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« Pic of the Day | Main | I don't know why I worry »

April 24, 2003

Tacit Knowledge -- 30

Friedrich --

Much as you do, I enjoy taking note of the rules of thumb people in
entertainment, the media and the arts work by. Why? Because they're the folk knowledge of these industries, and because they help people get oriented. I confess I also enjoy the existence of these rules of thumb partly because they confirm a conviction of mine: that art isn't and has never been a matter of free expression, that there are always rules (whether explicit or not) that people play by, and that without rules art play is impossible.

In any case, I was thinking about a few such rules of thumb, and was struck by the fact that a few of them shared something in common -- they all concern people turning 30. Here they are.

  • Pop music biz people say that many pop music fans start to lose interest in new pop music at about the age of 30.
  • Book publishing people have told me that it's much easier to make readers in their 20s feel that they really, really have to read the latest hot literary novel than it is to make people over 30 feel any such thing. (The general hunch seems to be that people over 30 have realized that they're no longer in school, that they're free of reading assignments, and that they can now read to please themselves.)
  • The final one comes from movie sound engineers, several of whom told me that it's at about the age of 30 that people start to find loud noises annoying. Younger people find loudness exciting; older people find loud noises downright painful. (In fact, the Dolbyizing of movie theaters is partly to blame for the low level of movie-theater attendance by older people, who just don't like exposing themselves to anything that loud.) Boys, I was also told, find loud noises more exciting than girls. But at about the age of 30, both sexes start to find loud noises annoying, and stop searching them out.

I wonder what it is about the age of 30. Any thoughts?



posted by Michael at April 24, 2003


Rules of thumb give me reason to live.

Age 30 is probably the point at which a lot of people realize "I is who is and I ain't who I ain't." John "Joe Bob Briggs" Bloom, of all people, wrote a wonderful essay about this when the shrink community released reports indicating that, after 30 or thereabouts, people don't change. Some part of seeking novelty, probably, is trying to find out what fits. After a decade or so of trying on all the hats...

There's also the time factor. People with kids and mortgages and other baggage of life simply don't have the time to be "always looking for the new experience," like the Maude of "Harold and...."

Loud noises, or anything vivid, I think, are popular with the youngins. I've always been anti-loud, but also a horrible priss about bad odors and bright lights. If only I had a dime for every time someone said to me, "I don't smell anything," then I'd be a wealthy woman. Don't you dare put a pea under my mattress!

Does anyone think these rules of thumb apply more to men? A lot of my women friends who now have children who are either old enough to put in storage or to be suitable traveling companions are, free from many burdens of motherhood, feeling like the world is their succelent and ready oyster.

Additionally, many of my friends have more confidence than they had when we were teens and twenty-somethings. Their husbands are not going through a similar renaissance. (Or else they've always had outlets for the childlike urges. Not clear.)

Posted by: j.c. on April 24, 2003 11:52 PM

(1) A therapist once told a friend of mine that because of increased self knowledge, the possibility of a person being genuinely happy above the age of thirty was enormously greater than the possibility of that occuring below the age of thirty.

(2) I once read an article written by some psychologist that took a rigorous definition of adolescence and questioned people at various ages whether the various aspects of that definition applied to them. He concluded that adolescence, far from being over at 18 or 21, actually extended for most people through the age of 27 or so. 27 is fairly close to 30.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 24, 2003 11:56 PM

I'd've told that friend of yours to fire his therapist. Increased self-knowledge doesn't make you happy, and if "genuinely happy" is some kind of bizarre therapist-speak for "happy in a way you're not" then I want no part of it.

Posted by: Felix on April 25, 2003 01:23 AM

"To have reached thirty is to have failed at life."

-- Saki

Posted by: Ian Berlin on April 25, 2003 06:44 AM


The glass-is-half-full interpretation: finally at 30 you begin to think for yourself and stop being such an over-hormoned idiot.

The glass-is-half-empty interpretation: youth has come to an end.

Does that sound about right?

The one phenom here that really interests me is the volume-level thing. It's such a pronounced taste that it must be physiological. I wonder if the ear tissues start to stiffen, or something. The Wife and I hadn't been to any kind of pop concert in years, so a while ago I dragged her to see Dwight Yoakum. He and his band were in fine form, but we left after about 45 minutes. Even with tissue stuffed in our ears, we just couldn't take how loud the show was. Yet we were surrounded by all kind of younger people drinking beers, no tissue in their ears, who looked like they couldn't have been happier.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 25, 2003 10:30 AM

I think the key is to take in as many loud concerts as you can while you're under-30, thus ruining your hearing and making noises thereafter less likely to affect you...

Posted by: jimbo on April 25, 2003 10:58 AM


Perhaps I gave the wrong impression, as the remark was made in the context of a long conversation (and I may have garbled the whole thing since it occurred some 20 years ago.) But I believe the self-knowledge in question was the result of having been out on one's own for a decade or so, and now being able to say what kinds of people one wants to spend time with, work with, and have relationships with. In my own case by the age of 30 I knew that, after having worked for a number of bosses, I would be happier being self-employed; and after being in a number of tempestuous relationships, that I preferred a life partner who was fairly calm and even keeled. I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that having worked out a few of these things the hard way you may be in a better position to make your life a bit more to your liking.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 25, 2003 11:39 AM

The youths may have "looked like they couldn't have been happier", but I think (a) the beer and (b) the feeling that this is what they were SUPPOSED to be doing at that age contributes to that. A friend of mine who is very into music still (way past 30) claims he never really enjoyed (at any age) too-loud stadium concerts, because he couldn't hear the music. I think people just get more comfortable staking out what they really want, and don't really want, and not paying so much attention to what they are supposed to be doing once they "pass 30."

I also think to say that increased self-knowledge does not lead to increased happiness is certainly take on life. Maybe it doesn't make you happier, but it may make you less likely to do damage to someone else! Which could lead to a greater degree of happiness if you give a damn about not doing damage.

And, on the other hand, there's Abbe Hoffman---"never trust anyone over 30." So maybe it is the over-30-year-olds who aren't telling the truth!!

Posted by: annette on April 25, 2003 11:53 AM

Funny -- I just posted last night about how I can hardly bear to go to a club anymore to see music, because it's so loud inside. I still like the loud stuff (far less often than 10 years ago), but I want to be able to wander away from it when I'm ready.

It's really a problem when my tastes run to local, independent music, because clubs are about the only place you can hear new, undiscovered stuff. When I say "new", too, I mean younguns playing old-style, honky-tonk C&W. Boy, does that sound confused, or what?

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on April 26, 2003 02:08 PM

Hey Scott, Good to see you dropping by. And how about a posting on The Fat Guy listing Great Recent Texas Music CDs the rest of us might enjoy? Even if we'd prefer to play them not-too-loud?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 26, 2003 05:14 PM

I've got a to-do on that, based on your past suggestion. In the meantime, though, you can read my reviews at Blogcritics of stuff that I've liked -- Slick 57, F.Co, and Opie Hendrix spring to mind. Good luck finding them, though...for some reason, they don't have a link to categories.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on April 27, 2003 09:16 AM

I've been ignorant of pop music and didainful of anything loud for at least 8 years now. Turning 30 last month didn't change anything, except I'm 10 lbs heavier and have more gray hair.

Posted by: Sasha on April 27, 2003 12:30 PM

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