Wednesday, February 3, 2010

An End Doesn't Mean There's No Means...

Retirement is hard, for so many reasons, not the least of which is that, often, you've been looking forward to it your whole life. The time carries with it so many expectations. In my semi-retirement, quitting my job a few years back with no particular plan, I was shocked at how little I knew about myself, about what I wanted, who I was, who I would be if I could. And I still have young children to take care of, a reason for getting up in the morning if ever there was one. Real retirement, in your 60s or 70s, at the point at which you could really just take the time for yourself, maybe together with a spouse, means facing an infinitely blank slate and having to ask yourself the question: How on earth do I fill this?

There is a man now visiting a cafe I frequent daily. He is, he tells everyone happily, blissfully, recently retired. I gave him a gold star. He had worked a full career as a psychiatric social worker for the City of New York, in hospitals mostly, had definitely put in his time I imagine, seen a lot.

We talked a bit. He planned on doing some consulting, he said, after a well-deserved break. I nodded.

"Older people with experience and historical knowledge are so valuable, so necessary," I said.

He just shook his head. "These young people, they come in, they think they know everything," he said. "They think technology is the end, not the means..."

"I agree!" I said. I had had this same conversation a while back on the train with a woman as we sat staring at someone in the grips of a handheld device. "There are so many great things about technology, so much great information it affords us access to, but we don't seem to be looking beyond creating it for its own sake."

It is sad that the generation heading into retirement is taking with it so much information that they gathered in their own brains, long before they could compute it or commit it to one application or another. We have to tap their knowledge, learn from their hands-on approaches, make sure we don't forget in our rush toward modernity that people make most everything and they make it in their own image, rife with potential errors.

Figuring out my new phone, my Verizon guru suggested that there was a glitch in the system when someone went to perform a particular function because the system felt it had already done too much and would stop.

I laughed. "Are you telling me this device has an ego?" I said.

He nodded. It wasn't so crazy, as I thought about it, imagining the man who created the system saying, 'screw it, I've done enough,' and heading out for a drink. Sipping at that drink, I imagine, he was dreaming of retirement.

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