Another life milestone

A deep sky view of a multitude of star against black sky

I have a milestone to reach this Tuesday, August 29th, 2023 when I should (by my best estimate, assisted by Wolfram Alpha) pass the age of 2,000,000,000 seconds. As part of the last few years of the Baby Boom generation I partake in some of its deplorable characteristics I have no doubt. It has me feeling like a space probe propelled by the larger forces surrounding me, starting its third and likely final stage rocket burn to some place far from where I started. Two billion is a large number, but I’m living on a planet with eight billion people now. To count one person per second would take twice my age to complete, an absurd length of time.

When I was a kid we had a yearly almanac at home which I like to read just because I was that kind of child. In it they had a list of inventions that could arrive in the future and a timeline when we might expect them. It had things like cures for cancer, brain transplants, and traveling to the outer solar system but the one that caught my mind is the secret to human immortality. And the estimate they gave for when that could be was 2050. Back then, of course, this was almost unimaginably far away and I felt disappointed that I had no chance of reaching that blessed time. Now I can see that I am two-thirds of the way there: 2050 would be just about at the close of my third billion seconds. I don’t know how far along the way we’ll be towards racial harmony or abundant clean free energy by that time, but I wouldn’t mind coming within spitting distance of that. There are still a few things I do want to do while I’m around. I might not actually want to be truly immortal because I can believe what they say: old age isn’t for wimps.

A woman tearing a thick book in half with her hands

Another thing I learned as a kid is that if you take a piece of paper, no matter how large it is or how thin it is, you can’t fold it ten times over on itself. And of course that’s just because of the exponential nature of folding a piece of paper as it doubles in thickness each time so at the end of ten folds you’d have a thick stack of 1,024 pages. I’m old enough to remember when everybody had thick phone books at home and that many pages is like a fat phone book, the kind we used to use as kid’s booster seats in a pinch back then, the kind that people used to show off their strength by tearing in half. Two billion pages would be like folding a page piece of paper thirty-one times over on itself, truly absurd, because 2 to the 31st power is the closest power of two to two billion. Thus, I can imagine stacking phone books on top of each other, and this would take two million of them piled on top of each other to reach two billion sheet. That is one almighty stack of paper.

It’s a good thing that seconds are a lot thinner than sheets of paper or I never be able to hold them within me.

So two billion is a notable number and that’s the reason why I wanted to mark this life occasion while I had the chance. And yet these days billions aren’t as big as they used to be. You never used to really have a chance to possess a billion of anything when I was young. Nowadays a thumb drive or memory card with a billion bites on it – a 2 gig drive - is almost laughably small. You can fill one of those up with no trouble on a vacation with your snapshots.

Maybe in the next few centuries people will routinely reach there four billion or eight billion second mark. If they were truly immortal, of course, they would be just getting started. What will it be like to have a brain with four times the experience I have now? Will they be wise like the proverbial sages? Or will they have personalities twisted by the weight of all these seconds on their backs? I think I’m quite content not to be around to learn the answer to that.

comments powered by Disqus