In each day that goes by, almost 19 million years of human life is lived. If you were to spend twenty four hours in turn with each of the 7 billion people living on the planet, that’s how long it would take. Seven billion days. Nineteen million years.
In that span of time, whole continents can ramble about the globe, thrusting gigantic mountain ranges into the skies. Enormous tracts of land are submerged beneath the waves, while others wither in the heat. New species evolve, thrive and become extinct. Ice ages come and go like the seasons. Bolide impacts from space are a near-certainty, and catastrophes beyond our imagination, such as enormous earthquakes, tsunamis and super-volcanoes are a regular occurrence. The human race has been around for just 1% of this extraordinary time-span.
In one twenty-four hour revolution on our planet, 19 million years of human life will come to pass. You would imagine, given such extraordinary numbers, that almost anything that possibly could happen, and would happen, each and every day. Even if many billion people pass their day without event – watching TV, or taking the dog for a walk – this still leaves plenty of opportunity for far more interesting stories. Each day, every possible situation is being acted out: delight, despair, birth, death, sublime discovery and gruesome horror. These stories will remain largely unknown to us. It is impossible, therefore, to grasp anything but a thin essence of great historical events. The small stories, the petty tragedies and minor victories are doomed to be lost to posterity.
Somewhere in the world each day, one person may experience a one-in-seven-billion co-incidence: an event so extraordinarily improbable that it may seem miraculous. Such is the power of these numbers that strange events are not just expected, they must happen all the time. It’s not providence: it’s statistics.
Our media landscape serves us only a tiny slice of all the stories of the day. Television shows and newspapers often struggle to find news, and as so often happens, a single news story of two celebrities getting married, a sending off in a football match or a politician’s inane comments will dominate the media to the exclusion of everything else. The stories of the other 99.999999% of us, no matter how fascinating, will remain hidden from view.
We are oblivious to this accumulating tide of human history, because for most of us, each day is not much different to the one that went before. We spend our lives in a small corner of the world, perpetually nearby friends, aquaintances and colleagues. We are insulated from the great cacophony of our co-travellers. Knowing that we don’t know that much at all is both humbling and mind-blowing at the same time.
Photo credit: “Killers Crowd” taken by Steve Crane (Creative Commons Licensed)