Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Problem with Magic


Let’s play a word association game.  The only rule is that you have to answer with the name of a company.

I say, “magical.”   

You say, “Disney,” right?  It’s the name that comes immediately to mind, thanks in part to their own branding, and in part to the fact that many of us have had some kind of magical experience--at the movies, at a park, on a cruise--with the company through the years.

Now, let’s try again, but you need a new answer.  I say, “magical.”  

You say, ah, “Apple?”  I think that’s right.  The products produced by Apple in the last few years, especially pods, phones and pads, have been pretty close to magical.   This isn’t quite the same as Disney, but more along the lines of Arthur C. Clarke’s assertion that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Organized Conscientiousness of Dorian Gray (Or, What Keeps Us Young)

Dorian Gray sells his soul to stay young,
allowing instead a portrait painted of him
to age "with each soul-corrupting sin."
I had the fortunate opportunity to see Ken Burns speak last week at the annual dinner of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  Burns is 57 but looks at least ten years younger.

I mention this in reference to The Longevity Project, a twenty year study by Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin.  Recently published, it concludes that longevity is a function of three roughly equal factors: genes, chance, and lifestyle. 

Genes are genes.  You get what you get.  

Chance has to do with major life events, such as fighting in World War II (where those deployed overseas died at a greater rate after the war than those deployed at home), or the impact of divorce, which turns out to be the single strongest social predictor of a child’s longevity.

The factor over which we presumably have the greatest control, however, is lifestyle, and what Friedman and Martin found will warm the cockles of every well ordered heart out there.  What makes for a long life is not happiness, optimism, or even equanimity.  

“The findings clearly revealed that the best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness, the qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person—somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree.”