A NEW phenomenon has struck the world. We’re going through what I’ve decided to call a GIC — a Global Irrelevance Crisis — and therapists I’ve interviewed agree.
The GIC is the new 1970s identity crisis; or the midlife crisis of the 80s. Most people I talk to are experiencing a sense that they are irrelevant — that they are invisible, unseen and forgotten. In the old identity crisis, people lay about in encounter groups sobbing because they didn’t know who they were. In the 2010s we know who and what we are. We just suspect it isn’t relevant. Or if it is, it won’t be for long in this ever-changing world where standing still is going backwards.
Having been a social observer for decades, I can say that while people have always felt unsung it’s never been this bad. Technological advances are making many feel things are whizzing by too fast for them to make a mark. We’re all replaceable. A brilliant web designer I know who works at $150 an hour is now competing for work with 18-year-olds in India who charge $20 an hour. “Cheaper, net savvier, younger!” is the catchcry and people fear for their jobs, or products. Even retailers and book publishers have become irrelevant in the cyber world, where convenience is king.
In order to feel relevant, people tweet and raise their voices on Facebook, but relevant for how long in these fickle times of ADD (attention digital disorder)? One blogger I know had 100,000 followers. Then he got sick for a few months and didn’t write. When he returned his devotees had gone elsewhere.
Then there’s ageing. A friend at only 40 feels the GIC because she’s been out of the workforce having kids. Five years ago her skills would have gotten her back in; now there are hot, cyber-savvy graduates in the wings. Meanwhile, normal events — divorce, kids leaving home, losing friends — can all weigh heavily on the already relevance-challenged soul.
Not to mention looking older. As a friend said: “The rich will not age because they have the money to stop time; the rest of us will look like old people. Who will be invisible and irrelevant then?”
The GIC is hard to take. But it’s not all bleak. We all feel it. So it’s not just you or me. It’s us, and we have to go that extra mile to make each other feel relevant. Please post comments to my blog each week so we can be heard and seen. I want this new column to be relevant to you.
Do you feel increasingly irrelevant? Share your thoughts to me here
Printed in The Australian
Hello Ruth..Thank goodness I have got a bit more time at weekends now and have discovered the perceptive wisedom of your column. I thought you might like this little story.My dear father [aet 87 years old ]was making his way across a supermarket carpark utilising his walking frame plus support from me.He managed it surprisingly well and briskly so I commented’Well done Dad..you did than more quickly than most adolencents!’ to which he replied”I don’t know about adolesence,I think I am reaching my obsolesence!’ Ahhh! At this point I shared with him the fact that my sister and myself refer to him as ‘The Oracle’ to which he brightened up visibly!
Thanks for continuing to inform and understand us, the irrelevant masses. We did have a hard time finding your article, but it was worth rummaging in the recycled bin after I had thrown the property section out. Keep up the good work, we will find you wherever you go, better than most shallow articles thats for sure, baby!!!!!
Thank you Ruth for your column, never read it before and never blogged before, I bought a copy of the Australian rather randomly. I wanted simply to share a thought that I had written a couple of months ago, which might go some way to explaining why so much of what you wrote resonated with me. Forgive me if this seems long-winded, it is merely an attempt to share my own thoughts. I had written a note to myself that I called ‘wrestling in the valley of ambiguity’ and commented to myself, that there is abiding anguish in being assured of one’s identity but uncertain of one’s routine purpose. Of course, it’s easy to hide amongst the plethora of higher lever purposes but this doesn’t obscure the daily wrestling with the questions of relevancy and impact. The higher level purpose’s attempts to clarify and highlight the daily questions and wrestles with relevancy are unsuccessful to the extent that the questions remain unanswered, not unaddressed, but unanswered. The answers must somehow come from within, they can’t be supplied by well meaning others. The assurances of others can easily become the breeding ground for ambiguity. And why? Because there is an apparent irreconcilability between the voice from the outside and the voice within. Barring complete delusion, it is the voice within the longs to be quieted. Being in a valley, the valley of irrelevancy means that the wide perspective has become obscured, it is lost. It is of little value being told that they view from the hilltop brings greater clarity and perspective. It is impossible to experience that view vicariously – you must find the way out of the valley yourself. You alone must wrestle with the choices and determine the path out of the valley. I suspect that the abiding sense of ambiguity and the wrestles with relevancy dissipate, at least in part, when there is a perfect balance between purpose and relevance.
Sorry for being long-winded, as said, I read your column and something deep inside, from the valley, resonated.
Beautiful letter Lisa. My mother tells me the same thing. No one has to be invisible or irrelevant if they connect with other human beings, and make them happy.
I came out of hospital 5 years ago looking so ill that I was ignored 3 times by chemist staff when trying to hand in a prescription. One literally looked over my head to the next person. I am now 61 but look older than my mother did when she died at 82 because of complications post surgery. I suddenly found out what it was like to be totally irrelevant and went into depression.
Today though I nipped into the shopping centre, wasn’t there more than 15 minutes and in that time spoke and laughed with an old lady who couldn’t get a plastic bag open, offered to help a smiling mum who had items falling off her toddlers push chair, laughed with with cashier over the card machine when paying, managed to avoid a 3 year old intent on crashing into my trolley and had a laugh with her father and then nearly ran someone over with my out of control trolley going into the tobacconists and laughed with the guy and assured him it isn’t me that is trying to kill him but the ciggies we both smoked.
And I guess this morning taught me a lesson. If I don’t want to be irrelevant then I have got to stop acting like I am! I now know that I can have fun and make people smile as I did this morning with 5 complete strangers even when shopping and make myself relevant. Nobody else can do it for me.
Sadly most people didn’t find me either. I am in a new section called Weekend A Plus which is in the Property section of all places! If you can’t find me, you can all visit me here. I will be posting all my columns on line the day after they have appeared in the Australian, so they will be here by Sunday.
I love your column and sadly could not find it in this weekend’s Australian. Where is it now located? I don’t know why papers don’t leave well enough alone.
‘Relevant’ and its derivatives must be among the top 10 hollowed-out words of the past 50 years. A court decides whether evidence is relevant; a debating society tries to focus on relevance. How on earth can a human being be irrelevant?
I have enjoyed your column for years now as you tend to provide solutions or explanations in regard to issues.
But Oh this GIC -well O.K. its a new edition of the paper but read like it was a dilema or a little lost.
As we get older and the energy and hormone levels change etc -the doubts and confidence levels change also ! But hey that’s when the experience bank has to kick in – GIC pha !! did you not hear ” the best tunes are played on old fiddles!” [TBTAPOOF !!].You hear too often “I have ten years experience” but so often its the first 6 months in the job repeated 20 times !! As individuals we have to develope whether it’s bringing kids up,keeping fit,keeping pace with change, learning new skills etc.
Certainly today the pace of change has never been faster but then its never been easier to acquire new knowledge levels via the internet – or adult learning facilities etc.
In today’s climate here in Australia or even more so in the 3rd world gone are the days when you can ask “whats the government going to do about …….. [GIC] ?” it’s more toward “if it has to be it’s up to me !”
A life journey will always be challenging but it can also be fun but we have to work at it building our strengths and overcoming our deficiencies.Take a leaf from the olympic trainers P.B. approach [personal best] if these individuals felt GIC every time they missed a medal -where would they be ??
Now I will get back in box and return to being a silent follower of your great articles and column.
Hi Ruth – glad I found you in your new home!! (Like some of the others it was a bit tricky – what does that say about us :-)).
As a regular reader and a very infrequent correspondent, I have to disagree with you on this one (which is unusual for me). I think that relevance comes from within. Not saying that some of the technicalities aren’t a bit difficult – keeping abreast of the new developments can be hard. But to say that just because it’s hard and new and changing (and competitive) makes us less relevant is a long stretch.
In just over 3 weeks I enter my 60th year. I’ve been self-employed for 14 years now because I’ll never get another “real” job (I used to try occasionally), and even though it has been and can be tough, that doesn’t count as irrelevance in my view. I know that there are young(er) people around me who both listen to and value my point of view – I know that if even in the tiniest ways I might periodically make a difference to their knowledge or lives then I’m far from irrelevant. As I said, in my view it comes from within.
Beautiful comment Theo, welcome to the world of blogging, and I hope you come back again and talk to me and all of us, with these profound insights, best wishes and congrats on entering the digital world at 65 🙂 Ruth
Thanks to your interesting and soul searching columns:
Hurrah, my first blogging! (I’m 65)
Not that I’m ready to twitter……yet!
I’m in tune with Manya’s comment: Make other people fell nice will keep us relevant.
In our personal life, to accept the past will help us to reconcile with our present which in turn, if we manage any new directions with excitement and free of fear, will help us to be relevant in our future . Especially if these new directions includes the consideration of others as well as ourselves. I’ve been trough a life changing divorce, a life changing sickness and life changing accidents which made me the person I am today: happy, contented and feeling relevant. So much so that I do not want another life changing event!!!
Hi, Ruth, I am a 58 year old male, who has had his prostate removed, looking for work. I think I am about to be offered a job. If this happens I will feel I am still a useful human being, & will do my best to serve my boss & customers to the best of my ability. I have been through depression, but now feel back in control of my life. It is a very empowering thing.
Hello, Ruth had a bit of trouble finding you in Weekend Oz, but managed . Love that article, but feel sorry that most people feel things are passing them by. Yes, they are!! and thats the price of living in the 21st century when everything is changing and moving so fast! I still feel young at heart and though I dont like the ageing process WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE!! at least we are still here and enjoying life, some are gone too soon, Enjoy your life and feel beautiful, thats the best advice. Keep positive!! Love your column, its a treat.
I wonder if it isn’t more to do with lack of respect for other people generally, rather than irrelevance – lack of respect for the wisdom, experience and knowledge which comes with age. We were taught to revere our elders: something which seems to sadly be missing from our Australian culture now, otherwise there would not be so many people out of work once they pass 50. I have just read the excellent article on page 10 of the Inquirer by Frank Furedi and wonder if this isn’t all part of it – “the notion of adult authority has been eroded and with it the role of socialising the young” he writes, in connection with the British riots. Just as relevant here, I think, as I observe the impatience of P platers a few inches off another vehicle’s rear bumper. Celebrity and social media have bred this “all about me” culture and I don’t think this sits well with respect and consideration for others, no matter what their age.
There are so many people in the world now and this means the individual can seem less important, I suppose. However as an individual you are all you have – so you have as much importance as you ever had.
I moved to a country town and it is amazing how valued I do feel here. There are people who seem to just appreciate the fact that I chose to live amongst them and that I value their company. It is so wonderful to be appreciated like that. I am an older person but find I have a lot to give to all other age groups – it may be in humour, good times, shared meals, help in sickness, new shared activities.
I so far have helped to reactivate a Church congregation, start a culture and cooking group, writing group, a book club, join a protest movement to Save our School, climbed the local mountain and planned to go skiing. Also I hope to go back to work – part time after some years of retirement. People have asked me to give workshops on beading and for new ideas on outings. I always look to be sociable and to help in the community – and it is great to be included and given an opportunity to do so .
I was reading about Tibetan Buddhism. Life is a series of “deaths” and losses. Perhaps these feelings of irrelevancy are simply a challenge to cope with inevitable change and to find a new path and new meaning. They say pain is a blessing in disguise.
Some of my wealthier acquaintances are going to third world countries every year and helping out with building projects, teaching opportunities etc – places like Africa, Fiji, Vanuatu etc. If one can stop worrying about how one’s looks will deteriorate with ageing (no mean feat) and just get on with it – it is fun.
I agree with Manya. I’m 75 and have never felt invisible – even with slow service in a shop younger ones complain about that too. As a matter of fact I think I often revceive attention before they do!
Hate being called ‘dear’ but heck, if it works, use it!
You know Ruth, you often receive what you expect!
Irrelevant, Ruth? To whom? Relevance to any entity outside your own self esteem is the true irrelevance. Belief in yourself is the only real relevance. If you find yourself irrelevant, there is only one course of action – Deal with it!
great to find you in the hot property section Ruth & thanks for including us all in this great human struggle
Yes, especially The Australian’s online subscribers! Why does this newspapers consider that the new magazine and APlus sections of the newspapers (include your excellent column) are irrelevant to those of us who choose to subscribe and read online. Last week they were available. This week they are gone. Are these sections of the newspaper irrelevant, or is it just the online subscribers? The final insult was the missing cryptic crossword!
Yes Been There – I have already answered this: we all suffer as we age both men and women due to the poor attitude of the western world where ageism continues unchallenged.
LOL as women we have been multi tasking since the dawn of time, they just didn’t have a word for it then 🙂
Glad I am one of those bloggers that you like and wish to converse with Thank you 🙂
It was my daughter in part who caused me to go back to Uni to learn multi media. I realised that like the immigrants of old, we soon won’t be able to speak the language of our children. Imperative we learn it. Good on you Johan
Not true Leah. I think men do win in the looks stakes – older men seem to remain attractive to women whereas it doesn’t seem to be the other way around much – however in terms of work opportunities and status in society we all diminish as we get older I am afraid. i have lived in countries where older people are treated with great respect and reverence. Not here.
That is such a lovely comment Manya. I hope people think about that. It has really given me a jolt, because we do always think about how the world makes US feel not how we make others feel. Although in tomorrow’s column I do ask people to talk here so that we can all make each other feel more relevant!
I take offence to the inference that men have it easy. I am facing unemployment due to my age – only 50. My firm is changing hands and I will be offered redundancy. And where am I supposed to go as a mature aged man with no new technology skills? Ruth is right, we are all feeling it or soon will.
I have to disagree Ruth although I think you are a compassionate woman and you are trying to make an important point. But I feel visible loved and very relevant to those around me. I try hard to stay positive despite battles with chronic pain and arthritis, and always have a smile or nice word for people I meet. This is what keeps us relevant, making other people feel nice, rather than a narcissistic hunger for more acknowledgement. Growing older is about growing wiser.
Ruth you touched on ageing, and that’s my main pain at the moment. Why are women invisible as they get older; why are we not considered valued members of society? Men still seem to be regarded with respect being given names like distinguished or wise. Not the girls.
Yes exactly the point. I have forced myself to become internet educated just so I can talk to my three kids. If we as parents don’t, we won’t be relevant t them and that’s the saddest thing.
I am horrified by the speed everything is moving at. My mind just can’t keep up and I absolutely do feel irrelevant, that I have nothing to contribute. I hate Facebook, I hate Twitter. I hate social media full stop although I don’t mind writing to my favourite bloggers. But what will become of those of us who belong to an era of face to face interaction, and meaningful conversation?
How true, how profound, Ruth you’ve hit the nail on the head again! There have just been three new recruits at work and they can all do ten things at once on their computers at once doing that thing which is such an ugly term — multi-tasking. I don’t want to multi-task, I want to give people the attention they deserve. But there is no room for old fashioned people like me in this digital world. At only 48 years old I am becoming a dying breed!