It’s quality, not quantity, of life that matters
- Credit: PA
Living to 100 will soon become commonplace. But is that really such a good thing, asks Nick Conrad.
Are you under 15? Well, according to a report published this week you're very likely to live past 100! According to the Bible, Methuselah lived to 969. It appears that the rest of humanity is slowly catching up.
Think this is good news? Read on, as I might be about to change your mind...
I'm imagining my 100th birthday party. A dwindling number of family and friends appear, via Skype, at my virtual party. As I struggle to puff out my candles, I ponder on how much my hometown of Sheringham has changed. The year is 2084 - the A140 is a super-electric highway, the sea threatens to make North Norfolk an island due to coastal erosion, the Little Theatre has been redeveloped into a 5,000-capacity super arena. I'm not jesting - think how much of the modern world the Victorians (a century before me) could have predicted?
Surely I'm not the only one who believes in modern science. But inadvertently pursuing immortality is unhealthy. We obsess about 'quantity' of life when surely we should be more concerned with 'quality'. That said, the moral maze we've just wandered into has no easy exit. Our planet has limited resources. Could the phenomenal intelligence behind human life be about to engineer our ultimate demise? Forget nuclear warfare. Forget global warming. Could overcrowding trigger our species' downfall?
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The report cites improving diets and evolving medicines as the key reasons behind our predicted longevity. Scientists believe the average life expectancy will hit 90, a figure which once seemed impossible, by 2030. Academics used to believe there was an upper-limit to how long we could last. We've repeatedly been told that improvements to human longevity have hit the limit, but in breaking this barrier, improving health and diets across the developing world, biologists now believe we're nowhere near the limit of life expectancy.
In turn, we live longer in greater numbers. Combating food shortages, scarcity of resources and a need to reimagine an economy that allows for us to work for a greater proportion of life will be challenging. Despite NASA pursuits of a suitable exoplanet - a habitable world beyond our own solar system (they've just found seven new ones) - it looks like we are stuck with our own Planet Earth.
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The positives - I can't deny an increased average life span is a celebration of human achievement. It highlights our public healthcare successes. It brilliantly illustrates the wonderful strides our species has made, but it has consequences. We must put sustainable policies in place, building a society that we're proud to grow old in - one that supports the elderly.
Let's not pretend we can alight this rollercoaster. Humans won't, can't and shouldn't stop 'advancing'. How do we make sure the developing world doesn't become left behind? How do we ensure that swathes of the populace without wealth do not inadvertently become second-class citizens, unable to fund the extra years afforded to them? How do we ensure that the focus remains on future generations when the needs of the elderly become more pressing? How do we support public services, where do we go with pensions?
So back to 2084. My care home Skype party, my personal centenary, is in full swing. Yazoo and Spandau Ballet are long forgotten, nobody knows who Margaret Thatcher was and the iPhone is in the local museum. This crazy, new world I once imagined and which we all built, feels alien. The pace of change has just become too much.
Listeners to my BBC Radio Norfolk Breakfast Show often remark how they struggle with new technology. I do at times wonder if stubbornness is part of the problem - I guess I too will be grumbling about 'this modern world' when my rose-tinted, nostalgic glasses slowly obscure my vision. You can transplant organs, you can administer innovative medicines but our brains remain the same. I love and embrace change but I doubt that will always be the case.
Though I can identify so many positives in the latest research, I do wonder if our ability to prolong life might ultimately be the undoing of humankind. Death, as much as life, is vital for the survival of all species.