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:
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.)
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:
Huh. Didn’t quite nail it.
Let’s try again:
Okay, maybe this art form is best left to the master.
3 thoughts on “Why Does Everything Make Us Feel Old?”
I’ve also had the “time is observed say a rare proportional to life experience” thought. Must be true.
“Time is observed proportionally to life experience.” I honestly don’t know how the above got typed.
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.”