World’s oldest person dies

News today that the world’s oldest person, Elizabeth Bolden, had died at the age of 116. My reaction was: what? Again! 

It seems like this happens every year. And indeed that seems to have been the case since about 1997. Prior to that Jeanne Calment held the title from 1991 to 1997 although Mitoyo Kawate didn’t last a month in 2003. Wikipedia (which impressively was on the ball on this one) named Emilano Mercado del Toro as the new world’s oldest person at 115. Emilano is used to this type of issue. He has been the reigning world’s oldest man since 2004. Moreover, at the moment, he seems to hold the title as the world’s oldest man in recorded history. (Elizabeth Bolden checked out in the Top 10.) Julie Bertrand is a few weeks behind in youth.

The title of world’s oldest person is a strange one. First of all, at least initially, it is a declining metric. The time of the world’s fastest person goes down each time there is a new record-holder. The world’s current oldest person goes down too (seemingly the wrong way). Second, there is a sense in which getting this title is a dubious honor. It kind of marks you for elimination. Absent other information, you become the person next to go in a statistical sense. In actuality, the fact that you made it to the top suggests that is not really the case. However, within say, a nursing home, being the oldest comes with its own dark cloud.

The better title is, of course, the world’s youngest person. However, it is virtually never recorded in the media. An exception is this:

DELHI, INDIA—Harinakshi Himati, an 18-inch, 10-pound baby born less than one minute ago to Delhi taxi driver Ganaresh Himati and his wife Chameli, has been declared the world’s youngest person by the United Nations Census Bureau. “This is an honor, to be sure,” said Mr. Himati, displaying his daughter to the public for the first time. “Her mother and I knew she was young, but this is very unexpected.” Harinaksi displaced her older triplet Chaya as the world’s youngest person and is expected to hold the title for a few seconds until the birth of her sister Varija.

I once blew my childrens’ minds by explaining to them that, at one time, each of them had been the world’s youngest person. They were very excited by this. It appealed to their sense of fairness. This was an award everyone would get (if only for a short time). It is a beautiful concept. Indeed, perhaps it would be nicer to record the birth times accurately and, instead of birth certificates, to give people a plaque with that award. Of course, for most of us, it is downhill from there. By the looks of things, they will have only a 1 in a billion chance of getting to holding the double distinction world’s youngest/oldest title.

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