If you could, would you want to live past 100? Would you double your years? Triple them?
Let me pose this age-old question in another way: Would life be better if the average human lifespan were extended?
People have been rooting and reaching for answers to this since our ancient ancestors first walked upright, since they gazed at the night sky and imagined the concept of infinity. A long life is a blessing, that much more precious for its rarity. Now, as we map the human genome and unravel the mysteries of disease, the possibility of living to see our children’s children’s children’s children has become imaginable. Some would even say probable.
The latest, and the most publicly visible, indication that scientists think the Fountain of Youth is at hand comes from the most unlikely of places: Google.
Last week, the search-engine and email giant announced it was launching a new firm to try to solve some of healthcare’s thorniest problems, with a major initiative focusing on significantly extending the human lifespan. The name of the new company is Calico, which sent the virtual world into a tizzy of name-as-meaning speculation. (Calico, as in cat, as in nine lives, as in … well, you get the picture.)
Google CEO Larry Page has kept details of the company’s plans under wraps except for some general pronouncements, namely that Calico plans to make some very long-term bets on healthcare and new technology.
“Maybe we should shoot for the things that are really, really important so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done,” Page told Time.
In other words, don’t expect anything results-wise next year or the year after that. So if you’re in your 80s or 90s, you’re probably out of luck. The data-gobbling leviathan that is Google won’t provide answers to the mystery of longevity that quickly. Death and taxes are still as inevitable, as imminent, as they’ve ever been.
But for baby boomers like me, that middle-aged, youth-should-be-forever generation, the demographic with deep pockets and tall ambitions…. well, Methuselah as icon of longevity may turn out to be aiming low.
I’m not a betting woman, but I wouldn’t bet against Google. Like a handful of other tech companies untethered to convention, Google dreams big, turning fiction into fact, dream into reality. This is the same company that brought us Google Earth, Google Glass (those wacky Internet-connected eyeglasses) and the self-driving car. It also happens to know a lot about each of us, which is a scary thought.
But as the great minds of our time chase the enduring hope of living longer, the rest of us might do well to pause, to reconsider how we already live our lives and how, given the opportunity, we can live them better. For me, the idea of more years is attractive — but only if I can spend them the way I want to — in good health, writing and learning, close to those I love.
One of my brothers-in-law, almost two decades younger than me, ends all his emails with a thought by French Renaissance philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. The quote rings as true today as it did almost 500 years ago, an object lesson for the new Calico explorers as they embark on their quest: The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.