Coughlin does half of the job (the ‘diagnosis’ part) in Chapter 1 by reconstructing The ruling narrative of old age. This current institutionalised, mainstream view/image/depiction of old age assumes that the old is a needy, greedy consumer past the crucial producer, worker, society-maintainer years. Briefly, this view originates from the early start of modern medicine in the 19th century assuming a vitality that gets irreversibly lost with time’s passing making the old and even middle-aged unable to learn new things amongst other things. This was followed up by poverty-relief institutions (poorhouses, almshouses) redefining the old in the late 19th century, making society identify/recognise old people as an standalone problem. The early 20th century yielded management theories obsessed about single dimension efficiencies and recommending hiring only young people as a workforce. Social security and pension systems completed handling the problem of the old and finally, sometimes in the 50s retirement has been marketed as the golden years, making it an object of desire, the icing on the cake called life.
In the rest of the book (the ‘therapy’ part), Coughlin goes on to provide elements of the coming narrative of old age empowering the Longevity Economy by sharing lots of (sometimes personal) stories. Several different forward-looking businesses and other initiatives are introduced that actually listened to what older early adopters (lead users) wanted and managed to built products and services reinstating fun and flexility into later life and many times making older people producers along the lines. He is remarkably using several examples built, invented at MIT and particularly his MIT’s AgeLab like the famous. Without spoiling these stories, one such example is services focusing on finding partners in old age for any kind of activity, romantic relationship being only just one (and not necessary the most important) such partnership, the actual example being Stitch. One line of related data-backed argument (or as Coughlin puts it, quite sharply, to grab the attention: The Future is Female) is that businesses planning to design products for older cohorts are better take females as the default, typical users of those products.
The full extent of the business opportunity at the apex of the hierarchy of needs remains hidden, because we don’t yet know exactly how or in which spheres tomorrow’s older adults will chase meaning. Whether your company supports life, liberty, the pursuit of happines – or offers up happiness itself, i the form of meaning – it’s hard to know what shapes demand will take in years to come.
Eventually, what is really at stake here, what the big opportunity is: to re-define and re-invent old-age through technology-enabled solutions that deliver not just more help and assistance but provide additional, embedded, meaning and fun at the same time.