Looking for Some Levity in Longevity.

“We are living in a storm, where a hundred contradictory elements collide; debris from the past, scraps from the present, seeds of the future – swirling, combining, separating under the imperious wind of destiny.”

Adolphe Retté, La Plume, March 1, 1898

A new year is upon us and the urge to make resolutions and prognostications, with the usual mix of the pessimistic and optimistic, continues as it has for centuries. When it comes to the promise of longevity, this subject area is no different this year; trends and developments, whether social, technological, medical or otherwise will continue to headline the news. What cannot be denied is that the last ten years has seen a gradual build in a Longevity Industry, or Longevity Economy.

Often over these years in the emerging conversation, hype indulges our interest – hope triumphs over uncertainty as we futuristically imagine what a world might look like if life expectancy rates increase during this century.

ngm2013_may_cv2c-grid-cb1366327114baby-final

Hype me up Scotty!

National Geographic 2013, “This Baby Will Live to Be 120”.

TIME Magazine 2015, “This Baby Could Live to be 142 Years Old.”

 

A Longevity Economy. Someone out there knows something.

Longevity guarantees or warranties don’t come attached by a string to your baby toe at birth, but someone out there knows something and they’re working on it. Looking for some levity, I recall when I turned thirty, at a birthday dinner two of my dear friends presented to me out of a brief case, an information package on Cryonics. I should have known back then I was destined to write this weekly blog.

Fast forward. At the same time as the 120-year old baby surfaced in 2013, Google founded the healthcare, biotech company Calico with its tag line “we’re tackling aging, one of life’s greatest mysteries.” Since then, countless other investments in businesses from biotech to robotics, wealth management to health-tracking Apps have made a multi-faceted industry worth paying attention to, in recognition of the fact that aging demographics suggest a steady opportunity-driven marketplace ahead.

As recently as November, the Economist magazine produced a conference in London – Ageing Societies 2016. Heavy weight sponsors and presenters from around the world are attending events like these with greater frequency, further evidenced by my 2017 conference round up last week. One of the other terms more commonly described in Europe and Asia as the ‘silver economy”, points to the fact that aging and longevity is categorically an age-coded big business.

The question is – how and when will this market mature? What will it become once the boomer generation as young now as 52, meets that growing up 142-year old TIME baby in 2047? Maybe by then at conferences, they will be showing clips converted from an old social media platform You Tube that will make 2017 seem like early pioneer days. Meanwhile there seems to be enough runway in a longevity economy for more technologies and other products/services to take flight.

Yet back on the ground where every-day realities continue, there are people currently 70-plus who likely will never fully experience the benefits of these investments and developments in the longevity economy when these will have become more mainstream. There is somewhere, for example, a woman 86 right now, after falling and breaking a leg, who is using what appears to be an old tattered loaner wheelchair, waiting for physiotherapy to get her back in circulation.

Longevity investments, will baby live to tell the tale?

Apart from the exciting advances in the tech and science space, the longevity economy has as much opportunity to meet our needs with humanistic personalized services like care giving in addition to creative design thinking for living spaces and building age inclusive communities. As I’ve said in previous posts, work/career opportunities, augmented by technologies, will be in higher demand over the next twenty years. To what extent will we be willing to attract talent, invest and pay better for this?

Certainly, the Economist must believe we should be. Not to outdo themselves after London, they ran a one-day Business of Longevity conference in San Francisco on December 7th. I wish I could have been a fly in the hall there. For one thing, I was quite taken by the last session of the day, a debate titled “Can We Afford to Live Longer?” One of the debaters was Chip Conley, Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy at Airbnb.

My guess is that regardless of which side in the debate he took (and lost by the way) – Chip trusts we will afford it. Check Twitter #econlongevity. The debate motion: This house believes that living longer will only be for the wealthy. One of the four stimulant questions was – “As the super-rich turn on to the investment opportunities of longevity, should governments step in to subsidize access for everyone else?”

It would be interesting to replicate this Economist debate at future events in a cross-country tour with different guest debaters, and in making for some more levity, we could invite some future 120-year old’s to respond to one of the other debate questions – “Is aggressive investment in longevity a misallocation of funds from more important health priorities?”

While the promise of longevity lies largely open and challenging for all generations, the question is how can we afford not to live and invest in the now, understanding that working to address current health and care giving priorities is an investment in the future of a longevity society? I don’t know about you, but my baby pictures make me look like I am going to live forever.

 

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