Ironing out all the answers in life

A longtime friend who is just a couple of years younger than me called recently to ask some advice. I’m always flattered when someone seeks my opinion. It makes me feel wise and useful, which is more uplifting than my usual specialties of old and opinionated.

But rather than some in-depth inquiry into public policy, finances, taxes, politics or journalism, his question made me feel nostalgic, like remembering my younger life of scrubbing whitewall tires, the low-cost joy of replacing a simple key before expensive programmable fobs took over the world, and the readable pleasure of installing a new typewriter ribbon.

He asked: “What is starch?”

My friend was going to a wedding and needed to wear a dress shirt — not a common occurrence for this guy. He had taken the shirt to the laundry to get it washed and pressed and the clerk asked a question that has been around for hundreds of years: “Starch or no starch.”

My friend had no idea, but guessed at no starch and then, puzzled at the question, called me to ask. I reassured him that he got it right. I probably explained way more about starched collars than he wanted or needed to know, but that was my fault. My mind works like a Google search — I just spew out what I know, without thinking that all the person needs is a simple yes or no.

I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the subject (shirts, not Google). I have been ironing my own shirts for 60 years, since high school, when I expressed dissatisfaction with my mom’s ironing quality and she threw the shirt back at me and said, “Iron it yourself!” I guess you call that a teaching moment.

A couple of days after the starch question, while I was still basking in the warm nostalgia of my first steam iron, I read a news story that stiffened — without starch — my belief that I live in another era. The Wall Street Journal cited a report that said the median age of MSNBC cable news viewers is 70. It’s 69 for people who watch Fox News on cable, 67 for CNN viewers and 66 for ABC. The pre-Medicare crowd flocks to CBS, where the median age of viewers is a spry 64.

And if you think the old-age affliction is infecting only news programming, you’d be as misguided as someone who orders heavy starch for their shirts. The median age of MTV cable viewers is 51, according to data from Nielsen data researchers. The average MTV viewer is almost a decade older than the channel itself. If this keeps up, MTV should start soliciting ads for AARP and Medicare supplemental insurance to match its audience.

The data reaffirms what we already know about the preferences of younger people: Cable is the past; streaming is the future. Same as print newspapers are struggling, while social media is thriving. Talking on the phone is in decline as texting and messaging are on the rise.

Out with the old and in with the new seems irreversible.

None of this is intended to make fun of senior citizens. We’re an essential part of any community. Seniors volunteer, vote and probably eat their vegetables more than younger people. It’s merely a reminder that we live in a different world. Seniors have memories and years of experience, while younger people are still adding to both categories. They just do it differently than seniors. Not wrong, just different.

But until they know all the answers, feel free to call me anytime. And remember: Starch belongs on our dinner plate, not shirt collars.


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