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The math of getting old
Nov. 21, 2016
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by Ivan Raconteur

Meetings at the newspaper office are never wasted. Or, to be more accurate, one can always learn something from a meeting, even if it is not on the agenda.

A group of us were gathered around the conference table for a project meeting recently, when someone noted it seems like we just did that, referring to an annual project.

The Old Philosopher nodded his stately silver head in agreement. As is so often the case, he was able to offer an explanation.

“It does seem that way,” he said. “It’s all because of the math of getting older.”

For those unfamiliar with this particular branch of mathematics, he elarged.

“The older we get,” he explained, “the closer things get together. That’s because when you are a kid, a month represents a much larger slice of your life. By the time you get to my age, a month is barely a sliver.”

One of my duties as editor is to verify information. I did some quick calculations, and found that there was truth in the Old Philosopher’s hypothesis.

When a person is five years old, a month represents 1/60th of his life.

By the time he reaches age 30, however, a month represents only 1/360th of his life.

If he is lucky enough to live to age 65, a month represents 1/780th of his life, a much smaller slice.

Turning our attention to periods of one year, these represent 20 percent of the life of a five-year-old. That’s why annual events such as birthdays and Christmas seem so far apart.

By the time we are 30, that one-year period represents just over 3 percent of our life.

When we reach age 65, a year represents only about 1.5 percent of our life.

This, according to the Old Philosopher, is why time seems to pass much more quickly the older we get.

This can be both good and bad.

For example, as we age, fun events like Christmas come around that much faster.

On the other hand, so do less fun activities, such as doctor visits, dentist appointments, and eye exams.

There are a lot of things that I would be happy to put off.

Suppose, for example, we could delay unpleasant events to the same relative schedule as when we were kids.

In my case, that would mean I could wait a decade before my next doctor appointment. That would suit me just fine.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose. The first rule about the math of getting old is that time goes faster, not slower.

Another component of the math of getting old is the principle of increasing scarcity.

When we are kids, our whole lives stretch out in front of us, seemingly without limit.

The older we get, the more we become aware of the limits that exist.

The average life expectancy in the US increased from about 69.77 years in 1960 to 78.74 years in 2012.

Life expectancy isn’t increasing fast enough to help some of us, and to be honest, the more I learn about old age, the less value I see in adding years at the end. That applesauce they used to try to sell us about the “golden years” is pure fiction, as far as I can tell.

If I could add a few years based on the condition I was in 40 years ago, I’d be interested. Adding years based on the wreck I am today doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Anyway, the somber side of the math of aging states that there will be an endpoint.

Based on the average life expectancy, it could be said that, statistically speaking, I might be around to see another 25 Christmases.

However, since I figure I am one of the guys dragging down the average, rather than pulling it up, 62 seems like a much more likely target. That’s how old my eldest brother was when he checked out earlier this year. My old man died when he was 59, and his father died when he was 48. Based on my genes and condition, I’d say 62 may even be optimistic.

That would mean that I could reasonably expect to scrape though about nine more Christmases.

That’s a big change from the unlimited slate we all look forward to as children.

Based on this hypothesis, I should have about 468 more weekends ahead of me. I hate to see that number shrinking, because I have always enjoyed weekends.

On the other hand, there are benefits.

For example, I will probably only have to endure about 144 more painful Vikings games in my lifetime. One might think a lifetime of disappointment would have cured me of any optimism on that account, but I still can’t help myself, and I sometimes find myself wasting part of my precious weekends watching the Vikings find new ways to fail.

Whether we like it or not, the apparent acceleration of time is real. The math of getting old proves it. If you have any doubts, just ask the Old Philosopher.


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