By Diego Astorga De Ita
I quite like T.S. Eliot. I’m not entirely sure why (not that there is any reason not to). I haven’t read as much of his work as other authors, and sometimes it takes me a while to understand his poems. Still, to me, the way he weaves words together is marvellous.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock because it has a verse about coffee and, being a caffeine addict, I was trying to remember that particular line about my drug of choice. In case you’re wondering, it goes like this: ‘For I have known them all already, known them all: / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, / I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.’ While looking for that line I realised that this poem speaks a lot about the passing of time and about ageing. Going bald. Growing thin. Measuring life in coffee spoons. The following passage especially depicts these concepts.
‘I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.’
I read this poem the morning of our Café Scientifique talk on the ‘Future of ageing’ with Dr. Lynne Corner, and it got me thinking. I already wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled sometimes, does that mean I’m old? Or is it just that it’s sort of ‘in’ right now? Maybe I’m just oblivious to fashion. Either way, no matter how young we are, we start feeling the weight of our coffee spoons piling up little by little. As Dr. Corner said, ‘ageing starts now.’ (Yes, RIGHT NOW, as you’re reading this.) That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
As technology progresses we (humans) tend to live longer. However, we don’t always live well. Even though the go-to cliché when talking about growing old is a wine or cheese that gets better with age, it would seem that ageing in our society is seen more like following the path of the proverbial Twinkie, that gets older and stranger and also more inedible. Or like those leftovers in your fridge that are being colonised by colourful fungi. How do we go from the fungi-garden / twinkie to the cheese? That’s roughly what Dr. Corner talked about.
Ageing is not such a terrible thing, but we need to learn to do it well. Our habits today will affect how we age: what we eat, how we spend our time, whether we are lonely and how we configure our daily spaces. We might want to start doing these things with an eye on the future. We might need to change careers as our lives change, and we might need to change the spaces we live in as our needs change. Change is a central part of ageing, and we must learn to deal with it; not just personally but as a society. We usually don’t think about older people too much –with the exception, perhaps, of our grandparents or some family friends – but as a society we should do more for them. Not just because it’s the nice thing to do, but also because it would improve all of our lives.
Dr. Corner spoke of the importance older age groups have in society. At least in the UK people over the age of fifty are the biggest spenders but not many companies target them, and their weight in our economy is often overlooked. When designing things our elders are not usually the first people we think about, but like Dr. Corner said, ‘good design for old people is good design for everybody.’ And not only that, older generations have an insight that we should take advantage of. We need to engage with our elders and learn from them. We must give them a place in society and make the most of the opportunity that is living longer.
So start growing old. Get a pair of flannel trousers, roll the bottoms up, go for a walk and make some new old friends. It should be fun!
Video credit: Alexandra Verzuh
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