Educational Gerontology review of ‘Aging & Time’

Time is all around us and within us. As gerontologists, we are intensively and intimately interested in time. But do we understand what time is? Can we get beyond the incessant use of chronological age as though it represents the essence of time even though it is a truism that “chronological time can only function as an instrument” (p. 3), and age is simply rooted in that “instrument” without reflection on its implications? Can we, while we exist and work in time, employ alternative visions of what time is, some of which may capture better the lived experience of all of us as we develop and age? Such are the questions presented by this book.

The goals of the book are of great relevance for understanding age and aging in the contexts of time, and they provide a wide range of perspectives from mostly Western European scholars. However, it has been difficult to review the book for this audience in large part because of that wide range. Despite its relatively short length, it is really several very different “bookettes” with varying relevance for most gerontologists. Of considerable interest to a wide range of gerontologists, especially those interested in psychological and social aspects of aging, is a set of three chapters in the middle of the book (by van der Meer, Dittman-Kohli, & Schaie), about half of the book in length. These chapters concern issues of psychological time, self- identity, and event time, all of which address aspects of how people, as they age, may experience and “use” time differently and in ways quite distinct from themselves when younger and from those of other ages now. These three chapters are preceded by a more philosophical chapter that, nonetheless, includes very important gerontological observations in the first few pages. They are followed by a series of “discussions” or arguments between a theoretical physicist and a biologist who works in biomedical engineering. Those chapters are likely to be less accessible to most of the readers of this journal. In particular, the latter group of chapters, while interesting at certain levels, are less likely to be relevant to most of us. Indeed, the main point of one of the participants is that physical understanding of time has little relevance to gerontology.

But what of the chapters that are relevant? They are good reading, providing organized and detailed summaries of several important areas in gerontology, especially psychological gerontology. In Chapter 3, van der Meer uses a comprehensive information processing model as a base for explaining a wide range of cognitions having to do with time — from judging short durations to autobiographical narratives and how those differ in older age groups. DittmanKohli in Chapter 4 begins where van der Meer left off with subjective time and autobiographical self, exploring the “extended self” in a series of comparisons of open-ended coding of references to time by younger and older persons. I was reminded in portions of her chapter of Sheldon Tobin’s (1999) discussions of preservation of self in extreme old age. Finally, Schaie’s chapter is a fascinating reconsideration of the age-period-cohort problems of measurement so as to capture nonmetric qualities of time separate from “calendar time, especially “event time.” All in all, these chapters provide valuable windows into the role of time in understanding and, in fact, ameliorating the aging processes.

— Reviewed by Thomas O. Blank, Professor, Human Development and Family Studies University of Connecticut Storrs, CT

Educational Gerontology, 34: 355-357, 2008 Copyright — Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0360-1277 print/ 1521-0472 online DOI: 10.1080/03601270801924735 — Routledge