I call shenanigans! At least when it comes to humans. My father, a man I’d definitely call old in years, just got a new smartphone. He sent me a grammatically correct text accompanied by a picture of the final snowbank remaining in the yard outside of my house in Massachusetts. Anyone who knows my father knows that he is about as savvy with new technology as he is happy about the fact that he hasn’t been able to mow his snow-covered lawn. However, he learned to poke a touchscreen just as quick as the snow melted, both being incredibly slow processes, but the important part is that he did it.
Humans have developed technology that allows us to have an abundance of free time rather than spend most of our time worrying about basic survival like the rest of the animal kingdom. This free-time has in turn allowed us to study the world and learn more about it, creating a positive feedback loop between knowledge and available free-time. Imagine having to travel to the nearest water source to fill up a bucket, haul it back to your house, then make a fire to boil the water, then cut up the veggies that you spent the whole day harvesting, just to make some soup. Now, you can just fill a pot up in the sink, turn the knob for the stovetop 90 degrees to ignite the burner, open a bag of pre-cut veggies and soup it up. The time it takes to complete tasks, compared to a few hundred years ago, is significantly less, which allows us to accomplish many other things in a day. Many poorer countries do not have this luxury. However, the majority of people living in the US are fortunate to have access to clean running water and other amenities that make life easier. We have the privilege of having extra time in our daily schedule explore, discover, and learn new tricks.
One thing I like to do in my free time is read books and one of my favorite quotes is from the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. He says “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running”. To me, the term old is an excuse to be lazy and I have even found myself using it a few times, which is just plain ridiculousness. Okay, I will admit that someone pushing 100 years can justifiably use the excuse of being too old to avoid entering an MMA cage match. However, outside of strenuous physical activity, I think saying “I’m too old” is a cop out, especially when it comes to learning. Anyone at any age can learn about anything they want to, if they have the resources. To not seize an opportunity to learn more about the world and everything in it (and everything outside it) is like throwing away a box of my housemate and fellow Cohort 7 member Brooke Mueller’s homemade cupcakes. They are both a wasted magical treat that many others would feel blessed to have.
My point is that learning is a privilege that all who have free-time have time for. Who knows, maybe we could learn how to make clean water readily available to everyone in the world. Maybe we could learn to make homemade cupcakes like Brooke…well probably not, but we sure would have a fun time trying! Think about everything that anyone has ever done, or never done, and go learn how to do it!
For a fantastic artist’s rendition of an interview with Isaac Asimov about this subject, click here.