TL;DR As medical science advances the next 3 to 5 decades its likely aging will stop being a common condition we all die of. If this is the case, that means those in the Millennial Generation will become the oldest and perhaps the most important generation ever. Instead of fading away as all generations before them have, Millennials will stick around as elders influencing the generations that come after them.
Is This The End of History, Or Really Just the Beginning?
If you read a world history book, you may finish the last chapter covering our modern age full of terms such as generation X, Y, and Z and think to yourself “well isn’t that nice, all of history has culminated in the form of my final generation right there at the end of the alphabet and the end of history”.
It’s fair to say our culture has an obsession in literature and movies featuring end of days scenarios involving some combination of Nazis, Zombies, or Robots.
A casual look at modern society, even putting Hollywood fiction aside, one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that history is at its conclusion not its beginning. Consider, the average person in the first world spends much of their day in comfort, with an infinite amount of entertainment instantly available, in their air conditioned house or office, far removed from physical danger, hunger, sickness, or the struggles of long forgotten previous generations A through W. Its worth pointing out these A to W generations strived in all their efforts to deliver the current X, Y, and Z generations into existence. Thanks ancestors : )
And certainly, this present state of affairs is a wonderful improvement over much of human history, where the average person spent their short days on earth desperately fighting man and nature just to have enough food to eat.
However, I want to present to you the idea that our Millennial Generation, born from 1984 to 2004 and that came of age in the 2000's and 2010's, is in a very unique position. We just might be the very first generation to survive death by aging. In doing so, we would become from the perspective of all future generations the very beginning of a new phase in human history. That is to say, the first generation that will live from here on out and not disappear gently into that “good night” as every generation has before us from time immemorial.
Living On Digitally, But Also Physically
I’m not just speaking of “living on” via our many social media posts, thousands of pictures, videos of our lives, and our memories surviving hundreds, or thousands of years from now in digital form, which they certainly will given the technology of today. I’m talking also about our physical corporeal bodies.
It seems increasingly likely that as technology marches forward in the next 3 to 5 decades, that it will be possible to both heal most major diseases and repair the natural wear and tare that our bodies experience. A growing number of researchers, scientists, and billionaires are pouring enormous resources into everything from printing personalized replacement organs, to identifying the genes involved in the aging process, and now editing genes in living organisms thanks to recent CRISPR methods being discovered.
Momentum Is Building To Solve The Question of Aging
One of the foremost people to make this observation and strongly argue in favor of addressing age related disease is Aubrey De Grey in his TED talk in 2005 with the bold title of “A Roadmap To End Aging”. Aubrey (despite his epically long old man beard) goes on to make the case that preemptively repairing age related damage to our bodies, is ultimately much more effective and will save vastly on health care costs, vs trying to fix the damage caused by aging, after it has already accumulated to the point of triggering a crisis such as a heart attack or stroke.
Aubrey’s view is a long term one, and he points out that these therapies aren’t available today, but could be in a next few decades, if resources are mobilized and we don’t simply accept aging leading to death as inevitable.
Making The Aging Calculation Personal
Take me for example. I’m 30 years old, having been born in the first year of the Millennial Generation 1985. I live in a wealthy technologically advanced first world country. And thus my life expectancy is around 80 years old. That means based on this average, I’ve got until about the year 2065, fifty years from now to live my life.
However, consider for a moment, before we accept those dates above as inevitable, that in the next five decades a series of medical advances are likely to be made. Bioprinting personalized organs from my DNA is in sight even in the next 10 to 15 years. When my kidneys start to decline in function three or four decades from now, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that I’ll be in a position to request they be replaced with brand new ones, grown from my own DNA. Same for my liver, heart, lungs, and other internal organs that would have expired, given enough time simply due to long term usage.
I’ll grant you there are far more complex systems such as the brain that may take much longer to address. But the general point stands. If in 50 years modern medicine can cure what kills 80 year old bodies, then chances are I will make it to 100 years old. And in turn, hopefully in 70 years medical technology can cure what kills 100 year old bodies and so forth. It’s possible we are near a medical treatment escape velocity if you will, where we are adding a year of life expectancy for each year that passes.
What This Article Does Not Cover
I’ll leave aside in this article the deep scientific debate on which particular treatments are most promising, how long they will take to develop and how much they will cost. I’m taking as a premise that these treatments will be developed in time for most of my generation and become affordable enough for the majority of my generation to access them.
I’m also setting aside the other question of what a society will be like without death. Because while curing many age related diseases will extend life spans dramatically, this doesn’t make one immortal. You can still get hit by a bus or die via any other random fatal accident, especially over long periods of time.
Putting aside also the question of: If you upload your brain to a computer and if your body dies, but its digital copy survives are you still alive? At this point it is impossible to determine the answer to that or know if its possible to transfer one’s consciousness given some future technology.
What Is Interesting To Discuss
What I am more interested in exploring is the subject of what it means to be the first generation to not to die of aging. What it means to still be active at 300 years old and interacting with your 10th generation great grand children. Considering if each subsequent generation has 2 children and they in turn have 2 children and so forth, then in 10 generations the average Millennial couple’s 2 children will have produced over 2,000 tenth generation grand kids. Or, for that matter by 600 years of age over 1,000,000 twentieth generation grand kids.
One conclusion that stands out for me is that Millennials will have a huge out sized impact on future generations like no generation before them.
Imagine for a moment being the living patriarch or matriarch of an extended family that includes 1 million of your direct descendants. Eventually there will be more births, graduations, and weddings, among your own direct descendants, than days in the week to attend them, celebrate them and otherwise be involved in the same way I expect my parents and grandparents to be involved in those important milestones of life.
Though perhaps by then our many A.I.’s and some virtual attendance app will help us as this becomes a real issue in society : )
So What Can You Do To Prepare For This New Way Of Living?
Here’s a few things Millennials will experience that no other generation ever has before them.
- They will need to keep healthy in order to live long enough for the treatments they will need to become available.
- They will need to plan for the cost of regularly maintaining they bodies, read health care costs continuing to increase.
- They will need to work on being current with the times in order to stay relevant in a rapidly changing society.
- Relationships will be even more important with their generational cohort as these actors in their career and life will never fade away, but rather be a constant.
- They will need to plan for generational shifts in power and responsibility that aren’t driven by the old guard dying off.
- They will have to adapt to always being the oldest generation for the foreseeable future.
- They will need to plan for a retirement that is sustainable way beyond the age of 100.
What About The Older Generations?
It’s possible that some of those from the baby boomer (born 1945 to 1964) to or more likely Generation X (born 1965 to 1984) will make it across the great chasm. However for that to happen technology will have to make radical strides forward in only the next 15 to 30 years respectively. Even more challenging those advances would need to be available to a wide swath of society for a large portion of those in that generation to survive. I think of my own father and mother who are baby boomers themselves. I would very much like them to make it past this period and I’ll do what I can to make that happen, but realistically most boomers aren’t going to jump the gap.
What About Those Not In The First World?
Perhaps many Gen X’ers will jump the gap in the first world, but globally the stage of economic development for much of the world’s population is likely to be unable to attain the feat. Though if long term economic trends continue as we have seen them play out the past several decades, then its likely most of world’s population (especially in India and China) will have reached a “developed world” level of medical access in 20 to 40 years time.
This is why I have put forward that it is Millennials who are most likely to be the first global generation that sticks around in massive numbers, the treatment not only needs to be invented in time, but also for theme to widely available on a global basis.
People Have Been Predicting / Hoping For A Cure To Aging For Literally Millennia, Will It Really Happen Now?
Of course, every generation has wanted to live forever. The first emperor of the Qin Dynasty who unified (conquered) China more than 2,200 years ago and reined until 210 B.C. spent great wealth on doctors and ironically he died of mercury poisoning (called quick silver at the time) in an attempt to gain immortality.
More recently, the middle ages were full of rumors of and searches for the Fountain of Youth. Even as recently as the 20th century many researchers where hopeful that the pace of process and the discovery of DNA would quickly lead to reversal of aging. Thinking it was only one magic bullet discovery away from being achieved, the way vaccines had been a magic bullet against the centuries old plague of small pox.
I’m well aware of the history and I don’t think the defeat of aging is likely to come in a single magic bullet treatment or solution, but only from a vast array of specialized treatments, to counter act the wide array of factors involved in aging and related diseases.
Despite all this, I feel we have strong reason for hope. That hope is rooted in the fact that we have already seen incredible improvements in life expectancy, due to enormous advances in health, most of which have been concentrated in just the past two centuries.
The Last Few Generations Have Seen Enormous Gains, Should They Continue To Accelerate Then The Millennials Will Be The First Beneficiaries
Consider that 1,000 years ago, a child born would live to 25 years of age, and 200 years ago, a child born would be lucky to live to 40 years of age. Today that child has a life expectancy of 80 years old.
This trend is seen all over the world, in all regions as they develop economically, shows how far we have already come. Advances in basic hygiene, antibiotics, vaccines and generally caring for our bodies over time (think daily oral hygiene, dental check ups, annual health examines), has effectively pushed back aging through the last few centuries, effectively doubling our life spans.
I think it is likely there will continue to be steady process in a variety of medical fields over the decades to come and that those efforts in their totality, will inch by inch, address each individual illness and risk factor. Until life expectancy is pushed forward and increased to the great benefit of those alive today and especially the Millennial Generation.
We can all look back here at this post 50 years from now, in 2065 and if we are still kicking, then we can enjoy a little nostalgia about the hopeful view from an earlier time, with a much greater perspective on the journey our generation has taken into a very different future, than those that came before us.