February 21, 2020

Thoughts on a half century

Thoughts on a half century

The other day, I had officially reached a “milestone” age: half a century—an age at which young people officially consider you old, but older people still consider you young. This is in contrast to being, say, 70, which is an age at which someone older than that will certainly consider you younger, but not young.

You hear older people say “age is just a number” and in a very real sense, that is true. Decades ago, I was a longhaired rocker, driving around in my 4-door compact hatchback, writing pro audio and fantasy works, nerding out on sci-fi/fantasy and role-playing games…and here I am, today, a shorthaired rocker, driving around in my 4-door compact hatchback, writing pro audio and fantasy works, nerding out on sci-fi/fantasy and role-playing games.

But that’s only the surface. I have a lot more stuff in my life. I have creative output—music, writing, podcasts—that I didn’t have. There have been physical changes: less hair, crows feet around the eyes, squishier middle. But the most profound are the mental and emotional changes, some for better, others for worse. I have always been absent minded with my head in the clouds (I’ve heard it called “the artist’s curse” before), but it seems harder to hold onto thoughts than it used to be decades ago. The longer you live, the more important people in your life you lose, and that mental scar tissue becomes less painful but never goes away. And of course the more moments you have, the more of them will be filled with the little frustrations and disappointments that make days stressful and annoying.

But I’ve also learned to value the people in my life more, and to sweat the little things less. I’ve a better sense of what, and who, is important, and what I can let slide. I still beat myself up on a regular basis—nobody is capable of hurting us as much as we can hurt ourselves—but I’ve also learned to forgive myself and the people around me. I’ve learned more about what my strengths are, my weaknesses, and what I need to work on. I’ve learned more about my likes and dislikes. And of course, the more moments you have, the more will be filled with the little joys and warmth that make days wonderful and enjoyable.

It’s also an interesting lesson to look back and see where the world was when I was a child, and where it is now. Our technological evolution has increased so fast, and it’s been a straight line of advancement. When I was in school, a “portable phone” looked like a brick, and all it did was make calls—slowly, and expensively. Schools and businesses had computers, but not all people. Flash forward to now, and phones fit in pockets and are basically fully functional communications/computing/entertainment devices. And that’s not to mention medical technology, transportation technology, you name it.

But our moral evolution hasn’t been able to keep up. Those phones in our pockets are used to spy on us. The same technology to make wisdom readily available to anyone who wants it also makes child pornography readily available to anyone who wants it. The technology that brings us together, also also tears us apart. We connect, but we also bully and threaten. We use our tech to express love, and also to organize mass genocide. We haven’t slowed down polluting our air, poisoning our water, and hating each other.

My dad, who was 50 years old when I was born, always had an optimistic outlook on technology and human prospects. He figured that we’d tech our way out of all our messes—we’d solve climate change, water scarcity, we’d get off planet, you name it, all because within his lifetime the development of new technologies seemed effectively limitless. I inherited my dad’s love of technology, but not all of that optimism. I don’t think we can tech our way out of the grave that the human race has dug itself into. I think that the tech will help, absolutely, but we, as a species, need to come together to use that technology for good.

I’d like to think there’s more kind people in the world than cruel people, but apathy and inaction is a hell of a drug. More than anything, I think age has made me more cognizant of how important it is to act. I may not have a lot of wisdom to impart, but that’s one thing I’ve learned: problems don’t solve themselves, and this won’t become a kinder world unless we ourselves are more kind. So I’m trying to step up, day by day, in ways small, and less small. I try to pay attention, to participate with time and money when I can, and to think before I act.

Maybe one day, when I grow up, I’ll get it right. But I’m trying. And if you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll try too. And remember, trying to do the right thing doesn’t mean there’s no time for fun and games. If anything, a more peaceful world means more time to enjoy ourselves with our loved ones, in our favorite places.

And speaking of favorite places, my wife is taking me to Disneyland later, so I need to sign off. But I’ll leave you with the same signoff that I end every episode of The Omega Beam. It may sound routine, but I mean it with an almost desperate sincerity:

Be good to yourselves—and each other.