This is part of a series of self-exploration. You can take interactive walks through the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, or 2010s. If you’ve got time to wander, you can start from my beginning. Or read on for the bird’s-eye view…
This morning I woke up in Barcelona, in the same apartment I’ve lived in for 13 years.
Looking around I see the accumulation of my 40 years: my wife and two kids, shelves full of books, closets full of keepsakes, photo albums full of moments. My 40-year-old face stuck to the front of my 40-year-old body, my 40-year-old brain spinning a mind that’s stitched together the feeling of a continuous 40-year-old self.
So what does 40 years look like? As I attempted to answer this question, I looked from several perspectives.
To the clock maker, 40 years is 350,400 long-hand trips around the clock, or 1.3 billion seconds.
To the physicist, it’s about 40 trips around the sun, or 14,600 spins around Earth’s axis.
These constant motions through space can be ordered on a timeline, from my birth in 1980 to 2020 today.
But the world we experience is anything but an orderly sequence through time, or evenly paced movements through space. It is a punctuated progression of events and experiences.
And a lot has changed in those 40 years.
Advances in science and technology, market economies, and interconnected societies have transformed the planet.
Just over the past 40 years…
|Global Population [s]||4.4 billion||7.8 billion|
|Life expectancy (U.S.) [s]||62.1||73.2|
|% of world in extreme poverty <$1.90/day [s]||42%||8.6%*|
|Dow Jones [s]||824||28,869|
|United States GDP [s]||$2.9 trillion||$21.6 trillion|
|Number of smartphones [s]||0||3.5 billion|
|Transistor’s on integrated circuit (Moore’s Law) [s]||50 thousand||50 billion|
When I was born there were no computers in homes, no mobile phones, no internet. Now you can ask any question into the air and get an answer from Siri or Alexa. Cars drive by themselves. You can start your coffee maker through an app on your phone.
P.S. The rate of change is only increasing. This is nothing compared to what we’ll see over the next 40 years.
It’s amongst this backdrop that my 21 million minutes of life are set.
My-eye’s view: building a 40-year me
To me, these past 40 years mean much more than clock ticks and sun trips.
My particular interactions over these 40 years explain why I live where I live, do what I do, feel what I feel, believe what I believe, and see the world in the unique way that I do.
It’s who I am—body, experience, and mind.
Body: 40 years of changing face
For 40 years, my face has taken on a stream of subtly shifting shapes. A continuous interaction of genes and routines over the course of my development.
Infant. Baby. Toddler. Child. Adolescent. Adult. Aging individual.
Constant change, undeniable continuity:
Of course my body has changed as well. I’ve lost hair, gained moles, and earned a white-chinned beard.
And while I’ve slowed down in some areas, I haven’t stopped moving.
Experience: 40 years moving through space
Physically, my body has been in near constant motion. Propelled forward by reflexive reactions and habits, familiar routines, goals and desires, deliberate decisions, and a fair bit of chance.
Here’s how my 40-year journey unfolded over the decades:
This motion through space set the stage for my experience. Moments becoming memories over days, months, years, and decades.
Whereas I once saw only the sights and sounds of my immediate present, my mind now effortlessly time travels over this entire 40 years and beyond.
Over time, I’ve been exposed to a growing sphere of influences. I’ve interacted with tens of thousands of people over countless events, in person and virtual. Different languages and cultures, priorities and perspectives, ideas and attitudes. All intermingling to shape the way I see the world.
The more I explore, the more aware I become of how much I don’t know. I’m also faced with more choices than ever for how to spend my time. Perhaps ironically, my behavior has also become increasingly controlled by my habits and routines.
And all this accumulated experience has become the current me.
Mind: Building a 40-year self
What started off as a chance birth into a privileged environment turned into a 40-year-old me: Dad, husband, son, sibling, employee, colleague, friend. Poor sleeper, inconsistent runner, meandering thinker, wannabe writer, persistent seeker.
Who am I? What’s all this about? What the hell am I doing with my life?
My feeling of me is tangled up with the 40-year story we’ve walked through above. My mind—and the mental models it employs—has been built from a never-ending experience loop: experiences forming memories which influence new experiences which shape memories. Ad infinitum. That’s how minds are built.
Yet my sense of self is very much here in the present. For all practical purposes, my entire 40 years is now.
My 40-year Truman Show
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. It’s been a long trip, and we’ve just skimmed over the thinnest slice of these 40 years.
My story is just one of countless narratives that could be told over these decades. The events I highlighted—technology, politics, pop culture, and my personal experiences—are but a tiny fraction of what actually happened.
I’m sure your experience of any of these decades was quite different than mine. You probably recall many of the same pop culture icons or stories from the news. You may have traveled to some of the same places, or felt similar insecurities. But your day-to-day, moment-to-moment experiences were drastically different from mine. Even if we’ve shared a conversation at some point, it’s almost certain that we saw distinct versions of that same encounter.
We each have our own story. One of billions of perspectives that could be reflected off that same 40-year slice of time. Just like every moment in time.
So now I pass on my question to you: What does 40 years look like from your eyes?