A line of chalk

Ten years ago today, according to an official and exceedingly unscientific proclamation, the human population of the world reached six billion. Of course this assertion is silly, if taken as a literal statement of fact. Knowledge of human birth and death is based on statistical approximation and the tools available for tracking these statistics are rather imprecise. We do not have a little chip in every human body that tracks the whereabouts and disposition of each individual upon the earth.


Nonetheless, it became clear ten years ago that the mark was going to be passed, and by human reckoning it was a significant mark – being a “nice round number” with lots of trailing zeroes. When you think about it, the whole idea of a six billionth baby being significant in any way is rather mystical – not all that different from the numerological esoterica of the Kabballah, or various myths surrounding the Number of the Beast.

Then again, celebrations of New Years or birthdays are equally mystical. Nothing really happens at these moments, other than the passing of an arbitrary and culturally defined reference. It’s all rather like drawing a line of chalk in the road, coming back a day later to step over this line, and then celebrating our achievement.

But still it’s fun. Our brains work this way, and we have no way of perceiving the world around us than through these numerically obsessed minds of ours. And so, on the more or less arbitrary day of October 12, 1999, it was declared by the Secretary General of the United Nations that little Adnan Nevic was the six billionth human.

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