Photo by Bruno Bayley
I'm 26. Why does this matter? It doesn't, in itself. But we need to talk about age, because as a generation we seem to be suffering a collective delusion, convinced that we're old and past it long before we actually are.
If you’ve ever heard a 30-year-old man in a baseball hat declare that he's "over" while creating Vines of a Seth Troxler Boiler Room show, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then it’s pretty well summed up in the most over-used and meaningless of all internet stock phrases: “officially old.”
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Every hour, countless people on Twitter declare themselves "officially old." They use it to prefix anything they're doing that is remotely mundane, from buying running gear to boiling an egg, when really, all this is stuff people generally do way before they start worrying about cataracts and their own funeral arrangements. In some cases, the admission even seems to carry with it a sense of pride—history's most infantile generation of twentysomethings taking pleasure in the occasional sign that their lives aren't such irresponsible marathons of recklessness after all.
Being a Justin Bieber fan: a sure-fire sign that you're old
That people with Justin Bieber profile pics are blind to the irony of declaring themselves "officially old" really isn’t their fault. Admen wield the threat of lost youth as a weapon; summer's arrival, for example, is always accompanied these days by ads pushing inner-city "festivals," sponsored by phone networks and beer companies while hot-pink signals flare over the heads of 10,000 exuberant 16-year-olds, all living their youth to the fullest. Of course, this is also the way you should be living your youth, but in reality jobs, hangovers, familial commitments, and the need to not completely piss your rent away often make this non-stop-party lifestyle a little tricky to achieve.
If you're measuring your life in rituals sold to you by vodka companies, it's easy to see why so many people live in fear of reaching "milestone" birthdays. We're constantly on the lookout for warning signs that our blessed fun—the thing that we live for above anything else—is being stolen away from us. Of course, advertisers have always employed this and similar tactics to it. What surprises me, though, is just how readily we now accept it. Rather than scoffing at the glitter face paint, the full-body animal suits, and the corporate-sponsored DayGlo that we're told will prolong our youth, so many of us submit to a perpetual fear of slipping into the next age bracket.
Getting up early and reading books: This his makes you officially old
If we continue down this route our lives will come to resemble weird double bills, where the first part of the show is a roaring, drug-fueled adolescence that lasts 30 years, and the second is a prolonged and timid surrender to Brita-filtered domesticity. The message is always the same: There is only a finite amount of time to have fun before the bar runs dry and you’re too saggy to wear that cactus-print high-waist bikini and oh, wait—no, you’ve totally fucked it now; your youth is gone, and all you’ve got to show for it are 25 ear piercings, some Instagram photos, and a colostomy bag.
Which brings me on to another thing, namely our hyper-awareness of our own stories, the kind fed back to us in Facebook movies—those weird "My top moments of 2013" things—and the inane #TBT. We feel the need to write our own autobiographies as we move through life, unaware that they're doubling as premature obituaries, into Saturday-night talking-head TV shows dedicated to us that, thanks to sun-bleached filters, are stillborn with the hues of nostalgia. We’re preoccupied with our own mythology: social veterans of 25 reminiscing about that time at Coachella two years ago when that thing happened, remember?
Overloading your tweets with emojis makes you old.
“A man is always a teller of tales,” wrote Sartre in 1938, a few years after you were born, probably. “He sees everything that happens to him through them, and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story. But you have to choose: live or tell.”
This is the crux: As long as we are consumed with telling our story, the less we are living. The more concerned we are with the narrative than the experience, the more aware we become of who we are at a given age and how we should be acting.
Yet there are no "shoulds." Jarvis Cocker was 32 when His 'n’ Hers, the first Pulp record to receive any kind of notable attention, was released. Kurt Vonnegut was 41 when his first novel, Cat’s Cradle, was published. Alan Rickman was 46 before he got his first film role. Gandhi led the Quit India Movement at 73. Obviously we don't all possess the charisma or talent of these people, and the arcs of our lives won't exactly mirror theirs. But if all of that doesn’t make you feel stupid for declaring yourself old, past it, and on the shelf for submitting your first tax return, I don’t know what will.
While I was half watching his debate with Nick Clegg, half scrolling through his Wikipedia last month, I learned that Nigel Farage—2014's very own Toad of Toad Hall—had only just turned 50. Which makes him ten months younger than Johnny Depp, five months younger than Brad Pitt, the same age as Dr. Dre, and one year older than Björk. If it wasn’t already clear to me, I realized in that moment that age is completely meaningless.
Being really alt = officially old.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re young. Even if you’re not, who cares? Growing older and becoming more confident in who you are is something to be enjoyed and to feel proud of. Despite what people want to tell you, there is a novelty to growing up.
That said, you’re probably still the same person at 30 as you were at 29. Yes, life changes and new responsibilities arise that we have to adapt to, but the idea of seeing one experience, one birthday, as a precipice between young and old age is ridiculous and puts a huge amount of pressure on us, which is only going to lead to disappointment. Spending as many of your post-breast-milk years in a haze of hedonism and irresponsibility as you can is impossible, unrealistic, and likely to lead to an overdose.
Also, if you’re more Keith Floyd than Chief Keef, it doesn’t invalidate your 20s; and the reverse goes for your 30s, 40s, 50s, whatever. There is no "right" way. Life is a series of mistakes, some of which give way to beauty. It's probably best to just ride it out and keep doing it however you want until it’s over.
Follow Nathalie Olah on Twitter.