April's CR Diary

A diary of a 30 year old woman following CRON, or Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition, for health and life extension.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

So Why Did You Donate to the M Prize?

That's a question I've asked a lot of people in the last few weeks.

When I first began the process of surveying our donors, one of my blog readers asked, "Are they mostly wealthy people who want to live forever?" I said I'd get back to you after doing more survey calls, but that so far, it seemed that M Prize donors were on average middle class people who are unusually engaged with the world around them and want to enjoy living in good health for as long as possible.

Well, now that I've surveyed the donors for whom we have good phone numbers and a few others who graciously responded to my email correspondence, I can give you some more detail.

Of course, one doesn't come out and ask people how much money they make. So I can't tell you exactly what the median income of an M Prize donor is. But I did find out a great deal about people's occupations. Many of our donors are students in the sciences. One of them, a graduate student, is planning to win the Prize himself!

Several are somewhere in the software industry. I solicited guesses as to why that is. Some absolutely brilliant responses came back. For instance:

"One thing which may attract computer geeks is the similarity of the genetic code to program code. Hacking the human genome seems to be attractive to many of these individuals."

Another thought: people in computers are expected to break new ground every day. They are constantly creating new worlds. Therefore, they are willing to take risks, to experiment with things that don't have a proven track record of success. Innovation is the name of the game -- so innovation in the science of remaining healthy longer is just as logical to them as innovation in software engineering.

Another large group of donors is entrepreneurs. The M Prize seems to attract successful business people. Their fields are very diverse, but several of them have taken tremendous risks, both personally and financially, to try something that had not been done before. Donors like this tend to answer, "Why did you decided to support the M Prize?" with phrases like, "most cost effective way to motivate research" or "successful business model."

Some of the M Prize donors have intensely personal reasons for their support. I've spoken with donors who live with debilitating illness, who hope for a future where medical advances can improve their lives dramatically.

Other threads running through the donor pool... they have seen the ravages of age-related illness up close. A parrish minister referred to visiting the sick and dying in hospitals. Another donor spoke of spending time with the sick as a part of his church work. Several had taken care of family members as they declined into ill health.

Some were very upfront about facing the possiblity of their own mortality. One donor in his sixties told me that if he were my age (30) he would put all of his energy into the M Prize and SENS initiatives, but that at his age, he is spending more of his time and energy on cryonics. That makes the most sense to him, when he surveys the timetables of what will be ready for him.

A relatively young donor, in his thirties, told me that he is signed up with Alcor, supports the M Prize, is a member of Life Extension Foundation, and is thinking about starting CR, all because he figures he may as well hedge his bets.

Several very long term CR practitioners are lurking around in the M Prize donor pool, and since they rarely post I had no idea. I've met two people who have been practicing CR for close to twenty years... that's inspiring!

There are several people in the donor pool who have changed their lives dramatically in order to fight aging full time. Two left successful careers to go back to school to become scientists. One left a job to become a research assistant to a scientist who is leading the fight.

One of the questions I asked donors was, "How did you find out about the M Prize?" Quite a few came across the website as the result of a search on life-extension related ideas. Others discovered it from other organizations focused on the same... one Three Hundred member told me that when he found out that both the Life Extension Foundation and the Foresight Institute were Three Hundred members, he was inspired to join as well.

Many others got involved with the M Prize through some sort of contact with Aubrey de Grey. Either hearing him speak or reading the information on his website (what's that address again? anyone, anyone? you guessed it, it's http://
www.gen.cam.ac.uk/sens) One donor I spoke with wasn't quite sure where or when he had heard Aubrey speak -- he threw out a list of meetings where he may have first met Aubrey -- but he clearly remembered Aubrey's description of the Prize and how it works. Others were familiar with Aubrey's work from his postings on other life-extension related forums and discussion groups, where the M Prize is a frequent topic of discussion. Quite a few heard about the M Prize first from the Longevity Meme: http://www.longevitymeme.org or http://www.fightaging.org, two very comprehensive sites about life-extension created and maintained by Reason, one of the main M Prize volunteers. There's a small crossover appeal here -- that's where some M Prize donors found out about my blog! One of them has even started CR! You can check out his CR blog here at http://www.spaz.ca/blog.

Probably because I hit all the people I know personally early in the process, I surveyed a lot of people who found out about the M Prize from the CR Society or CR Society contacts. One person whom I had no idea was a CR Society member and had never met or corresponded with told me that he donated because he read MR's "Why I Joined the Three Hundred" post, which you can find here:
He also said that he now eats the peel with the orange on MR's advice. If that's not crossover appeal, then I don't know what is.

One of the Three Hundred brothers made the observation that M Prize donors seem to, as a group, be close to and very respectful of their parents. He asked that I incorporate that question into my survey, and I did where I could fit it into the conversation, though it wasn't always easy with the flow of topics. The answers came out about 2 to 1, people who were asked the question are very close to their parents. One donor spoke extensively about his concern for his parents' health, and the urgency that lends to his support for the Prize. This is certainly true for me... you don't have to read the blog very long to determine that my mother is my very best friend, and that wanting to keep her around and having fun longer is a big motivation for my work. I also found a fair number of people who weren't particularly close with their parents and even a smattering of those who weren't in communication with them. Impossible to draw conclusions from the sample size, but inspiring to hear the personal stories of people whose concern for their family members had motivated them to do something for the entire human family.

I discovered in the course of my calls that many of our donors are very heavily engaged in volunteer work. Of course, several of them spend hours and hours doing volunteer work for the M Prize. Others spent considerable time and energy volunteering for other organizations. Life-extension related organizations topped the list of things to which M Prize people devote their time, but others included church work and youth programs.

There aren't many women on the list, and to be honest, quite a few of the women on the list are people whom I recruited. One female CR Society member and CR practitioner who is now on the list of committed givers told me that when I explained the logic of the M Prize, it made perfect sense to her, but that she never would have thought to go looking for such a thing online. She has a background in environmental policy, and we had an interesting discussion about the overpopulation issue that Aubrey addresses here: http://www.gen.cam.ac.uk/sens/concerns.htm#opop

I had a long conversation with a female M Prize donor who joined up long before I came on the scene about why there are so few women. She had some fascinating insights: she said that women with children are more likely to volunteer for and donate to community based organizations that provide opportunities for their children. For instance, she is a mother of three and very involved in her church. She is passionate about extending healthy lifespans: in addition to donating to the M Prize, she is a CR practitioner. She spoke eloquently about the challenges and joys of bringing up three human beings to be happy, healthy, smart people. Her daughter is now interested in fighting aging, a remarkable thing at age 8.

Overall, my calls were extremely positive. I've done a lot of "cold calling" in my life time, and I was amazed at how friendly, positive, and willing to help M Prize donors were. Even donors with no connection whatsoever to any kind of community around extending healthy lifespans were willing to talk with me at length about their perspectives on the prize, life, health, and how supporting the M Prize fits into their life philosophy.

I found speaking with M Prize donors downright inspirational... they're a group of people who are very engaged with life, and who want to keep living life to its fullest for many years to come. The only negative things that donors said to me revolved around the question of "Why isn't everyone supporting this?" Frustration with the idea that age-related disease and disability are inevitable came up frequently. I was surprised by how many people volunteered the information that their spouse, parents, and co-workers are not supportive of their M Prize or other extension of healthy lifespan related activities. It made me think again of how lucky I am that my closest friends and family are all supportive.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that M Prize donors are overwhelmingly positive people. Not only are they living full and engaged lives now, they imagine a future in which the possibilities both for themselves and for humanity are ever expanding. For many, their scientific or engineering background makes them rationally convinced that ending age-related disease and disability is possible, and their sense of personal responsibility obligates them to take that knowledge and do something about it. In a world where many people see narrowing possibilities and approach the future with fear, it's uplifting to talk with people who believe that the future will be so interesting, they want to be around to see it.

People who are new to the M Prize and the concept of extending life and health sometimes assume that there is a selfishness to wanting to live longer. They imagine individuals wanting to preserve their own physical lives at all costs, and perhaps taking from others to do so. What I have found from talking with M Prize donors is quite the opposite: this is a community of people who believe that by acting as a community we can bring about change. Surely the effort of putting together each of our $85/month is a testament to this belief: we make a financial sacrifice that in itself wouldn't buy much in the way of scientific research, but when combined with donations large and small from people all over the world, it will, in the words of MR, form
"the most effective vehicle for funding genuine anti-aging research - research that could drastically delay, or even ultimately eliminate, the slow, but gradually accelerating downward spiral of physical and mental deterioration with the passing of the years. "

Join us. You'll be in good company.


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