In Sean Williams’ short story Among the Beautiful Living Dead, the super-rich have gifted themselves eternal life, at the cost of eternal boredom. The theme repeats itself through popular culture — in Anne Rice’s vampires with ennui and Iain M. Banks’s sci-fi civilisations so weary of living forever they ‘sublime’ away to some form of higher existence, billions of souls dissipating like morning fog burned off by a rising sun.
It probably won’t be all that bad.
But the fantasy and sci-fi writers are on to something.
Modern biotech is booming and advancing at lightening speed. CRISPR, a gene editing tool has already allowed researchers to reach a number of breakthroughs: reversing mutations that cause blindness, preventing cancer cells from multiplying and making cancer cells immune to the virus that causes AIDS.
Biotech has also made leaps and bounds within agriculture as well, hinting at the engineering of indestructible crops that will withstand extreme weather conditions and killer fungi and will provide for a population of up to nine billion people.
As biotech innovations and simple lifestyle hacking begin routinely extending our lifespans into the eighties and nineties, as most children born into wealthy, technologically advanced societies today look forward to a century of active life, the implications for markets, politics, and culture spin out in fractal complexity.
The crucial point is active living. Or, as Nan Bosler from the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association recently put it at a panel on the role of technology in aged care, “Technology can add years to life but not life to years.”
An extra three or even four decades of healthy and active living opens up the possibility of vast new markets. Retirement planning and funds management is an obvious growth area. Superannuation funds in Australia alone have already amassed more than a trillion dollars under management. The millennial and post-millennial generations will have whole decades to themselves at the other end of their lives — a second chance at the freedom they probably didn’t get to enjoy in their twenties.
What will happen when millions of comparatively wealthy individuals suddenly find themselves with the time and resources to indulge in ways they couldn’t when they had commitments to building careers and families?
Can 70 be the new 20? Will sea-change and tree-change communities thrive as semi-retired newcomers flood in to decompress after 40 or 50 years of high-stress work life? Or will inner cities boom with the arrival of empty-nesters looking for the sort of amenity that only a dense and complex urban centre can provide?
As is the case today – it will be a question of what suits the person best. But we’ll see travelling made cleaner, as fossil fuels continue to fall out of favour, and more open spaces in our urban environments as car ownership falls as a result next generation car and ride sharing services. Shopping malls, which are already falling out of favour as online retailers take over, will disappear, creating new open spaces that will be exploited in new ways, or simply cleared and made into urban gardens and recreation areas that serve entire communities.
Education will also be a great opportunity in the future. Universities, which currently seek out fee payers among foreign students, might pivot towards campuses designed around the needs of later-life students keen to exercise their minds as well as their stronger and healthier bodies. Associated amenities such as gyms, healthcare and leisure businesses will also follow the money. It’s not hard to imagine a campus where most of the students are silver-haired and less interested in keg parties than, say, a premium wine-tasting evening.
The physical structure of cities has always been sculpted by the demographic forces washing over them. It’s not possible to say that any one effect is inevitable, but some general trends are foreseeable. Young families will always be drawn to affordable spaces with short travel times to the infrastructure they need. Perhaps they are pushed further and further out to the margins of cities, while the space that once served them — inner city schools for example — is given over to uses with higher returns on investment. With ever greater numbers of comparatively fit and active retired or, more likely, semi-retired people drawn to dense concentrations of urban amenity, that could mean states selling off legacy investments in school grounds to private developers.
In even more general ways, the gig economy,where people offer up services in their area of expertise could be rebuilt as a platform for utilising the skills of workers with decades of experience behind them, and decades of retirement ahead. It’s Uber, but for 80-year-old former project managers.
While picking particular trends is always fraught, there is a general rule that rarely fails: follow the money. Look at what high-worth consumers will want in their retirement, and factor in a massive growth for the future.
About the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit
This article was produced for ADMA by Which-50. ADMA is a member of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit and this story appears in The Future of Marketing.