The Life Cycle of People
As the Story of Stuff rightly points out, thinking about the environmental challenges of our current economy involves considering how people interact with the system. And as I thought about my friends’ kids growing up in an electronic age, I thought it might be worth considering the different stages and cycles of life.
People generally know what happens to people. We are born, we grow up, and we die. But there seems to be distinct, although admittedly culturally determined and influenced, stages to these life stages.
For approximately the first five years of life, we exist as sponges of information and stimulation. We learn so much about ourselves and others. This window of time is often thought to be the prime time to learn languages, but there’s so much more to learning a language than just knowing the words. We learn how to function in the world around us at large.
I would also say that the next five years of life (5-10) involve trying to channel our abilities to exist in the world in certain ways, particularly knowing how information is transmitted and communicated. Generally speaking, key literacy skills of reading, writing and arithmetic occur during this stage.
As someone who really enjoys teenagers, it seems to be me that between the ages of 10 and 18, we start to develop a sense of our own voice and identity. Communicating who we are becomes really rather important; communication becomes a measure of significant independence. This stage is volatile and challenging. To be honest, I do not really know how any one gets through it.
But then somewhere in the range of 15 and 30, we start to make our transitions into a level of independent economic existence. Again these ranges are cloudy, but so many people during this stage learn key skills that allow them to participate meaningfully in our current economy while at the same time make choices to allow them to connect meaningfully to adult communities shaped by either family or long-standing connections.
Eventually we sort of hit equilibrium in the economic sense of ourselves (although this stage has become an increasing rarity) while preserving some social networks (gah! I feel like that is one of the most overused metaphors ever, particularly in the rise of social networking sites, but I mean it in the most general sense of people with whom we maintain contact) and tending to our aging bodies.
What is interesting to me in light of the electronic waste challenge is that electronics act in rather significant sense in all of these life stages. I fear that I have greatly oversimplified our lives as human beings. Please help me out with some comments if you would be so kind!