Why Does Everything Make Us Feel Old?

Let’s talk about Randall Munroe. Creator of xkcd. Author of What If and How To. The person of whose career mine is a bargain-bin knock-off.

You know the guy.

Anyway, he is master of many things, among them the peculiar genre of the “Wanna Feel Old?” joke. Consider this exemplary specimen:

Movie Ages

I remember reading this one – I was 24 at the time – and getting blown away. It totally worked on me. It felt so customized, so personal.

But I guess I’m an easy mark. Munroe even jokes about the ubiquity of these jokes:


How do these temporal assaults work?

First, it helps to riff on pop culture. When a new movie comes out, it gets tagged in our minds as “new.” Years later, you can sometimes catch the brain having forgotten to update the tags.

More to the point, we don’t experience time linearly. A year is not a year – at least, not in the janky clockwork of the human mind.

The older we get, the faster time seems to go.

It’s almost as if we consider each year as a percentage of our life. For example, the next year will add 50% to my nephew’s lifespan; it will add about 3% to mine. You can guess who will feel time is passing faster.

(By the way, if you want a gorgeous interactive capturing this phenomenon, you’re in luck. Seriously: click it.)

2018.11.2 you were born halfway to the big bang.jpg

Knowing this mechanism, I find, doesn’t blunt the impact of jokes like Munroe’s. It still gives an electric shock to notice time racing by.

Here is my own humble contribution to the genre:

2018.7.3 post-lotr kids drinking

Huh. Didn’t quite nail it.

Let’s try again:

2018.9.4 sequoia older than paper.jpg

Okay, maybe this art form is best left to the master.

3 thoughts on “Why Does Everything Make Us Feel Old?

  1. I’m 24 and my personal favorite for making adult mathematicians feel old is “Fermat’s Last Theorem has been proved for my entire life.”

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