Brendan O'Connor: U2 and the boiled frog conundrum
Slipping into middle age is a bit like that metaphor about how they boil frogs. You are not suddenly plunged into the boiling water, because then, obviously, you would just jump out. They ease you gently in. And for a while, it's a nice warm bath. You can actually be deluded into thinking that being a bit older suits you. You look condescendingly back on your mad, youthful self and you revel in increased confidence and levels of relaxation (it's all relative). You decide you are happier than you've ever been, and these are the best days of your life. And slowly, all the time, they are turning up the water.
I was trying to download the new U2 album the other night. This interest in the music of a band that has been together for four decades probably ages me in itself. But over the next two hours I aged about another two years. Now don't get me wrong. I love technology. Realistically, I probably work for a technology company, two of them in fact, and my whole working day involves technology. In my leisure time, I love how technology has changed the way I consume information, music, TV and books. In music, specifically, I was an early adopter of CDs, then iTunes, then Spotify. Indeed when I went to download the U2 album on Tuesday night, it had been so long since I'd been near iTunes I wasn't even 100pc sure of how to interact with it. I had a moment of pride as I realised that, to me, iTunes is antiquated technology. But I got to grips with it again quickly and followed the simple instructions. And it wasn't there. The album was not there in my iTunes where they said it would be. I even went online and got all the tips on how to get it if you couldn't find it. I did everything right. Still nothing.
And then suddenly, you say, fuck this, fuck this technology and fuck U2. And you want to throw the iPad out the window. You want to smash it up. And suddenly you hate technology. Because the difference with age and technology is that at my age you want technology to work for you. You don't need to know too much about how it works. You just want it to work in an intuitive fashion. That's why you pay premium prices for Apple. Because it is technology that serves you without you needing to understand how and why it works. The following morning I looked again and the album was there, innocently sitting there, saying "Who? Me?" But overnight I had got a bit older and a bit more sick of technology that doesn't work for me, and a bit more boiled, al dente. Raging against technology is classic old-man stuff, isn't it?
I went away with a few other lads for 24 hours last weekend. We wandered around drinking craft ales and having that kind of wide-ranging, random conversation, with a brief break for sleeping, you have when you are there together for a day and a night, outside your own life. One of the things we touched on was our invisibility. One guy was saying that after 40 men become invisible to younger women. And we joked about it and cited the usual Clooney clause, that men get more distinguished etc, etc. I sat there smug in the knowledge that I look better now than I ever looked when I was young. I was the exception to the invisibility rule. We talked about invisibility with bravado in one coffee shop, and in the course of it, I was trying to attract some attention and get the bill. And somehow none of the fresh-faced English Roses or the foreign beauties serving seemed to see me. And suddenly the water was up another notch.
I am combating all this by attempting to cultivate some positivity. Obviously, none of us in this country was brought up to be positive, and relentlessly positive people are pretty annoying and uncool, but I think you reach a certain age when you need to stop being so hard on yourself. Because it's pointless, really. So it's time to decide that there are benefits to being invisible. For one thing, you can stop making an effort to impress anyone. Because you're never going to win that one. Trying to impress anyone else is living in their heads, not your own. So the invisible cloak is going to liberate me. And from now on I'm going to impress myself by living a little for me. What do you mean you presumed I wasn't trying to impress anyone?