I recently celebrated my 50th birthday. I am still middle aged, just more so. The problem is that middle aged is a very subjective term. There is no official universally agreed definition of when it starts or ends. When I was younger I felt the point at which it started was earlier than I later considered it. When you are 14, middle age is, from your perspective, sometime in the mid to late thirties. Once I hit my thirties, I adjusted that by at least 10 years. I later accepted gracefully that I was middle aged, but now am not sure at what point I will move from that onto the next category. I am now at the stage of being well aware I am far too old to describe myself as young, but old seems a little way off yet. It is possibly typical of middle age neurosis that I bother to spend any time actually pondering this.
Anyway, significant birthdays are often a point of reflection, self analysis and taking stock. My family went out for a birthday meal to a well known national chain, but one to which I had never previously been. When I got there, I realised I had left my phone at home. For a little while, I felt like an appendage had been cut off, but then I stopped to consider the fact that I had lived the vast majority of my life without a mobile phone and, quite a big chunk of the time since I got my first one, I owned devices that were really only any good for actually calling people (and sometimes not much good even at that).
Facebook and other social media sites are so well established that it is easy to forget they have been around for only 10 years or less.
Handheld social media access is quite new in relative terms, but yet has become very quickly taken for granted. It is now the norm for every social activity to be recorded and shared with an online community.
As I looked across the table, my family members had their phones out and were busily tapping and swiping. As I then looked around the fairly large restaurant, I noticed that, at every single table, at least one person, and frequently more, had a phone out. Several were taking photos of their dinner, presumably to share with their social media friends.
As my family happily ignored me and nobody in the room was looking up enough to see me observing them, I turned to thinking how quickly the world has changed. When I was a youngster, I had a camera that took spools of photos, that had to be wound on with a little wheel after every shot. There would be no opportunity to see them until the whole spool was finished, and even then it would be an extra few days later, after dropping it off into a little bag in a shop to be developed and collected another day.
I thought back to my youth and the ridiculous notion that I would have felt the urge to take a photo of my dinner, and then a week or so later, when I finally got to see how it came out and whether my finger had been in the way of the lens, rush round to all my neighbours to show them the photo, onto which I had written on the back the very helpful description “hashtag om nom”.
Of course, there were plenty of family photos, but never in any of them did I feel compelled to make some sort of symbol with my hands, nor stick my lips so far out that I looked like a slightly surprised fish. I can imagine my mother’s reaction if I had tried.
These musings were interrupted by the arrival of the food. I very much enjoyed it, but you will have to take my word for it, as there is no photographic evidence of my doing so. Sorry.