Semi-Old

Tom Nickel
4 min readNov 26, 2020
author’s pic, Uddar Meanchey Province, Cambodia

I’m not running from Old, but Old doesn’t tell the whole story.

Retired presents the same kind of problem. It suggests passivity instead of, possibly, a shift in activity rather than a reduction or cessation.

Caring changes with age, caring about specific people and also the general direction of the human race.

Part of it is: How much of that story, that I still care about, will I actually get to see?

This is a Semi-Old Person question.

It’s not an exclusive. It’s just not a question young people tend to focus on in concrete terms and really old people already know how much more of The Story they’ll get to see. Not much.

In a month I will be a Semi-Old 72. I am beginning to think about Never Seeing some of the big changes I have cared about my entire adult life. Changes I haven’t stopped acting on in my own individual way.

For instance, I would love to see some indication that we can find a way to cooperate and address global problems together.

That’s pretty abstract.

One concrete way anyone can see the abstract idea playing out, is in the specific reactions to China’s growth.

Some people think China wants to dominate the world and represents an existential threat that must defeated.

Others believe China’s rulers just want respect and a seat at the table commensurate with China’s stature, suggesting cooperation is possible.

During one phase of my so-called career I traveled and did business in China. Education business. It was an open and optimistic period and I saw first hand a pathway for working together, a concrete approach to worldwide cooperation — transnational education programs.

Much has changed in U.S.-China relations since my brief, but deep and direct, involvement. Now I follow a dozen blogs and podcasts and try to understand the dynamics of Xi’s China at a distance.

I reflect and write. Overall, including my informal conversational talking, I try to convey a realistic perspective on cooperation with China.

But I have no standing, so even though a few of my pieces have been widely read, I am not even a nano-influencer on this crucial topic.

The bigger question for me as a Semi-Old person is:

Will I get to see how this plays out in some decisive way, how the United States and other nations respond to China’s growth?

Will I get to see a stable multi-polar world or another round of Super Power conflict in what is left of my lifetime? That’s another way of asking it.

There are decisive points in the global narrative.

I was less than one year old when Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on September 21, 1949.

Will anybody be proclaiming something resembling planetary cooperation in, I don’t know, the next eight to ten years?

I’d take that.

Large Hadron Collider, wikipedia

Here’s another one — Gravity.

Even though a Nobel Prize was awarded in 2017 for detecting gravity waves, we’re a long way from describing them in a clear story that fits with General Relativity (where gravity is not a force but a property of spacetime) and Quantum Mechanics (where gravity seems to appear as forceful waves and particles).

I am an armchair Quantum Mechanics fanboy. I care about Quantum Mechanics like I care about how the rest of the world relates to China.

It feels like we could be approaching a Kuhnian paradigm shift in our understanding and exploitation of quantum effects.

Einstein’s 1905 proclamation that E=MC Squared was as decisive as the Chinese Communist Party’s proclamation in 1949.

Will Loop Quantum Gravity models pull the important perspectives together? Could Loop Quantum Cosmology bend the story arc more toward a Big Bounce than a Big Bang.

I’d like to know that.

I am hoping that Carlo Rovelli or someone else will straighten it out in time for me.

Peace or War?

A universe that is running down or one that is eternal?

As a Semi-Old person, I know that clarity on matters such as these is asking for too much.

I am preparing to be disappointed, not in the outcome but in the lack of one.

Being Semi-Old I see the narrative format is misleading.

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Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos