But aside from the political crisis of the moment, we do seem finally to be recognizing, in the second decade of the 21st century, that aging and longer lifespans are happening and they’re kind of a big deal. And not just that, but the whole narrative is changing. Or ought to!
Just last month, the World Health Organization passed its first official strategy focused on aging and health, and last year a new book from McKinsey identified aging as one of four new megatrends shaping our world. Even the OECD has turned its focus to the silver economy.
Moreover, the issue of aging is at the center of both Brexit and American politics: How do we afford 20th century fiscal arrangements against of 21st century age demographics? And how are all these immigrants fit into the picture of emerging new social arrangements?
So it’s no surprise that two fascinating new books on this very topic are getting attention.
Aging and the Digital Life Course is a collection of essays edited by David Prendergast and Chiara Garattini, anthropologists at Intel. What Prendergast and Garattini have put together is a candid look at how technology can and is being used in our aging society. Taken as a collection, these essays make a powerful case for the potential of thoughtful technologies to improve the quality of life of older adults, whether they are aging in place independently or being cared for by a family or professional caregiver.
Contrary to popular mythology, older adults do use digital technologies and social media, and these tools have the potential to bring great value to their lives, in both expected and unexpected ways. Older adults are using technology to stay socially connected and engaged, just like the rest of us, some are using it to track their health data, just like the rest of us – and some are even avid gamers, just like the rest of us.
Tech innovation is a big opportunity for the developers and companies. And as with most new ideas and products, the success of these new technologies lies in how thoughtfully they’re designed for and rolled out to their users.
Prendergast and Garratini’s book makes clear that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the many ways that technology can be used by our aging population and how older adults can be a driver of tech innovation. Transform prevention and wellness through such innovations that enable remote patient monitoring? Applications for education and skill development on-line? More effective elder caregiving at home?
Another new book, The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, tackles a different question altogether. Yes, our society is aging, because we are living much longer lives. This may seem obvious, but most of us haven’t given much thought to what our longer lifespans will mean in terms of how we organize and live those lives. We think of it as “what do we do about the old” and less, what do we do about what is rapidly becoming the 100-year life span? How do your skin and bones, brains and savings, skills and knowledge last 100 years?
Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, professors from London Business School and the authors of The 100-Year Life, have given this a lot of thought and provide some interesting analysis, exciting predictions and straightforward recommendations in their new book.
Yes, how to plan and save for retirement in a 100-year life may be the driving question for the book and for all of us. But Gratton and Scott are thinking much bigger than how much of our salaries we’re saving or upward nudges to the ages of retirement and Social Security. How and how much we save for retirement are critical – and a new report from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies illustrates the importance of workplace benefits in helping workers prepare – but as Gratton and Scott see it, this gift of longevity is an opportunity to completely rethink how we structure our lives. The linear three-stage life – education, career, retirement – is so 20th century. The 21st century and beyond are about four, five or more life stages.
This is not a book about old age; it’s about how to live our best lives when our lives are going to be longer than anyone’s who came before us. We have more options now, and we can’t afford not to take them. And the authors interestingly use the technique of people’s lives at different stages, underscoring the point this is not about old, but about re-inventing our life course now that we will live to 100 or more!
This new way of structuring our lives will have big impacts on each of us. Longevity will change how, when, and where we learn, find jobs, choose partners and start families. Gratton and Scott predict that longevity will dramatically alter how we work and even do away with what we know as the 5-day work week. And employers and governments will have to make dramatic adjustments too.
In very different ways, these two books make clear that we are living in exciting times on the cusp of real change, from the technology we use every day to how we use our days. The opportunities to shape these changes are boundless. Are you ready?