Recently, I read an article in the Guardian that suggested that with every minute I spent reading that article, the average life expectancy in Britain would rise by 12 seconds. It also claimed that by the same time the following day, it would have increased by almost five hours. So, at first I thought, hey... at that rate, if I keep reading, I could increase my life expectancy by somewhere in the region of 70 days a year. However, despite the initial increase of 12 seconds, on further reading it became apparent that there are still other factors in play and that one probably shouldn’t get overly optimistic about the promise of extended longevity. If indeed it is a promise.
One major problem is still the fact that according to a House of Lords science committee inquiry into ageing, health expectancy in Britain is growing more slowly than life expectancy and periods of debilitating illness at the end of our lives is, in fact, increasing. So, although, in theory, we could live longer, we could also end up spending a large portion of that time being ill. Which kind of raises the question, like, why bother?
As somewhat of a fossil already, I suppose I can speak of extinction with some degree of authority. And since there is no single gene responsible for ageing, and stem-cell and bacteria implantation research hasn’t quite reached the stage where ageing can be stopped altogether, do we really want to reach 100 if we can’t actually do all the things we want to do and enjoy doing when we get there? Sure, the media hype claiming that 50 is the new 30 might make amusing Sunday supplement reading. But how easy is it for someone over 50 to say, find a new job if necessary? How many are still sniggered at if they’re seen out with considerably younger partners or indulging in what society still labels as ‘younger pursuits’? Where’s the quality of life or the incentive to want to hang around for another 50-odd years if attitudes and expectations don’t keep pace? And if anything, that sort of thing is just getting worse. In a new book by Richard Sennett called The Culture of the New Capitalism, there’s even the suggestion that if you’re over 30 and experienced, you’re already useless.
Sennett begins with the observation that most of us are blessed with neither exceptional talent nor the restlessness that drives raw ambition. Generally, we tend to make sense of our lives by believing that the accumulation of our experiences over time has value. However, he goes on to add that in our current world, we’re no longer seen as valuable for what we’ve accomplished, but rather for what we may be able to do or become in the future. In this world view, where potential is more important than having experience, only the young can be useful because they have no history and are permanently ready to live only in the present and remain forward-looking. According to Sennett, in this new cultural paradigm, we’re moving from a world that values experience, accomplishment and knowledge to one that values the capacity for change and to turn your back on your own history.
As it happens, Apple turned 30 in April and is apparently still striving for longevity without, at the same time, appearing useless. And, in many respects Apple is still attempting to show that it values experience, accomplishment, knowledge and exceptional talent. But by moving in with the mainstream Intel cartel, Steve and the gang are also trying to display a disquieting capacity for change and the ability to turn their back on their own history. Some might say that, as Sennett suggests in his book, this sort of behaviour is Apple’s attempt to embrace the future by repudiating its past, trashing its own experience and grasping the short-term opportunity. Others might say it’s just a shrewd move to extend its life expectancy, avoid debilitating illness and enhance its users’ experience, regardless of their age.
From time to time, we all wonder what it’s all about...what we’re for and whether our lives have any purpose. The longer we exist, perhaps the more pertinent these questions become. For those of us with neither exceptional talent nor the restlessness that drives raw ambition, believing that the accumulation of our experiences over time counts for something and has value may often be enough in a Taoist sort of way. But when companies start to grow up and the corporate mortality bug starts to chew, almost anything can be justified as a hedge against age and extinction. In many respects, Apple has managed to feel young with the success of the iPod. But it’s definitely showing its age by moving into the Intel camp. Even the new adverts have a slightly disturbing edge about them that makes the company feel older, though perhaps not wiser. Personally, with both people and companies, I still think differentiation is better than conformity. And quality of life and experience is still more important than longevity. Of course, if you could figure out how, I suppose you’d end up with what Apple used to call the ‘best of both’ worlds. It’s just at this particular point in time, I don’t really think anyone’s managed to do that.
On the upside, for each minute it’s taken you to read this, you’ve apparently added 12 seconds to your life expectancy. The downside is, you’re still getting older and could end up feeling useless a lot longer. In today’s world, Apple reaching 30 doesn’t even count as middle age – particularly if 50 really is the new 30. Despite the occasional debilitating illnesses, Apple does seem to have the ability to embrace the future and should easily be around for at least another 30 years. Although a lot of us value Apple for what it has accomplished, as a company it still exhibits a drive to prove that it’s also valuable for what it might be able to do in the future. And that’s part of what holds our interest. If we’re all going to be around longer, then I suppose it’d be nice if our Macs were around longer as well – regardless of the chips and even if the company has started to act a bit like a grown-up. Personally, until someone comes up with a sure-fire way to reverse ageing, I’m not sure I’m all that interested in extending my life expectancy – whatever that may be. But, then again, as Dennis Hopper put it, I’m also too old to grow up. MW