Miércoles 14 de Diciembre de 2005, Ip nº 139

She's Only 83? Cradle Robber!
Por Tony Long

Death is life's last great adventure, the one thing that we share, princes and paupers alike.

Generally speaking, it's nice to forestall the experience. And we've had some success there. A hundred years ago, the average life span (.pdf) in the United States was around 50 years. Now, thanks to advances in medical technology, an overall improvement in working conditions and a better understanding of how nutrition and exercise affect longevity, the average biped can reasonably expect to hang around for 80 years or more.

But 80 years is a trifle. Why not live 150 years? Why not 200? Why not forever? Some people think this is not only possible, but that it's a good idea.

Rapid advances in biomedicine -- unlocking the human genome, improvements in DNA sequencing -- make the radical extension of human life something that can at least be discussed with mock solemnity. It will still get you horse-laughed out of any self-respecting gin mill, but those barflies are nearly dead anyway. (Although I understand they're doing amazing things with livers these days.)

Maybe soon, science will have the wherewithal to produce a viable 200-year-old human, someone who doesn't look like Michael Jackson after a dozen plastic surgeries.

But I sure hope not. Of all the mindblowingly stupid things people want technology to do for them, extending our life span by a couple of centuries takes the cake. What incredible arrogance.

Let us contemplate a world where Joe Average sticks around entirely too long.

Talk about the "Me Generation": I know self-centeredness is the mantra of the early 21st century, at least in the developed world, but jeepers. Can anything be more selfish than planting your fat ass in a lawn chair for 200 years and refusing to budge?

There are already 6.5 billion people wandering around as you read this. Overpopulation is a severe problem in parts of the world (India, Bangladesh, the Upper East Side) and your insistence on hogging valuable table space and devouring scarce resources at the newest Asian-fusion joint isn't going to help matters much.

One of the reasons we're supposed to die is to clear space for the generations coming up behind us. Our job, theoretically, is to leave them a better world. Failing that, it's to leave them an incredible morass that defies cleaning up. So far, so good.

Mother Nature isn't going to take kindly to your self-indulgent notion of living forever, believe me. Too many cooks spoil the broth, you know? If you refuse to go voluntarily, she'll find a way of making sure that you go anyway.

Political reality: The Chinese are going to rule the world. That's what all my capitalist friends keep telling me and the capitalists know everything. (Just ask them.) So if you plan on staying put, you might want to brush up on your Mandarin.

Screwing up the calibration: Americans couldn't learn the metric system without getting the vapors. How on earth will they adjust to the new measuring sticks? Will the legal drinking age in New York be raised to 50? (Not a bad idea, really.) Can a 160-year-old man hit on a 91-year-old woman in an oxygen bar without being considered a predatory scumbag? I mean, I'm totally confused here.

Long time gone: With 10 generations alive at once, whose pop culture dominates? It's hard enough with three generations jockeying for position. I already know my kid's generation has lousy taste in music. Do I really want to grind my fourth set of teeth to a nub, stewing over what my great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter is listening to? And while we're on the subject, will Keith Richards still be alive?

Priceless: You gonna buy holiday gifts for everyone in the family?

I'm king of the world: If we can keep death at bay, who's playing God?

Until boredom do us part: What would living forever do to the institution of marriage? Do you really want to wake up next to the same person for 180 years? What happens when you get the ol' 70-year itch?

Enough, already: As a corollary to the preceding, would sheer boredom cause an increase in suicides? Vegans, in particular, would seem likely candidates for simply burning out on existence.

Version 412.7: How many upgrades of Microsoft Windows can one person be expected to endure?

On the bright side:

We could use a new roof: You might be able to qualify for a 120-year, fixed-rate mortgage. That would give you a shot at actually paying off a house in California. On the other hand, how large a house would you need to fit all the crap you've accumulated in a 200-year-long life?

Try out a new pickup line: "Say, didn't we meet about 140 years ago at the heart-lung transplant center?"

The shrewd investor: You can retire at 125 if you buy as much stock as possible in the companies that make Bengay, Depends and Epsom salts.

However:

Science fiction deals extensively with the whole eternal-life thing. In his Robot series, Isaac Asimov posits a world divided into two groups: those with the economic means of living thousands of years and those who, not having those means, are doomed to live a normal life span. It's the ultimate power trip, with the eternals exploiting their advantage over the mortals to make the gulf between haves and have-nots even worse. Cautionary? Yeah. Plausible? Assuming that thousand-year life spans are plausible at all, you bet.

Count on it. If it happens, eternal life will be limited to those who 1.) can afford it, or 2.) make their Faustian bargain with someone who can. Living forever is a concept you'll buy at the Sharper Image, not from the Sears catalog.

You wanna live forever? Go ahead. As for me, I'm just going to make the most of the time I've got. After all, it ain't the quantity that counts. It's the quality.


  08/12/2005. Wired Magazine.


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