The Age of Ageing
We are often told, in the context of a country or even a city, that we have an ‘ageing population.’ Setting aside the fact that this is technically true of every population (nobody’s ever got younger with the passage of time, after all!), a more accurate description would be that we have an ageing species. As science marches on, carrying us into the future atop the “shoulders of giants,” each of us is likely to see a little more of that future than the generation which came before us.
Above all, the world is now better at supporting an older population, and has never been better-set up for seniors than it is now. Life expectancy has risen by 20 years since the 60s alone, and with this trend the world has become more accessible, more sensitive and more carefully-planned for older individuals. Studies suggest that we are, in fact, happier in older age than at almost any other time in our lives apart from childhood.
There are a bunch of reasons for this trend, so let’s focus on a few of the most substantial. One of the reasons why the world is better for seniors is that it is unimaginably more connected. In 1989, CERN researcher Tim Berners-Lee connected a handful of seemingly disparate concepts in computing to produce what is perhaps the single most important human creation of all time: the ‘World Wide Web.’ Quickly becoming synonymous with one of the systems used to create it, (the ‘internet’), this creation totally transformed both humanity and the world in which we live.
The internet allows seniors to stay in constant touch with their friends and families, to shop and research and even play games from almost anywhere, to access what is more or less the sum total of all human knowledge, understanding and artistic achievement from a device which can be kept in a pocket or purse. The ‘web’ has also empowered seniors to create online communities focused around their friend-groups, hobbies and interests. Socialisation and self-expression have never been easier or more accessible.
Another key factor is the rise of assistive technology, solving problems of all kinds and giving us all sorts of insights into the process of ageing. On-body fitness technology capable of recording steps, reading heart-rates and other biometrics in real-time and telling us all sorts of things about our bodies equip us better than ever before to maintain high levels of physical health well into older age, while more direct technologies like wearable robotics (gloves, for example, which open and close with the movement of our hand but are indefatigable and impossibly strong) allow some people to totally circumvent problems around strength and mobility.
The world is also simply better-structured for the mix of age groups which coexist today, with most buildings being necessarily planned to be as accessible as possible to those with reduced mobility, most public places offering provisions aimed at promoting comfort and security for all. All of these social, technological and structural changes contribute to a world in which it might be more appropriate – rather than saying simply that we have an ageing population – to say that we are living in an age of ageing. As we continue our journey into the future together, those who’ve been travelling the longest are increasingly likely to have the most comfortable ride.