Gongol.com Archives: February 2024

Brian Gongol

February 3, 2024

News You're only a 737 away from illiteracy

Common practice recognizes a generation in familial terms as being about 30 years long. Every individual family differs -- some people become teen moms and others are old dads. Every family with offspring has a firstborn, but there can be a lot of middle children before the baby of the family comes along. So while it varies, 30 years is a fairly reasonable rule of thumb from generation to generation. ■ History seems awfully remote until we can conceptualize it in personal terms. Consider, then what it might look like if you could assemble all of an individual's ancestors along a single line -- say, their mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great grandmother, and so on indefinitely. ■ An assembly like that would only contain enough people to fit in a Class A motorhome before reaching someone who lived through the Great Enlightenment. John Locke first wrote of life, liberty, and property as natural rights in 1690. A long time ago, perhaps, but also only about 11 generations prior to a child born today. ■ Johannes Gutenberg's printing press entered service in 1454 -- or only about 19 generations in the past. Along any single ancestral line, most people today could only fill about a book club's worth of people before reaching an era before anything was published by anything but a single person's hand. ■ And of those few books that survive the pre-press era, the individuals whose words are still quoted today really aren't that far removed, either. We are only about 68 generations removed from the time of Jesus. Generations are hard to conceptualize, but if you were to follow just one ancestral line, you could fit 68 people into a Blue Bird school bus with more than a dozen seats to spare. To fill the bus, you'd need to follow the ancestral line all the way back to the time of Aristotle (about 78 generations before us). ■ In fact, writing itself is only about 180 generations old. If you gathered yourself, your father, your father's father, and so on through that single ancestral line all the way back to 3,400 BC, you'd likely only have enough people to fill a Boeing 737. ■ And to reach the very beginning of settled agriculture, you would reach back about 10,000 years, or perhaps 333 generations. A single ancestral line for any one of us living today wouldn't even be enough to fill the lecture hall at the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University. ■ Ancestry, history, and genealogy are often overwhelming in their apparent scale, especially because of the exponents involved. Genetically, everyone has eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, and 32 great-great-great grandparents. The horizontal look gets pretty big. But following just a single chain vertically up the family tree helps to put into perspective just how much human civilization advances when seen at personal scale.

Business and Finance 84% of US retail spending still happens in stores

It doesn't often feel like that much, though, especially to anyone who spends time near a dead or dying shopping mall. There will always be a place for purchases that require a touch-and-feel approach. But there will always be a place for fast, frictionless online purchases that save lots of time. The missing element right now remains the scaled competitor to Amazon -- probably one operating in the same general vein as Aldi: Focused on a single, dependable private-label brand option for every product category sold, and nothing else. That's still likely to be the thing that takes the fight to Amazon, especially as it allows itself to become cluttered with knockoff products.