8 Mind-Blowing Realities of Our Future Full of Old People
Movies have imagined tons of dystopias over the years, from Mad Max to The Hunger Games to The Flintstones. But the one we haven't seen yet is the one that will most likely happen: a GoldenGirlpocalypse. We're talking about a massive demographic shift where one in three people in developed countries will be over 60. For every kid under age 15, there will be three Gandalfs tripping over their beards.
This means a world that is built entirely for the old, with everyone else an afterthought. So let's take a moment to imagine a planet where "old" is the new "everybody."
There Will Be Playgrounds for Old People
When was the last time you got to play on a playground without the condescending glares of the so-called parents of your new best friends Baylsonette, J'Adore and mYkalE M.? Years? It's almost not even worth playing anymore. But imagine climbing a slide that was custom built for your adult ass, navigating monkey bars that were calibrated for your thick paws. Merry-go-rounds, tetherball, SWINGS! SEESAWS! THESE THINGS:
It's exactly like a walker, except with the added danger of hip-destroying impact.
The idea of creating playgrounds tailor-made for old bodies began in China, then spread to Japan, where, if reports are to be believed, no children have been born since 1988. With fewer and fewer children, and old Asians bursting at the seams, local governments began disassembling children's playground equipment and replacing them with equipment designed for the elderly. It would have been sad if there'd been any kids around to whine about it.
It's like a reverse Children of the Corn without all that corn.
Today there are senior playgrounds in Germany, the U.K., Canada and Nuremberg, and most of them prohibit children from joining in the fun. One even has this totally serious sign at the entrance:
Old Germans are obsessed with having enough space, for some reason.
Proponents of the sites claim they're not just good for exercise and the laughs of bystanders, but also for socialization. As a kid, 95 percent of the fun of playing at a playground was making new friends and bullies. And for seniors living alone or with working children, getting to a playground might be the only way to ever pants someone again.
Some Will Live in a Permanent Time Warp
It's 7:30 a.m. At the trilling of your Garfield alarm clock, you walk to the kitchen, fix yourself a bowl of Pac-Man cereal and settle in for an episode of Muppet Babies. You are:
A. Living in 1984
B. Living in a Diablo Cody movie
C. 89 years old, living in a future simulation of your childhood
"Happy 87th birthday, hun."
In the future it will be "C," unless things go catastrophically wrong. How will you find yourself in an elderly version of The Matrix?
Well, as more people live beyond the ages God in his infinite wisdom intended, more people are going to suffer from Alzheimer's disease. In fact, the World Health Organization predicts that by 2050, the number of people suffering from dementia will hit 115.4 million. For those of you who've known loved ones who suffered from the disease, you know that it's more than just a matter of losing the keys every now and then. As memories and routines fade away, sufferers of Alzheimer's often regress back into the world of their childhoods. So one patient might find himself retracing an old newspaper route or another might end up rigging his home in anticipation of Christmas burglars. And since there's no remedy, adult children are forced to play along with the world's worst game of make-believe.
He's actually just in the tub. Cleanup is a bitch.
Hopefully, by the time of Oldtopia, someone will have cured the disease altogether. In the meantime, some caretakers are doing their best to make their patients comfortable -- by surrounding them with fake villages designed to look like the homes of their childhoods. In the case of one Dutch village, that means shops, a theater, restaurants and a hairdresser's -- all run by caretakers in disguise. The whole town is an illusion designed to keep residents feeling safe. Another village in Switzerland is attempting the same thing, but with '50s style houses instead of an urban apartment complex.
For 150 dementia patients, their doors won't have locks, and leaving the neighborhood won't be an option. Their gardeners are really their nurses, and maybe their actual gardeners pose as Depression-era vagrants? It sounds like a complicated system. In any case, the caretakers think of their facility as a theater -- one where the patients probably don't know what's going on backstage. Not that nurses wouldn't tell them if they figured the whole charade out -- but why would they?
They're reenacting prom. You do not want to stick around for what happens at midnight in their world.
If you think this sounds terrible, ask yourself: Are you sure that you're not living in just such a simulation right now?
Our Kids Will Play Us Like Video Games
Do you know what was fun about The Sims? This isn't a rhetorical question -- please post your answers in the comments section. From what we can tell, the "game" was all about monitoring the bodily functions of a house full of plodding, barely coherent people. Pretending to be happy that the little house full of pseudo-humans was thriving kind of stinks of loneliness to us. Well, in the future, our kids will be all about The Sims, and we're going to be their Sims.
"Swim your ass off -- he's deleting the ladder!"
And you know what else? We're going to be happy about it, because the alternative is nursing homes. So instead of sending parents to Deception City above or an assisted living facility, adult children are going to make use of technology to keep their parents living independently for as long as possible -- that's the good news. The bad news is that this involves your own kids remotely tracking your bowel movements some day.
In one pilot program, participants' homes are rigged with motion sensors that keep track of how fast or slow the patient is walking, door monitors that let adult children know when the patient leaves the home and refrigerator alarms that keep track of how often the occupant eats. One home tested a robot sporting a video monitor, which the adult child controlled via joystick from several states away. Again, these are all good things when we're talking about people who are one fall away from getting put in a home. P.S.: Most of this stuff is available for sale right now if you and your loved ones are having trust issues.
To be fair, that could just mean that they bought Diablo III.
Speaking of trust issues, if you've ever wanted to get back at an elder for dressing you like a cornball in school, we think you might like these things: They're called Fancy Pants and they sense when the wearer is getting too frail for their own good. Then they can send a warning to a family member or facility keeping an eye on him. Which means Fancy Pants wearers have a shot at living independently longer, but also have to look like this:
"Grandpa, you have got to get over your Dave Matthews phase."
Elderly hipster or Batman villain? You decide.
Our Kids Will Be Our Sex Cops
You know old people have sex, right? Not just the spritely cute ones in the Viagra commercials, either. The ones with dementia have sex, too. The ones who don't recognize their own children, but made a connection with the lady in the room next door. And this is scary stuff, because these are people who aren't great about taking precautions, which explains why STD rates among the elderly is off the charts. No one wants Gram Gram to get syphilis. No one.
Well ... maybe one guy.
So nursing homes are in a pickle. They want their patients to be happy, and sex makes everyone happy, but good gravy -- do dementia patients even know what they're doing when they're doing it? Is a nurse going to make sure everyone's wearing their condoms before they start? These are calls no one wants to make.
Enter the brand new concept of "sexual power of attorney." Or sex police. And guess who's going to get the job? The same ones watching out for your money and health in the first place -- your kids. In the same way that you'd write a living will or hand over your finances to your adult children, there might come a time when you want your kids to authorize your right to have sex. So when worse comes to worst and a group home is the best place to be, the people in charge of your love life will be the same people you once prohibited from watching HBO after 7 p.m. There's no way that's going to end badly.
"Thanks a lot, cockblocker. You could at least let him put it in my ass."
Meanwhile, for the young folks ...
Governments Will Pay You to Bone
Have you ever dreamed that the government would pay you to have babies? You know, like the opposite of what China does? If you're the ghost of Ronald Reagan, you'll argue that the government already tried that project and called it "welfare." If you're the ghost of Rush Limbaugh, you'll say "Good one, sir!" and have an existential crisis, since you shouldn't exist yet. But the whole fundamental problem with an aging population is a drought of young, able-bodied workers. So at some point, they'll have to start providing incentives to get busy making more.
You see, when Social Security got up and running in the United States, there were 42 workers for every retiree, but because fewer people are having kids and old people are living longer, by 2030 that number is expected to be two. That's two workers trudging into the daily grind and putting in their share of taxes to help one retiree get by. And Europe is looking at the same numbers.
Germany came up with a final solution (sorry) -- "reasonable incentive," paying women up to $35,000 for a year of child care leave. Australia straight up gives out cash money for new babies -- up to $6,000. Newly re-elected Russian president Vladimir Putin pledged to give $221 a month and housing priorities to Russian moms who were willing to have a third kidsinzki. And with good reason -- after suffering through two world wars, the Cold War and the rule of a genocidal maniac, Russia is now suffering through its worst population decline ever, with the U.N. predicting that they'll lose 31 million people by 2050.
"OK, it's all come down to Pyotr."
In other words, in the future Russia might be nothing more than a vodka-soaked wasteland where our greatest enemies used to be. Because in countries where new working humans can't be spawned fast enough ...
We'll Desperately Need Foreigners to Do Our Work
True story: In 2011, Georgia farmers were forced to let millions of dollars' worth of food rot in the fields because they didn't have enough laborers to harvest it. The same thing happened in Alabama and Washington and in the 1984 Sally Field tearjerker Places in the Heart.
The reason for the labor shortage was an illegal-immigration law that spooked migrant workers from showing up to work the fields. So why didn't native-born Americans looking for work offer to pick crops? Ha ha. Stop being hilarious with that knee-slapper. Because native-born Americans aren't used to doing physical labor for the wages it takes to keep a farm going.
"And you can't make tortillas for shit, either."
What does this have to do with the surreal future of living among the walking not-yet-dead? Elderly, decrepit nations need young bodies to keep the wheels of society turning, and until we start harvesting octopi to do our bidding, facilitating the movements of both skilled and unskilled immigrants is going to be in everyone's interests.
Maybe it sounds harsh to our First World ears: "Oh hey, let's import unwhites to do our labor! Why don't we bring back slavery and dial-up Internet service while we're at it?" But chances are your ancestors took a very similar opportunity to get you to a place where you can feel bad about the fact that you'd rather stand on a sidewalk wearing a Statue of Liberty costume than pick blueberries off a farm. Are you embarrassed that your great-great-grandparents sold their good china and doctor diplomas for a chance to slop pig innards in the slaughterhouses of Chicago? No way -- that very specific story is part of your narrative, you probably wrote an essay about it in school.
Or at the very least, did a prop speech that really freaked everyone out.
And ultimately all this people movement is a good thing, because it speeds up globalization, which eventually extends life expectancies and global wealth all around. Remember, even now we live in a world where there are more elderly citizens than there are people to take care of them. Which is why one German state started training sex workers to fill nursing home positions. As they put it:
The retraining of prostitutes is an obvious move since prostitutes possess good people skills, aren't easily disgusted and have zero fear of physical contact.
"Hey, baby, how much for an enema?"
Plus, everybody gets a happy ending.
Everything Will Be Engineered for the Old
You didn't think Google's driverless cars were just for drunks, did you? Trust us, you don't want to be on the interstate a few decades from now when the average driver can't go over 45 without everything turning into a confusing blur, the line of their creeping cars one long string of ever-blinking turn signals.
But that's just the start. Have you ever had to childproof your home? Plugs have to be covered, gates erected, breakables moved, cabinets locked, knives dulled, bullets replaced with blanks, etc. Fifty years from now you'll find yourself living in a world where that process has been reversed to keep the world accessible not for babies, but for the elderly. Most of us are going to be walking around in bodies that are slowly failing us. We'll have backs hunched by osteoporosis and spinal compression, arms that can't fully extend, legs that can't carry the weight of our own bones longer than a few minutes, eyes that have yellowed and dulled and can no longer differentiate between James Franco and James Marsden, no matter how hard they try.
"Get that gun out of my face, Stinkeye, or I'll feed it to you."
We'll have to rethink everything -- every appliance and piece of furniture and lawnmower will need to be built to be operated by people with limited mobility. But how do you test the stuff without capturing hundreds of old people and forcing them to use your invention until they injure themselves? Well, one way is with tools like MIT's AGNES suit.
It really bunches in the crotch.
AGNES stands for Age Gain Now Empathy System, presumably because Me Be Old One Day was already taken by Harvard's aging department. AGNES is a suit that helps young people feel old, not by hiking their pants teats-high and making them eat at a buffet, but by physically limiting their bodies with the same limitations that the elderly experience.
One German car maker is using AGNES to figure out how to make their cars easier to get in and out of, retail manufacturers are using the suit to make their packaging more accessible and one grocery chain is using AGNES to make their stores safer for future customers. It's like babyproofing the world -- but the babies will be us.
"Dare me to ramp it?"
Oldness Could Lead to World Peace
War is a young man's game. Not just in the sense that you rarely see old guys tearing it up on the battlefield outside of Stallone movies, but because armies need money to operate. And there will likely come a time when nations will have to spend so much money on the upkeep of their elderly population that sending soldiers out to do war will fall way down on the list of national priorities. If you don't know what we mean, look at the United States federal budget:
Mmmmm ... pie.
See that whole bottom half that says "Health Care" and "Pensions"? That's Medicare and Social Security, aka Programs for Old People. As the population ages, those wedges only get bigger and bigger. Leaving less room for things like "Defense." We'd have to start borrowing money or something.
It's not just the U.S. -- according to researcher Mark L. Haas, the world is heading into a perfect storm of peace and good times, thanks to governments so overwhelmed with the cost of keeping Grandma alive that they won't have money or political willpower to mess with their neighbors.
And Canadians did rejoice.
The exceptions are the underdeveloped countries, where the birth rates are high and lifespans are low, so we can't rule out all conflict. But, according to Haas, the U.S. "will be less able to realize key international objectives, including preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, funding nation building and engaging in military humanitarian interventions." That really does seem to eliminate a lot of the reasons the U.S. has had to go to war for the past 100 years or so.
Haas calls it a "geriatric peace," and it might be the closest thing we ever get to teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony and buying them a Coke. Ooooor history's greatest atrocities are yet to come, because the U.S. will be so focused on getting Grandma to her bonsai classes that we don't notice that an entire hemisphere has taken up arms against each other. It could go either way, really. Keep your fingers crossed!
And Canadians did prepare.
Kristi Harrison is all about the future on Twitter, and all about the past on Tumblr.
For more things you need to know about old people, check out 6 Obnoxious Old People Habits (Explained by Science) and 19 Things Old People Suspect About Modern Culture.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 Reasons the YOLO (You Only Live Once) Meme is Wrong.