All posts

The tail end just got longer

2020-03-19 21:35 GMT

A couple years ago I read The Tail End by Tim Urban. Seeing visually how many winters, dumplings, and especially books I have left before I die surprised me. But the only thing I remembered from that article (before I looked it up again just now) is that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93 percent of my in-person time with my parents.

This is going to be another post about time.

I’m home for at least an extra two months because coronavirus, so I’m going to calculate more specifically what that means for my time with my mom and dad. I guess this only applies to college students living with their parents now when they otherwise wouldn’t (sorry Claudia).

Tim Urban arrived at 93 percent in-person from the following assumptions:

I’m going to specifize the assumptions to better match my situation, but generalize the formula for calculating how much time people have left in their relationships at some life turning point.

My assumptions for when I graduated from high school are:

With those parameters, I’ll have spent 39,420 hours with them in my first 18 years and 8,000 with them afterwards. That’s 83.13 percent of my time before and 16.87 percent afterwards. At the end of my hypothetically undisrupted junior year of college, I’ll have only 15.60 percent of my in-person time with my parents left.

hours_togetherbefore / (hours_togetherbefore + hours_togetherafter)

Or some other simple algebra with equal units gives the proportion of time elapsed for any relationship at any turning point. Unit conversion is an exercise for the reader.

I’d guess that for the next two months I’ll spend on average 8 hours a day with my parents. They’re still working, but maybe more from home in the coming weeks or less altogether. We’re doing fewer errands. While we’re not sick, we have much more free time. I imagine that if one of my parents or I do get sick, we’ll unavoidably get each other sick and see each other for zero hours a day as we recover in isolation.

Roughly, I’ll estimate that in the next two months I expect to spend an additional 400 hours with my parents in the next two months, and an additional 900 hours until next fall if my summer plans get cancelled and I stay home.

The next two months extend the tail end from 83.13 percent before and 16.87 percent (when I graduated high school) after to

39,420 / (39,420 + 8400) => 82.43 percent before and 17.57 percent after for two months

39,420 / (39,420 + 8900) => 81.58 percent before and 18.42 percent after for until fall 2020

The percentage differences look small. But 400 hours is equivalent to two years of normal visits home, and 900 hours equivalent to four and half years of normal visits home. That is not trivial!

Don’t forget that these results are highly dependent on the assumptions. I’m assuming fortuantely long lives, and averaging with a broad stroke how much time per year I’ll visit home. My mom goes home to China for at least a month every year in normal circumstances. And certainly do not expect normal circumstances for every year of even the next five years. You can see how one’s time left in equivalent after-turning-point-years can vary quite quickly.

Another interesting question is how much of my total meaningful (not just in-person) time I have left with my parents. This is even more dependent on assumptions, but here’s what I’m thinking:

The bright side is that these additional considerations indicate that the amount of meaningful time anyone has with their parents after they leave home is probably higher than lower. The same goes for any relationship–siblings, friends, though probably not pets.

I think Tim Urban’s 93 percent is a tad alarmist. But I’ll wholeheartedly endorse his takeaways. Your priorities matter. Quality time matters. And the greatest determiner of what proportion of time you have left with someone is whether you physically live close to them or not. Coronavirus can force that factor to change. But otherwise, you should set it yourself.

I promise I’ll use fewer numbers in my next post. Stay healthy, increase hours at all costs!