Harry Hsu, Our Slice of Time, C3
The pyramids of Giza, as we all know, is a collection of wonderful masterpiece by the Egyptians a long time ago, but how old is it anyway? Take it this way, the pyramids of Giza were as old to the ancient Romans as the ancient Romans are to us. When the pyramids were being built, they were still mammoths living on this planet. That’s pretty old, but don’t get too impressed. We often learn the past with our textbooks in discrete chapters, distracting us from the fact that many chapters of history are not as close as you may think. What’s worse is we often learn different concepts like science and human rights in different textbooks, and that tears our chronicles apart.
By the late 1960’s, humans had made a great progress to become a space-exploring species. But while we were sending the first probes to the moon, and Venus, and Mars, it was still illegal for a black person and a white person to marry in 14 states in America.
The guillotine, which cuts a person’s head down with a heavy blade, was in our memory a cruel and horrifying way for death penalty, but interestingly it was last used by France to officially execute a criminal in 1977, the year Star Wars came out.
We went from the death of Vincent Van Gogh to Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon within a span of a human’s life, but all those stories from the pyramids to ancient Romans to you listening to this speech, all belong to an extremely thin section in the textbook compared to what human life has mainly been on this planet.
Our current society as we live nowadays, is WEIRD. WEIRD is an acronym for western educated industrial rich and democratic. That is the type of life we are familiar with while humans have lived some other types of life for the past 6 million years. It was not until the last 10 thousand years did we enter a new era where humans invented farming, the use of metal, writing, and governments. And recently we have reached the Internet era, and it only spans 5 decades into the history. However for this 50 years, information and knowledge has been booming faster than ever, which means not long ago, we had some pretty strange thoughts in mind.
For instance, in 1903, the New York Times predicted that building a flying machine is possible in one to ten million years, and later that very same year the Wright brothers flew in their plane prototype. More interestingly, in 1908, it was said that no flying machine will ever fly from New York to Paris. Who made that foolish prediction? One of the Wright brothers.
So we are living in an era that its life is as thin as a layer of dust on the bed rock, and however we, as modern people, is actually eroding the bed rock beneath us. In the late 20’s, a chemist called Thomas Midgley Jr. synthesized the first chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC, for which he won a big prize in the chemistry society. It was such a convenient chemical that is was widely used in many industries such as refrigerants, detergent, and anti-freezer. Only later did we realized all of those tons of CFC we were emitting were eating away 4% of the protective Ozone Layer in our atmosphere per decade, causing a wound in our mother earth that would probably not completely heal after you and I have long been dead. Historian J. R. MacNeill remarked that Midgley had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in earth’s history.
Midgley’s life take up 0.05 percent of human history, and roughly speaking, yours and mine will too as the time marches on ruthlessly. When I was young, there was a big blue clock in my bedroom and every night before I sleep, I would heard the tic-toc sound repeating: tic, toc… and then I figured the river of time will not stop flowing, and eventually we will be washed away like the soil and the rock. Or do we?
We cannot live a life any longer than, say, 100 years, but we can leave a positive influence in the human history. Sometimes it’s hard for us, as a narrow slice of time, to perceive and to believe what we don’t witness or what we cannot imagine. Life as we know is created by human according to traditions, religions, or habits, but never take it for granted. Stand on the outside of your original slice.
Because we will die twice. One time when we stop breathing and a second time, when somebody says our name for the last time.