Five at 8 – 10/30/09: Do old people have value?

1) Here’s a little pick-me-up for people who are old enough to, say, remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Old people are irrelevant, Philip Greenspun posits. Technology has done that.

An old person will know more than a young person, but can any person, young or old, know as much as Google and Wikipedia? Why would a young person ask an elder the answer to a fact question that can be solved authoritatively in 10 seconds with a Web search?

How about skills? Want help orienting a rooftop television aerial? Changing the vacuum tubes in your TV? Dialing up AOL? Using MS-DOS? Changing the ribbon on an IBM Selectric (height of 1961 technology)? Tuning up a car that lacks electronic engine controls? Doing your taxes without considering the Alternative Minimum Tax and the tens of thousands of pages of rules that have been added since our senior citizen was starting his career? Didn’t think so.

Ironically, the technology that has made old people irrelevant, has also kept them alive longer, Greenspun says.

Apparently this is let’s-kick-the-heck-out-oldtimers month because the blog The Man Who is Thursday also picks up the topic:

Most people aren’t abstract thinkers and therefore whatever wisdom they have to impart is very concrete and specific to the peculiar circumstance of their environment. Social change has been so drastic over the past few decades that older people don’t really understand the specifics of what their children and grandchildren are going through and thus often can’t really be that helpful. Our choices are not their choices and their wisdom is for a time long past.

See? Ain’t that a knee-slapper to start the day, oldies? What say we all meet at our lawyers’ office this morning and rewrite those wills?

2) The recession is over and the resale prices of homes are up. How long would it take at the current pace to sell all the homes in the Twin Cities that are for sale? Teresa Boardman has taken pen to paper: between 4 and 8 months.

3) The latest One in 8 Million episode from the New York Times: A guy who lives on a boat and makes a living giving tours of New York Harbor. How’s that idea going over in your cubicle? Did I mention he doesn’t have an alarm clock but is awakened each day with the gentle waves of the morning commuter ferries?

4) I Spend My Free Time With Dead People.” Slate looks at the strange hobby of “graving.”

5) What’s all this talk about Minnesota Today? MinnPost’s David Brauer looks at this MPR initiative, and asks the question, “Why should taxpayers pony up for journalists?”

Bonus: Update. Earlier this week an autistic man took a 20-minute tour of New York City by helicopter, and then started sketching a huge panorama based only on his memory. Today, he’s finishing it. Prepare to be blown away by this savant.


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Taped interview with New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

Second hour: University of Minnesota etymology expert Anatoly Liberman joins Midmorning to talk about odd spellings, and the words we love just a little too much. We Public Radio folks love this sort of stuff.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Second District Congressman John Kline discusses the war in Afghanistan.

Second hour: A new documentary from Stephen Smith about the history and value of pre-school.

Talk of the Nation (1 – 3 p.m.) – It’s Science Friday! First hour: The 40th anniversary of the Internet and a running research roundup.

Second hour: A look at the history of cannibalism.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – MPR’s Tim Nelson looks at what happens when you put that black goop on your blacktop driveway and considers whether the state should ban coal tar.

Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein, the Mummy – the iconic ghouls. However, they have their genesis in a very specific time and place — at Universal Studios. What gave rise to these classic creatures? Why did they scare us once, but not now? Does that sound like a story from MPR’s Sanden Totten? It is.

The Uptown Bar is closing on Sunday. It has a storied history in the local music scene. The Current has put together a three-part video documentary.

Mark Zdechlik will total up the number of jobs created in Minnesota — or not — by stimulus cash.

  • Alison

    Interesting bit about the value of old people. If you want a good answer to the question and a wonderfully touching story, listen to the episode of ‘The Story’ with Dick Gordon from yesterday entitled ‘Caring for Aunt Mary’. (

  • GregS

    Years ago, I attended a panel discussion on careers in engineering. At one point, a thirty-ish project manager put a rather blunt question to a fifty-ish engineer from Univac.

    He asked,

    “Why should I hire you instead of a recent college grad?

    You are:

    -At the top of the pay scale.

    -Used to an 8/hr day and five weeks vacation.

    -Not up on the latest technology.

    Whereas a kid is:

    -At the bottom of the pay scale.

    -Willing to work a 90/hr week.

    -Up on the latest technology.

    What can you offer me?”

    The old guy studied the young project manager for a bit then shot back, “All my sins are paid for.”

  • John P.

    Ah yes. The young work long hours for low pay and poor benefits.

    The last time that happened, unions stood up and remedied it. This time, the white collar workers need it more. THAT is what I have to offer young people. Stop working so much and get a non-work life.

  • GregS

    “Ah yes. The young work long hours for low pay and poor benefits.”


    As a member of a civil servant union, I can attest to the fact that low pay for young members is a feature of union seniority systems.

    I can also testify to the fact that the decline in hours worked is also a symptom of seniority privilege.

  • Kim E

    I’ve noticed this trend too, of older workers being unemployed, just by reading Bob’s series “The Unemployed.” Most of the people he profiles are “older” workers who had been doing their job for many years and are now struggling with how to still look marketable in the job search.

    Also, as a “younger” person, I really do want to hear my grandparents’ stories and how they lived through different historical events, but I just don’t know how to bring it up. It makes me sad that (basically) I don’t know how to talk to my grandparents.

  • sad but true

    //It makes me sad that (basically) I don’t know how to talk to my grandparents.

    basically, that is sad.

    I would be/might be considered one of those upper aged people.

    Based on my years experience, (wisdom), of who gets to stay and who gets the pink slip, I would spend money on breast implants before spending on furthering my education.

  • Al

    //who gets the pink slip, I would spend money on breast implants before spending on furthering my education.

    Breast implants might be good, but education isn’t bad either. From my experience, education seems to be a more important factor than what you actually know and your ability to the job well. Having a degree or high job grade is worth more than knowing what you are doing.

  • Nikki

    Older people may not provide as much value in technology aspects, but how about work ethic, the golden rule, family values and money management? I wish I had spent more time in the kitchen with my grandma. Home cooking & living on a budget is something I’m trying to get better at now and I bet she could have offered lots of good advice.

    I think there’s a lot of value there!!

  • Jamie

    I get so frustrated when I hear this kind of talk. It made me mad when I heard Rabbi Harold Kushner on Midday this week, for example, talking about having to call his grandson for help in putting a manuscript on a disk and other such I-don’t-know-anything-about-modern-technology-cuz-I’m-over-50 stories. Yes, I suppose there are some older people who don’t know how to put a manuscript on a disk, but I work with lots and lots of people up to age 65 and over who know everything they need to know to work with the computers and the other technology in use among the most tech-savvy offices. I think the idea of computer-illiterate old people who need help from their 6-year-old grandchildren is mostly a myth.

    And I also know and work with a lot of younger people who do NOT want to work “90 hours a week” — they don’t even want to work 40. And while they are supposed to be working, they’re texting and surfing the web. They also seem to think the world revolves around them, making it harder to work with them than older people who can see beyond themselves.