Labun Jordan: When I Am 30

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(HOST) As digital media expands faster than we can absorb the information, commentator Helen Labun Jordan is thinking about what future value we might find in the apparently trivial details this information provides.

(LABUN JORDAN) One morning in high school, my teacher asked us to write down the first thought that completed the sentence "When I am 30 I will be. . .". I answered "happy." Now that 30 is behind me, I think it might have been wise to write  "When I am 30 I will have paid off my student loans." But happy works, too.

We were doing a series of exercises designed to make predictions for the future that were rooted in our experience at the time, not in sorting through our personal wish lists to come up with "I will be a neurosurgeon".     

It was a good approach. What the 18 year old me expected for myself at 30 was best told through what I believed about all grown ups. For example, I believed that they all had clear skin – demonstrating that I paid no attention whatsoever to what the grown ups around me looked like. I believed that they naturally lost their sweet tooth, even though my grandfather religiously followed his dinner with dessert and his dessert with a candy bar. I believed that all grown ups were competent drivers. I also believed in parking a car by driving until I encountered something immobile and then backing up a few inches. I still believe that.

The actual changes came in unexpected places. My taste buds shifted so that I started to love black olives and strong coffee. I switched from reading serious literature to skimming light mysteries. In my third season of playing rugby I developed a sense of my own mortality. My favorite Christmas gifts became wool socks, kitchen appliances and long underwear. These changes are all part of what it feels like to be thirty.

Big events, like becoming a neurosurgeon, do define our lives – but the accumulation of minor changes do too. And ever since the first diary we’ve recorded everyday life to communicate across generations. Even an account of doing laundry or eating breakfast can be revelatory if it was written in the 1600’s.

In the digital age, we are capturing details of the everyday at a furious pace. Twitter feeds have become ticker tape diaries. Blogs capture small stories and Facebook even smaller ones, all annotated with comments like yearbook inscriptions. And while some of the trivia that comes with effortless communication is nothing more than trivia – gathered together it can tell the story of how we perceive our world across decades and generations.

Too often, our online stories are abandoned into invisible virtual space long before they can be gathered in a useful way. We need to better assess these digital notes as accounts of our perspective today and of what we expect for the future. An obvious value exists in sorting through our thoughts to construct formal essays, articles and books. But, just like in my high school classroom, there is also value in the first thing that comes to mind because it may be the best indicator of what we truly believe.

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