to radios, condoms, canned food, old diesel engines, corrugated metal, flat-pack furniture, iodized table salt and AK-47s. Many of the most important changes are small, widespread, slow, capillary events, often so ubiquitous as to be nearly invisible.

This isn't say "Don't feel future shock" -- I feel it too! -- but to remember, in the words of the futurist Paul Saffo, "Don't mistake a clear view for a short distance." Epochal changes are often exactly not the things giving us the jitters; we just end up with a skewed perspective because of the kinds of stories that sell. We don't turn on electric lights with a sense of OMG CHANGE TORQUE, though they're (arguably) much more profound in their effects on everyday life and work and the body around the world than the prospect of a cloned wooly mammoth, freaky as that is. When the profound change actually arrives off the newsfeed and into everyday life, it gets made into something as banal as the person next to me on the train playing Candy Crush on their phone. That sense of perspective can be comforting, I find.
posted by the brave tetra-pak at 8:55 AM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm in my 40s and completely utterly disagree with the people who are minimizing how much and how rapidly things are changing. The thing I do for a living didn't exist when I was in college. The way I shop for most things didn't exist when I was in grad school. The ways I conduct the majority of my social life didn't exist ten years ago. All of those either won't exist or will have turned into something barely recognizable ten years from now. Social attitudes are changing as fast as our monkey brains can keep up -- that Bloomingdales post a few days ago was astounding, all those people to whom brie was this exotic substance, the idea that "Saturday shoppers" -- the first generation that didn't have a housewife doing the shopping midweek -- was a new and notable phenomenon... I mean geez.

Two things let me cope:

1. It's exciting. Growing up in an era where my grandkids lives would be more or less identical to my own: how despair-inducing would that be?

2. It doesn't actually matter if I get "left behind". The faster things continue to change -- and they will -- the more people are going to start to pick and choose which advances they want to keep up with, and which ones they are okay with leapfrogging or ignoring. At some point that'll be me, and that's okay because it'll mean I've reached a point that I'm satisfied with and don't need the next new thing anymore.
posted by ook at 8:57 AM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm in my early sixties. As Salvor Hardin points out above without explicitly saying so, you might cultivate critical reading and thinking skills, since the examples of change that you cite are hardly exemplary of the word.

As for suggestions for coping with and adjusting to change, I dunno. Maybe it's a mind set. Instead of being awed by my new iPhone, I'm mildly impressed. Instead of being overwhelmed by so-called de-extinction, I note that it is merely a possibility, with a long history of incremental scientific discoveries behind the idea, and that it is fraught with eithical questions that I find interesting (and, yes, troubling) to consider.

I guess, too, I get more selfish in my dotage, which helps filter All News All The Time. I haven't spent much time understanding Bitcoin, for example, because it affects me not at all (though I try to stay a little informed so that if the day comes that it might affect me in ways I don't now understand, at least it won't come as a bolt from the blue.)

And perspective. How many studies over the years have gone back and forth about whether or not coffee is good or bad for us? There really is no point in reacting to every contradictory study or assertion. (As a boy, I remember reading in the newspaper that left-handedness might be caused by mild brain damage suffered in the womb; at the time I thought, wow, I don't FEEL brain damaged, and now, 50 years later, I think it's safe to say that the study behind the article was just flat wrong.) The same goes for what the media calls trends. They want you to click NOW. They don't care that five years from now nobody will even remember their manufactured urgency about a blip that wasn't a trend at all, and you shouldn't either.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 8:58 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For the most part, fantastic answers. Keep them coming.
posted by Xurando at 9:02 AM on March 2, 2014

I'm older than you are and always consider the media source--local news is easily ignored. NYT magazine--depends on the writer. FFP--usually read. Reddit--maybe ignored. Tumblr--always ignored. "Left behind" is a sliding scale. I don't care about Snapchat, for example.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:14 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

As another fiftysomething I never miss a chance to spend time ruminating with other fiftysomethings about how the world is all going straight down the shitter and how the young folk these days have no clue and then we laugh and laugh and laugh and one of us will always ask what is that rubbish they're listening to these days and then we laugh some more and go outside to see if we can find a few kids to chase off the lawn.

That said, Windows 8 is a huge leap backward and yet another clear demonstration that the Everything Is A Phone brain worms are absolutely running rampant through the computer industry, and Facebook still exists and both it and Twitter are still taken seriously, so there really is a lot of crap around at present especially online and the degree of control we seem collectively willing to give our New Corporate Overlords is truly quite astounding.

I deal with that by trying to remain at least a little bit abreast of what's going on most of the things I'm overtly contemptuous of, and reminding myself that MySpace was a thing as well, once, and that Rupert bought that (ha, sucker) and that this too shall pass. Even so, there is much going on in technology that is indeed merely change for the sake of it - things not so much getting better as just becoming some ridiculous fashion-industry wannabe.

There's also majority popular support for the unconscionable tortures that both the present Australian Government and the pusillanimous excuse we have for an Opposition in this country are pleased to inflict on refugees here, and the mining lobby has a total lock on industrial and energy policy and is busy trying to bury the green energy sector as fast as it can dig up coal and smother the Reef in dredge spoil and the powers that be are utterly dominated by unprincipled climate change deniers. So there's that. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with objecting strongly to that kind of change and doing one's best to oppose it.

But when it all becomes too overwhelming I go outside and spend some time just listening to wind in the trees and a flock of cockatoos whirring and squarking overhead, and skritching the donkey behind the ears and contemplating the amazing whirlwind of crap that young ms. flabdablet has distributed all over the back lawn, and I reflect on how incredibly fucking lucky I am to be where I am and with who, and that no matter how shitty everything else gets the people around me are all good people and I fully expect not to die violently and really, how much better do I actually need my life to be?

Because as fast as the world is changing - and it is - at least some of that is for the better; even though there are far too many people now, proportionately fewer of us are horribly poor than we were fifty years ago; at least where I live it's rather less hideously difficult to be homosexual or mentally ill or in any other way visibly non-majority than it was fifty years ago; at least where I live we're no longer beating the shit out of kids at school as a matter of official policy, but overtly teaching them about emotional self-regulation instead. And the terrible echoes of the First and Second World Wars will eventually die down, and we will eventually run our economies on a genuinely sustainable basis even if we have to go through the fucking apocalypse to get there, and really all any of us ever get to see is a tiny tiny slice of more change than it's humanly possible to contemplate and that's just how it is so I guess we'd better live with it.
posted by flabdablet at 9:27 AM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm a little younger than you and I feel like this sometimes. And I really fear becoming a person who cannot understand or relate to the world as it is and thus becoming angry or afraid. I've been trying to develop coping mechanisms such as flabdablet describes--trying to keep a little bit abreast of things but remembering all the rapid change that did not stick and stepping off occasionally.

Sometimes I also list the differences in day to day living between me and my mother (71) experienced (such as no refrigerator but an ice box, a party phone line, friends dying of childhood diseases no-one gets anymore, women not being admitted to engineering school) and between me and my kindergartner-nephew (videotelephone calls, where his gay uncles have always been married). Some vast advances are details (skype, facetime) and some are profound (gay civil rights). Then I tend to recognize that it's the details which seem scary (because it's such an adjustment having to remember a log on and strong password for every detail of my life) and the sea changes (gay marriage, women in power, neonatal medicine) which only make me more impressed with the depth of humanity.

I think just recognizing that it's an adjustment you must work at puts you ahead of the curve.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:00 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Failing some quantum advancement in flavor and texture technologies,

Failing any scientific evidence that the vast majority of people have any problem digesting gluten, the latest food fad will always fade away within 10 years. A decade ago everyone thought they had candidiasis. Now it's celiac disease. It's the same bullshit updated to scam money from suckers.

Which actually implies a way to leverage your age as wisdom. I'm right behind you on the curve, and definitely feeling my encroaching geezerdom in all kinds of ways. But one of the positive effects is that I've seen enough hype, bullshit, utopianism, dystopianism, and assorted other versions of "now everything will change!" that I take it with a grain of salt. And a nice slice of gluten-saturated bread.
posted by spitbull at 10:02 AM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm over fifty. I vaguely remember the book Future Shock and think some days I'm living it.

I agree with the above poster with the grandfather. My own greatgrandmother was born in 1877 and lived to see a man on the moon. We really are privileged to live in this time period-with the added advantage of our age and experience with life. That really is an advantage when it comes to perspective-something a younger person can ONLY get by aging.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:19 AM on March 2, 2014

One good way to inoculate yourself against the feeling that a lot of minor fads are going to change the world in scary fast ways is to read old books that predicted the future completely wrong. Since you remember the old pop culture and you know how that "future" actually played out, you can see how people got worked up over unimportant things while missing essential continuity.

For instance, find a copy of the satirical book The '80s: A Look Back At The Tumultuous Decade 1980-1989, published in 1979, and read it through. You're just the right age to catch all the references (there are a lot of Allan Bakke Decision jokes in there), and to see how caught up in irrelevant trivialities the authors were. This critical-nostalgia-driven approach has been, for me, the single greatest conservative force in thinking about the modern world.

Another good reality check technique is to spend more time around large groups of active older people. My mom likes to spend winter months in a vacation rental in a different Active Adult Retirement Community every year (e.g. Del Webb), and I visit for a week or two. One thing you start to realize is that so long as there are a lot of people who prefer things the older way, that way will continue, because money rules in America and older people have more money. Until the pre-Facebook generation dies off, you won't need to be on Facebook, because institutions which respond to the desires of patrons (e.g. stores, government) will continue to cater to them. You can still turn on the radio and hear Classic Rock.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:28 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Less intellectual than some of the answers above but I always find comedy helpful in dealing with stress. Louis CK has a great bit about modern technology and flying. It's more about people feeling the opposite of what you are feeling - technology isn't getting better fast enough.

Personally, I combat the future shock thing by making sure I can deal with the world with non-tech or non-modern solutions. I know how to garden, preserve, mend a fence, sew and cook, etc. I still write the occasional letter instead of always emailing. I read books as well as e-books or audiobooks.

Most days I feel like this dependence on technology is an artificial and temporary situation like the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley. The bubble could very well burst and there will be a whole generation of people who can't fend for themselves because their iPhones are dead.

(And spitbull, "encroaching geezerdom" is the best phrase I've heard in ages.)
posted by Beti at 10:51 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: As I said before, I appreciate the great responses, especially the books and articles. I am actually a change maven or I wouldn't inhabit MetaFilter in the first place. Just wanted to state that this week it was not change itself but the pace of change that went beyond my mind's ability to keep up and incorporate.

A good case in point is the 3 parent family. We are not talking about non-traditional family units but rather using genetic material from three parents to make one child. Intellectually I can understand the process but on another level my mind can't grasp all the ramifications of this change and it's not science fiction it's science reality and my mind says STOP!!!
posted by Xurando at 12:32 PM on March 2, 2014

The example you've given is another step from sperm donation, IVF, all the other new types of conception.

It is no way the mainstream way of making a child; it is still on the cusp of being science fiction, especially as it will impact people living today.

The pace is staying the same; it sounds like this week you were just more keyed into it.
posted by RainyJay at 2:15 PM on March 2, 2014

47, work in a tech-related field. I find that the media, as well as the internet itself,* exaggerates the pace and profundity, if that's the word I want, of changes. 10 years from now I may well have a driverless car, or better still no car of my own, but rather some ubiquitious mass-transit gadget that I can bicycle down a few blocks to get to from my suburban home, kinda like they already have in the city. Or maybe I won't have an office at all, or even a job - perhaps it will be a series of contracts.

Culturally, the conservative state I live in may be all over gay marriage (in any sense you want to say "all over," and we'll undoubtedly be arguing about some other unanswerable conundrum. Maybe cloning, maybe more attention focused on end-of-life issues. We might even have socialized medicine. My phone may be hanging off the temple of my glasses. Maybe Adobe PDF Reader won't be a system hog (nah).

But all of those things won't happen all at once, and the rate at which I actually have to read the instructions won't likely change. I've been coping with new stuff ever since I was a teenager, from my friends showing me a TRS-80 to my first car phone to Compuserve to now. By and large the really stupid, cumbersome stuff has remained a niche item for the enthusiasts or fallen by the wayside. If anything, I find that a key idea baked into newer innovations is that they have to be easy to use. Honestly, I thought the '80s were gonna kill me - I went from using typewriters to do my school assignments to trying to sell computer-driven industrial printers using serial ports. SERIAL PORTS!

A major thing that keeps me sane with all the tech reading I do is knowing I don't have to know all about everything. I find that if I really need to get to speed on it, it keeps getting larger in my headlights, slowly. 3D printers may change my industry, at least part of it, eventually, but as long as they cost a fortune, they won't be getting used to make coffee cups. When they start getting cheaper, some of my suppliers will start jumping in or I'll start seeing them in more contexts that let me know it's time to consider figuring out how they work.

*that wasn't there when you and I were growing up, huh? But here we are...
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:23 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. For the most part you do not have to keep up. I had dinner a few months back with a group that included a guy who made huge bucks from his IT startup in Seattle. He was proud to show off his old Razr flip phone. Smartphones are too complicated, he explained.

2. Everyone around you says that the pace of change is unprecedented and accelerating, but that is not really true. Nineteenth century Americans experienced far more rapid change. This about it--a fellow like Cornelius Vanderbilt was born during the presidency of George Washington, at a time when no person had ever moved faster than a galloping horse. In his life (he died in 1877) he saw the rise of the steamboat, the train (cross the continent in six days!) the telegraph, aerial balloons and even the invention of telephone. I am in my 50s as well, and the pace of change is definitely slower in our lives than it was to our great grandparents.
posted by LarryC at 9:44 PM on March 2, 2014

I am in my 50s as well, and the pace of change is definitely slower in our lives than it was to our great grandparents.

I remain unconvinced that any of us are ever actually in a position to make that call.
posted by flabdablet at 2:53 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

re: three parent family thing... as I read this story it's not so much about allowing three adults to all contribute some genetic materials so much as it is a method for folks with certain genetic issues to have a bio-baby without passing it on. Specifically, parent 1 contributes their X, parent 2 contributes their Y... same as always. But with this technique the mitochondrial component is replaced with that of parent 3, thus preventing certain mitochondrial disorders from being passed on. The baby isn't 33/33/33, it
s more like, 49/49/2.
posted by utsutsu at 12:05 PM on March 3, 2014

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