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Forever Young: America's Obsession With Never Growing Old

Why is America such a youth-obsessed culture?

Today's culture is so obsessed with looking/acting young, it’s difficult to believe that our founding fathers powdered their wigs gray in order to appear older and wiser. That’s right—being old was in. No more. From hair dyes to Botox to Viagra to wrinkle creams to a plethora of surgical procedures, the race is on to remain forever young.

We are bombarded daily with images via magazines, billboards, television, and the internet. It's all about the look and the image, not about the experience and wisdom behind the eyes. Virtually every public figure from politicians to actors to TV talking heads have had “work” done to their face or body. This mirrors our superficial culture, where anything important can be defined by 140 characters or less.

There are many reasons America is so obsessed with youth, but perhaps nothing has done more to further the cause than the technological revolution. Let's face it—the old are by and large slower and not as connected. How many over 60 do you know that have Twitter, Facebook, or a cutting-edge smartphone? But is this a bad thing?

As the world continues to speed up, the wisdom of the ages can be Googled by anyone. The analog world has been replaced by the digital age. Who needs to ask an old guy for advice when you can become a superficial expert on any topic after 30 minutes on the computer? Few have time to slow down and become a true expert at anything anymore. Why, that could take (gasp!) days, weeks, or even months.

This constant access to information leaves the impression that a tidbit of knowledge, or a sound bite, is enough to be relevant. It suggests that a quick ten-minute read or video is equivalent to wisdom gained from years of hard-earned experience.

There's a mindset that it's better to multi-task three things at once rather than take the time to do a single project perfectly. This ever-shortening attention span is a direct result of the ever-present smartphone, a 500-channel TV culture, video games that provide escape on demand, and the 24-7 media cycle which provides never-ending information.

Throughout the advances in technology, the quest to remain young has accelerated at warp speed. Why, when previously gray hair and wrinkles coincided with patience, self-awareness, and wisdom? As Hannibal Lecter told Clarice in Silence of the Lambs, "We begin by coveting what we see every day."

Ads and social media portray youth as sexy, attractive, cool, and oh-so-connected. Look at any magazine, movie, video game, or TV show and it's easy to see. In 2011 alone, Americans spent $10.4 billion on cosmetic surgery. Annually over $1.2 billion is spent on liposuction, $800 million on hair transplants, and $11 billion on vitamins and supplements. And there is no greater compliment we can pay another than to say, "Wow! You look so much younger!"

There is no doubt that being young is fast, fun, and exciting. But there is a time and a season for all things. Trying to hang onto the fast lane too long deprives us of the introspection, self-understanding, and deep thoughts that usually accompany growing older.

Just because we can cling to youth a bit longer while life flies by at breakneck speed doesn't mean it's the best way to live. Frank Sinatra (remember him?) said it best in his introspective song “It Was A Very Good Year” that traces life from teens to 20s to 30s and beyond: “But now the days grow short, I’m in the autumn of the year. And now I think of my life as vintage wine, from fine old kegs, from the brim to the dregs. And it poured sweet and clear. It was a very good year."

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