Friday, September 14, 2007

On aging and ageism

Fundamentally, the term “aging” is derived from the organic realm. Aging is also a social process, and as such it is accorded different cultural values in different settings. The terms “youth” and “age” belong to the rhetoric of this continuum of the biological life span, which is given different meanings in different societies. But we also apply these terms to artifacts. And when we do, the negative connotations attached to the term “age” when it is used to describe, for example, a material object that is falling apart (such as car or a washing machine), will return to the human domain laden with negative associations.

We also, of course, use the term “new” and “old” to describe both artifacts and organic beings--it’s a new tree, we say, or a “new” car. But we do not say that a computer or a blender are “young.” The problem, then, is that the term “old” but not the term “young” is transferable from the organic realm to the technological realm—and then back again. And generally speaking, in our technological culture there is nothing good about an artifact or a technology that is old. The supreme value is to work efficiently (which is understood to be synonymous with being new), not to breakdown. In short, I would argue that rhetoric (as well as social practices) of the technological culture of advanced capitalism contributes to widespread ageism against older generations.

Age relations are power relations—with the young generally holding the power over the old.

Kathleen Woodward
From Virtual Cyborgs to Biological Time Bombs:
Technocriticism and the Material Body

No comments: