Creating a book of the future for a better later life
My five-year-old daughter is very interested in the ‘olden days’, when mummy and daddy were little. Her eyes widen when we explain there was no Google.
Her surprise gets more animated when we explain there weren’t dishwashers or microwaves, and you couldn’t go to the shops on a Sunday.
And her jaw fairly hits the floor when we explain children’s telly was only on for a bit after school and Saturday mornings, and you couldn’t choose what to watch.
Inevitably, it makes me wonder what nuggets about her life now she might enjoy shocking her own children with in the future.
Of course, predictions like this are hardly easy to get right. One of my favourite possessions is a children’s ‘Book of the Future’ that I had when I was young. They get some things right (sort of), notably mobile phones, a version of online shopping and a cross between emails and fax machines. But the Moon Olympics in 2020 isn’t looking all that likely.
So rather than attempting any sure-to-be-wrong pop-futurology, I’ve been thinking instead about how our society reflects our ageing population, and how, if we succeed to create a society where we are all ageing better, my daughter might look back on how things were in her childhood and reflect on how far we’ve come. I hope a whole host of things about how things are nowadays will seem hilariously out-of-date by then:
- Our health service still too focused on acute illness and not yet organised around supporting people to maintain and manage their health.
- Our failure to value and properly fund something as essential to human dignity as the daily care of people who can’t care for themselves.
- Our workplaces too often missing out on the skills and experience that older workers bring.
- Our homes being built with too often little regard for whether they will enable people to live well as they age and their functional abilities decline.
- Our economists and politicians in thrall to narrow economic definitions of national progress, and not recognising the enormous importance to us all of activity that falls out of this definition, like informal care and volunteering.
- Our limited and often stereotyping attempts to advertise and market to older people.
- Our ingrained and rarely challenged ageism, our cult of youthful appearance, and the negative narrative that still frames much discussion about our ageing population.
Perhaps some of these hopes feel a bit ‘Moon Olympics’. But some definitely aren’t, and none of them should be. As we think about what future we want for our ageing society, I think it’s an interesting and important exercise to imagine where we want that future to be, and recognise quite how different it is from where we are now.
Our longer life expectancy is a seismic shift, but one that seems to have crept up on us too gradually, too quietly, and we find ourselves now with an urgent need to catch up. Nutrition, public health and medicine have given us this great gift, but our public policy, our private sector and our society haven’t properly shifted to embrace it. We need to do things differently and redesign our world to properly reflect our longer lives. Leading that charge should be an absolute priority for the next government. My daughter’s generation, and those beyond, won’t thank us if we continue to squander the opportunity these extra years should be giving us all.