Done and dusted. Joseph Coughlin’s book The Longevity Economy arrived and ten days later after reading it in detail (though it is a fast read), it’s time to piece out the various aspects and reflect on more in upcoming posts. However, one of the central points that Coughlin gets at early in the book, and continues to lace throughout the book is that, “Our narrative of age has always been arbitrary: a social construct that is equal parts historical hangover and marketing ploy.”
As I read that, and what followed, I was reminded frequently that with our hangover vocabulary of age and aging, it is going to take quite some time yet to shake us free to transform that narrative. Perhaps it is because we are being constantly media-blasted about the sheer size and force or crisis of our global aging demographics that we have become more questioning of how different life will be in a world where humans are experiencing greater longevity.
Sometimes that arbitrary narrative is delivered in an awkward way, including in marketing circles and thus as indicated in Coughlin’s subtitle we find ourselves groping and poking, looking to find our way in a “most misunderstood market”. This longevity economy as Coughlin goes on to say, is not just a market driven by the strategies of business, it includes government policies, not for profit initiatives, the contributions from other professional areas such gerontology – AND, not to forget older adults as consumer hackers, “using products in unexpected ways that conform closely to their otherwise unmet needs”.
While making notations through the pages of The Longevity Economy, I couldn’t help but hear in between breaks, other sound wave distractions such as “70 is the new 50” (marketing ploy) and “new action plan for seniors” (historical hangover). As I have attempted to do for many years, how does using the word longevity actually help to shift this age narrative? Well the answer might so far be – only marginally; because as you may find there is also the push back theory, that greater longevity may reverse itself with all that stress and other health killers negatively influencing future generations.
Meanwhile as I digest the nuggets of thought from Coughlin’s work, I am attending the National Institute on Ageing conference “Envisioning Ageing in Place” in Toronto on Nov.23rd. Ageing in place begs for innovative insights across the board, so it will be interesting to hear how the panel discussions take shape. Panel presenters and audience participants are all part of this longevity economy. I’m keen to see how far we move the language, attitude and tone in the narrative, as in particular, paraphrasing Coughlin – too often old age constitutes a problem that needs solving.