If you were looking back over the last century, what would the banner headline for this time period be...? This question was posed by Dr. Steven Johnson during a Ted Talk. He indicated one might think it would be about one of the World Wars, or man walking on the moon, or the dawn of the computer age. In his mind, however, those are all incorrect as they represent just moments in time, however, for him, the story of the last century is the dramatic increase in life expectancy.
A hundred years ago, average life expectancy hovered around 35 years of age, where it had been for almost all human history. Now, it is in the 70s and 80s in most of the developed world and is not below 60 anywhere. The increase in life expectancy has essentially added an extra lifetime to most peoples’ lives. We usually think of the events that occurred leading to progress but when thinking about life expectancy, progress can be measured by non-events or what didn’t happen. People didn’t die as often as they had in the past. The reasons are many and mostly reflect the tremendous advances in health care and hygiene including vaccines, antibiotics, cleaner water, pasteurized milk, and on and on.
Although, we take these advances for granted now, then like now, change doesn’t occur without a fight. Dr. Johnson gave the example of pasteurization. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, bacteria laden milk was killing children. In 1924, grade A pasteurization became recommended by federal policy in the US and kids stopped dying from bad milk. Even though Louis Pasteur’s research in the 1860s demonstrated that thermal processing would deactivate unwanted microorganisms, it took over 50 years for what we take for granted to become standard procedure.
The scientists who knew that pasteurization would create better health outcomes could not change attitudes and behavior just stating the facts. They had to fight for a solution. There were milk activists and rallies to inform the public. Dr. Johnson noted that we can't just focus on the scientists and the triumph of science and reason. Sometimes it takes a social movement to foster change. As Thomas Jefferson said, “It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.” Or more succinctly, change is hard.
Take care and stay safe.
Drowning Practice by Mike Meginnis
One night, everyone on Earth has the same dream—a dream of being guided to a watery death by a loved one on November 1. When they wake up, most people agree: after Halloween, the world will end.
In the wake of this haunting dream and saddled with its uncertainty, Lyd and her daughter, Mott, navigate a changed world, wrestling with how to make choices when you really don’t know what comes next. Embarking on a quixotic road trip filled with a collection of unexpected and memorable characters, Lyd and Mott are determined to live out what could be their final months as fully as possible. But how can Lyd protect Mott and help her achieve her ambitions in a world where inhibitions, desires, and motivations have become unpredictable, and where Mott’s dangerous and conniving father has his own ideas about how his estranged family should spend their last days?