Age is our thing here, thus our name. The meaning of age is very likely going to be radically different in the near future. Already a 60-year-old today can be shockingly different from what I knew to be 60 when I was young. I have several friends in their 80s whom even I, as someone who is deep into this stuff, would never have guessed their age. This is not an argument for youthism; it is simply an observation that one at 80 can be sharp as a whip, highly mobile, and fully engaged in the culture. I deeply value my octogenarian friends; they have a wisdom and knowledge I don’t. This does not mean they are always right, or that their wisdom is applicable in every situation: age does not confer infallibility. They are simply people like me who have had a larger and different set of experiences from which they draw.
I also have friends in their early twenties whom I also value tremendously. They see things differently than I do, can do things that astound me, and I am constantly learning from them. At 64, I sit towards the older end of this continuum, but in the not-so-distant future, this age may be a midpoint. Having a significant number of people with a century of experience is something we as a species have never had. Preserving the amount of collected wisdom will be quite remarkable, but it will also be extraordinarily disruptive. If current trends continue, health spans may closely track income and education levels. Age will tend to increase income disparity as time compounds wealth. Healthier people will be producing longer, paying taxes longer, and consuming longer; a huge plus for the economy. However, exactly what percentage of the population that is remains to be seen and, because the other segment with their escalating health care costs will be on the reverse side of the economic coin, the overall math of this is uncertain. To be sure, not all 80-year-olds are the same, and parsing those varying needs will be a Gordian knot for our leaders.
What fascinates me is the effect all this will have on younger people and relationships up and down this increasingly long age column. I believe what is going to be critically important is a decided effort to link the generations, as the last thing we want are generational hostilities, the edges of which I can already feel. A diverse ecosystem is a robust ecosystem; everyone has something we can learn from. Older people dismissing younger people as snowflakes or younger people dissing older people as relics is not going to get us where we need to be. We are rapidly moving from a two-generation workforce to a three, four, and five-generation one. If HR people think they have diversity integration issues now, just wait till this starts happening. There will be upsides and downsides to all this as there is with any major change. The thing to know is this transformation is not some far-in-the-future flying-car promised land; it is happening right now.
A gerontocracy is not a good thing, nor is the cult of youth. We need everyone. The massive difference between age and any other diversity is that we see versions of ourselves in others like us of different ages, a bit of the Ghost of Christmas Past and Future effect. We see younger versions of ourselves and recall our youth, and older versions that remind and possibly scare us of our mortality; something entirely different and possibly more powerful than race or gender issues. It is the nature of all groups to see the “other” as less than others, but that is easier to overcome if that other group is not some past or future version of one’s self. On the whole, I am wildly optimistic for the future. We will have some bumps and scrapes, of course. This is big stuff we have never had to deal with. The great thing about having a brain is that we can change our minds about things and adapt.
Onward and upward,