homeaboutarchivepodcastnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivepodcastmembership!
aboutarchivemembers!

The Betty White Timeline of Human History

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2021

It can be difficult to wrap our minds around just how short recorded human history is — 5500 years is not actually all that long of a time period. In this Twitter thread, Jelena Woehr suggests that we use the unit of Betty White’s lifetime (99 years and counting) as a tool to probe the temporal relationships of important events in the evolution of humans and society.

Y’all, it’s only been about 16 really old people since the fall of Rome.

Shakespeare died four very long-lived grandparents ago?!

It’s been less than two Betty Whites since the Emancipation Proclamation?!?!

I feel like if we expressed time in units of Betty White we’d be better able to understand the lack of human moral progress.

“Society has not gotten better at implementing public health measures since the 1918 flu pandemic” sounds impossible, but that was only 1.03 Bettys ago.

It gets even wilder when you go farther back, too.

Humans have had roughly the same brain size and shape for 1000 Betty Whites.

But we’ve only had writing since 52 Betty Whites ago.

We were going around with these big brains never writing anything down for 948 Bettys????!

This reminds me of The Great Span1 but more specifically of Mark Sumner’s 50 Men from Ur.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., one the United States’ great historians, is less than two lifetimes removed from a world where the United States did not exist. Through Mr. Schlesinger, you’re no more than three away yourself. That’s how short the history of our nation really is.

Not impressed? It’s only two more life spans to William Shakespeare. Two more beyond that, and the only Europeans to see America are those who sailed from Greenland. You’re ten lifetimes from the occupation of Damietta during the fifth crusade. Twenty from the founding of Great Zimbabwe and the Visigoth sack of Rome. Make it forty, and Theseus, king of Athens, is held captive on Crete by King Minos, the Olmecs are building the first cities in Mexico, and the New Kingdom collapses in Egypt.

(thx, matt)

  1. kottke.org readers in chorus: “What doesn’t remind you of The Great Span, Jason?!” Ok, fair enough but it’s still cool!