This past Christmas, I got my first truly modern mobile device in the form of the Kindle Fire 7. With that, I was exposed to the wild world of apps. I downloaded some free language apps (of course!) including one for Memrise, but I also downloaded some for fun. One was a multi-player fantasy adventure game in which you create a character who travels around fighting monsters and getting treasure. I was a big player of role playing games (RPGs) as a teen, and this was the closest modern equivalent I had in the computer age.
So, one night, I am running around in the game, doing my kill-get-treasure thing, when one of the other players in the great expanse of the internet sent me a friend request. Always polite, I accepted. My new friend told me “Hi”, and I responded with my equally witty “Hi”. She (for that turned out to be her gender) introduced herself: “I’m Jessika”. Okay, I thought, this is fine, so I replied “I’m Erik”. The players we create in this game rarely have our real names, as is often the case with online personalities, so asking a person’s real name is not an uncommon thing.
The next message from Jessika was “I’m 17. How old R U?”. This is when a little alarm started going off in my head. In general, when a person starts asking you for your age or gender so soon after they become your “friend” online, it means they are interested in more than your intellectual input. At first, I thought I would be casual, so I replied “Much older”, but then my honest streak (nasty thing to have) kicked in, and I replied “43”.
As you might expect, that got me a single “Ok” as a reply, followed by my new “friend” quickly leaving the area I’m in. At that moment, I felt terrible. Worse than that, I felt like I had done something wrong, like I was that “creepy old man” you hear about. After all, I was obviously too old to be involved with a female so young.
But wait! This was multi-player game in which I was participating just for fun. I wasn’t trying to find friends, and I especially wasn’t looking for a relationship. Furthermore, she had approached .
So why did I feel so bad?
The major part of it was my age, of course. In the computer era, people over 24 quickly become the “old ones”. I know this because I once felt the same. I’ve been doing computers since I was a pre-teen, back in the days when the original IBM PC was created. I eventually got my degree in computers and have been using them most of my relatively long life. I was the computer whiz-kid in my school, the one that made the Math teacher (who was the designated “computer teacher”) pray I would never take her class. Yet here I was, now the outsider.
The other problem was that a seemingly innocent activity of playing a game with others had suddenly become a possible “hook up”, and I had been instantly rejected for something I wasn’t seeking.
I’m not new to dealing with the age difference. When I first really started becoming active in the language community online, I was already almost 30. Most of the people I talked to were between 15 and 24. Eventually, the joke became “Well, no one is older than Aba [my online nick].” “Yea! He is ancient!”.
And I’m also not new to the idea of people using the online communities for dating sites. You are likely to get some kind of sexually based proposal, either real or automated, when you join any group.
But this is the first time I had received a direct suggestion to me, and then been instantly rejected solely because of my age. It made me question what I was doing even being in that place.
So what does this have to do with languages? Well, this also make me wonder just how prevalent this is in our language communities now. How many times have people felt they were being sought out as possible partners in a relationship rather than a learning endeavour? How many times have we done it to someone else? And how many times have we been viewed as outcast because of our age (young or old) in any of our online activities?
Furthermore, while we like to think of learning languages as such an intellectual pursuit, do you think this kind of activity goes on more or less often compared to other kinds of groups?
We are only human, so a certain amount of mate seeking and age prejudice is bound to creep into everything, but I want to know your thoughts on the matter, either in comments or your own article or post.