Law Thirty-Six

You gotta go with what works

Woman looking at a giant hour glass

Where did all the time go?

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Yesterday, Number One Son had his 10th birthday. I have a son who is a whole decade old. He needs two digits to describe his age. You get the point.

When did I start using decades as a reasonable way of describing how long ago something in my lifetime was?

The stories I tell about my university days and about starting my first job are now two decades old. The whole direction of my career was shaped over a two to three year period, and that is coming up on twenty years ago now.

Three decades ago, I was starting High School, making that change from being among the oldest in the school to being among the youngest. As I walked into school on the first day, I remember thinking about the fact that I would most likely be there for seven years – which at the time seemed like an eternity. An eternity? It wasn’t even a whole decade.

But this isn’t about feeling old – almost the opposite. At a conference I attended earlier this week, I listened to a keynote speech by Rohit Talwar, who describes himself as a Futurist. His organisation is currently doing a study on what the future will mean for IT in the particular industry I work in, and before getting into specifics, he gave some wider perspectives.

If you are under 50 today, you have a 90% chance of living until you’re 100. And scientists are already beginning to get control of the aging process, with the expectation being that they may be able to extend human life to around 300 years.

What on earth would I do with my time if I was likely to live until I was 300?

Let’s make some assumptions. Firstly, let’s assume that the formal education part of your life stays about the same – somewhere aged 18 to 25, you’re going to leave full time education and enter the workplace. We’ll call it 20, just to make the numbers easy. Today, the retirement age is about 70 for people who might live until they’re 100. So let’s say that in the future, people retire at 210, given that they might live until they’re 300.

So they’re going to be of working age for 190 years. 19 decades. Just under two centuries.

How do you pick a career if you’re going to be working for 190 years? Whatever it is, I think we can assume that you might be quite good at it by the time you retire! Certainly, you’d want to get some really good careers advice while you were still at school. Perhaps the norm would be to switch careers each century, go back to full-time education and re-train for a new job.

Someone who was three hundred years old today would be able to point out historical inaccuracies in BlackAdder the Third from memory. The American declaration of independence wouldn’t just be something from the history books – they could probably tell you where they were when they heard the news.

Ignoring questions about demographics, aging populations, pensions nightmares and the like, consider this. We are currently coming to the end of the period where people still have a living memory of the First World War. People whose views of Germany or Japan were formed during the Second World War are now eighty years old. Their outlook will be starkly different from the views of people in their twenties, three generations removed from the conflict.

How does the world move on from these kinds of events if it takes centuries for them to fade from living memory? What about regimes built upon cults of personality – if a dictator manages to retain power until he or she dies, that could be an awfully long time.

For me, these problems are mostly hypothetical – I am not born of the generation that will live until it’s 300, or so the futurists say. Number One Son, ten years old – perhaps a little more pertinent for him.

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