The wisdom of our eldests

Congratulations to Emma Morano, for taking the title of “Worlds oldest living person.” Of course, if I were her I’d be getting a little nervous: every other person to hold this title has died!

What really bugs me about this celebration of a person who has lived slightly longer than anyone else is the one question that every person who is not quite good enough to get a real reporting job invariably asks:

“What is the secret to your long life?”

Sure, I get it, they want to find some little tidbit of information, the wackier the better, that everyone can talk about at the water cooler tomorrow. But seriously, can we please put an end to this stupid line of inquiry? I skimmed through the Wikipedia entries for the last ten oldest people in the world for whom the occupation is listed and checked to see what their jobs were. They were as follows:

  • 3 x Factory worker
  • 2 x Maid/Nanny
  • 2 x Teacher
  • 1 x Merchant
  • 1 x Nun
  • 1 x Postal Worker

Where in that list do you see the experts in gerontology, medicine, or biology? What peer reviewed qualitative case study analyses have they undertaken in order to establish that the 1-3 behaviours or beliefs they nominate have formed a majority part of the causal relationship to their longevity, independent of other factors? The anecdotes of a handful of people whose only unique attribute is being a statistical outlier in a specific domain that they are not specifically educated in is not even close to acceptable quality for evidence.

And if you happen to believe it is, then I have a tiger-repelling rock to sell you…

Now please don’t think that I (sitting on my high horse in my ivory tower with my mixed metaphors and tertiary education and easy access to more information than has ever been known to humankind) am trying to put down these wrinkled remnants of centuries past. I doubt that they are any more or less intelligent than anybody else (well, probably more intelligent than anti-vaxxers, but then, isn’t everybody?). It’s a simple fact that by virtue of their age they grew up in a time when tertiary education was far from the norm, and doubly so for females (who tend to be highly represented in the list of the oldest people).

No, this is not a diatribe against the elderly: it is against the writers of the pointless puff pieces which rather morbidly crawl out of the woodwork every time the last oldest person dies. These reporters have a rare opportunity: the chance to tap into the memories of people who have lived through more history than anyone else alive. People who can surely provide amazing insights into the personal impacts of the great political and social upheavals of the early 20th century. But hey, why do something interesting like that when instead you can just suck away the remaining precious hours these people have with unimaginative and pointless questions that add no value whatsoever. Keep up the good work, reporters!

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