When I’m 640

Goodness, me. We survived the annual Giving of Thanks. I, myself, performed the ritual roasting-in-effigy of Lord Gobble the Tyrant, and even managed to get the sides all done together, and still warm. And the pie (the pie was really good), too. An extra-long weekend was survived by all, with some small planning and purchasing done. No writing, though, which galls. I’m glad I wasn’t doing NaNoWriMo this year (not really, at least). I just can’t manage that level of output right now, which is also galling. I don’t even have a chapter for you, this week. I’ll be back at that next week, though.

Oh, the title? Well, a discussion elsewhere sparked a bit of imagination and brought up something I’ve been maundering on related to SF. If you can solve most of the problems of age and infirmity via medical superscience (could be nanobots, retroviruses, clones organs (to which we’re getting really, really close), or Healium Goo™ (universal side effect of making you talk funny temporarily), and then have some sort of life-extending geriatric treatment, what does that do to society?

Suppose Mrs. Dave and I survive past our sixth century of life (I was going to call it “When I’m 6400,” which rolls more trippingly from the tongue, but that beggars my imagination, at this point). Let us further assume that we limit ourselves to a short score of children. Given that we’ve already had Wee Dave, who will presumably choose to procreate sometime in his second to third decade, and that human nature remains true regardless of lifespan, that’s a lot of descendants in relatively short order.

Which raises (if you squint right) the specter of wealth acquisition and management. If I’m going to live for centuries, I can take a paradoxically more cautious *and* riskier approach to investment. Knowing that – barring catastrophes, into which I’m not going to get today – I’ll be able to continue to accrue assets, with careful attention. That means I won’t be worrying greatly about the next decade, but rather about the next century. Which means I can actually be a bit wilder with speculative investments. “Hrm, what’s going to be a genuine collector’s item next century? What about that orbital industry startup? How’s tech going to go over the next fifty years? Anybody building personal spaceships, yet?” Lots of interesting questions spring to mind.

On the downside, who gets the treatment? Is it universal? Can everybody afford it? If that happens, what about the folks who aren’t particularly selective in when they have children? If a health and geriatric prolong treatment becomes more or less universal, the population boom could well be terrifying. On the upside, it might well destroy the concept of pensions. “I’m not paying into some nebulous fund that I’ll literally never see.” It might well be people end up stuck in jobs for a while. Society could get sick of that, and see a mass decentralization in work, or even the elimination of the concept of the day job.

I’m thinking along these lines while writing more or less far future space opera. Less for the personal impact on the characters – other than them not having to deal with getting the space sniffles – but more for how societies shift when you can expect to live for multiple centuries. I’m curious, though: what springs to your mind? How do you see civilization changing (for good and ill) with the advent of more or less miraculous medical fixes for such inconveniences as advanced age and it’s attendant unpleasantnesses?


    1. Right? Be interesting to see how attitudes toward possessions changes. “Eh. I don’t need Latest Thing. There’ll be a better one along in a few years. Or a decade or two.”

  1. I can see a marked decrease in “Risky” hobbies. If I know my life can be essentially immortal, ain’t no way I’.m gonna drive a race car around Indy at 250+ mph. OTOH, advances in med technology are gonna be able to fix everything short of instant destruction of the brain and central nervous system. Call it a push, contingent on what sort of future magic you wanna stipulate.

      1. There might be an increase in the Realism in VR Technology and “after a person has done everything” the person might retreat into a VR world where risky forms of entertainment might be tried.

        Assuming that a “death” in VR is something a person would just wake up from. 😉

        1. And when you’ve died every way you can in VR, you start to think maybe it would be more interesting if it were REAL.

      2. Mary, I was in the Marines. I did stuff that I shudder to think about even ATTEMPTING today. I’ve had enough risk adrenaline for a dozen lifetimes.My opinion, and I fully realize opinions vary, and everybody’s got one, is that I’m done with that kinda stuff.I’m reminded of EMT friends that call motorcycle riders “organ donors.” I always wanted something more substantial between my skull and the concrete than my hair.

        1. Some people may like to live out the millennia like that. However, most want to have more variety. Even those who would live decades without doing something new, or centuries, might in time branch out.

          1. The other factor is that all those technologies seem to keep you in a physiological state where “youthful enthusiasm” is still a factor. There’s a saying “It’s amazing how much ‘mature wisdom’ resembles ‘being too tired'” for a reason.

          2. Some folks branched out when they were young, learned that the adrenaline thrills aren’t what they’re marketed to be, and no longer find the issue to be disputable. Hence my comment on opinions. They vary. I expect that to hold true in the future. Disclaimer: I exited a plane last year at 15K feet. Why? Surely not for an adrenaline junkie fix. My daughter is a nationally ranked jumper, and she and her husband wanted to gift me a jump. I could hardly say no.

  2. Well, for starters, I’m not sure why knowing you’re going to live to be several centuries old is going to translate into having a bunch of kids. As everyone who’s had them realizes, they are very time, and energy intensive, and if you raise them yourself, career destroying.

    One might, after a couple of centuries, do another couple, and devote the time, because one is so financially stable. Assuming, of course, that women are still fertile at 300.

    Not that a woman (given high tech) couldn’t freeze a bunch of ovum at twenty, and use a uterine replicator. Or even embryos. But then you meet the man of you dreams, and you two can get all cozy and decide if you want to defrost a little girl by Orlando Bloom (you wouldn’t believe how much they charged, hate to have that money go to waste. Yes darling, but there are millions of them . . .) Or Sean Connery’s son (Liked the movie stars, did you? Got any by geniuses?)

    But really, if there’s no ticking clock, why have them when your career is just taking off? And unless they cure crankiness, none of the old guys are going to want kids. I think we’d be more likely to find women finally deciding to have one kid, maybe two, very late in life.

      1. Beloved $SPOUSE$ just might read this some day…

        Not to demean or diminish the “joys” of sharing body space with a new life for several months, or the even more “joyous” process of introducing that new life to the world, but that is the easy part.

        That red, wrinkled, stinky, and loud creature (but still the most beautiful baby in the WHOLE WORLD) is just the raw material. Refining that into a the final adult product is the hard part.

        1. Yep. And don’t run pregnancy; at least you know where the little future soccer player is, what he’s eating, and you can go shopping without temper tantrums!

          Yeah, but it’s the next two decades that are the hard part.

          1. I recall $SPOUSE$ saying that one of them (don’t remember which) was having a temper tantrum.

            Just from what I could feel, though, I am surprised we don’t have a flamenco troupe. They were all restless types.

          2. Pam, one of the baby books I was reading recommended that the two (2.6?)of you take a vacation when she was about six months along. The author stated it would be about a decade before you could expect another care-free vacation.

  3. Two related thoughts.

    1) “People In The Highest Positions” will likely be there for centuries so ambitious “youngsters” will have to “forget moving upward in organizations” unless they think of assassinations. If the society has FTL travel, they might “move outward”.

    2) Changes in the society (technological or otherwise) might slow down if the Powers-That-Be are centuries old and have the power to “slow things down”. Even if the territory controlled by the society is expanding, the powerful elders might have enough influence to “slow things down”.

    1. Ah, but if we live long enough, FTL is not necessary! (Indeed, if we live long enough, and likewise shift our hyperbolic future discount, space empires might be possible.)

  4. And if tech continues to improve, everyone will be going back for retraining every fifty years, and possibly making major career field switches.

    And we definitely need term limits for politicians and bureaucrats.

  5. Bujold pointed out the actuarial case for residual limits on lifespan. There’s a limit how much accident you can prevent in the case of a free person. So, interesting possibilities for prisoners and mental patients outliving generations of keepers, purely from the accident rate.

    Political stability. Frequency of wars would perhaps be a shorter statistical limit on lifespan. And what happens when living memory goes back so far, keeping memories of past conflict so fresh? How well can you sustain peace?

    What about the ambitious? How desperately ruthless might they grow, living in their failures, without old age to slow them from trying again and again?

    How do personalities change over time? Might early mortality be preventing the expression of otherwise inevitable derangement?

    The career path is interesting for the case of a scientist. How long could you be a professor, teaching and publishing within a field, before you could not avoid being completely out of date in your thinking? How would you manage?

    1. “The career path is interesting for the case of a scientist. How long could you be a professor, teaching and publishing within a field, before you could not avoid being completely out of date in your thinking? How would you manage?”

      This actually ties into my thought, which is that serial careers would be likely. Tired of this job? Time to try farming for a few decades. Out of date in computer science? Well, I’ve got a couple million in investments coming ripe, time to get a new PhD, maybe change fields, maybe just update knowledge. It seems like boredom and solid investments could send people to new careers over and over.

    2. Charles Sheffield did an interesting take on the “accidents limit lifespan” thing, where a small group of (unaging) “immortals” hired an actuary(?) to calculate how long they’d live, then found his answer of “living among other people should get all of you within a few millennia” less than acceptable, so they decided they were going to leave Sol behind & create a “society” of just them (all half-dozen of them) elsewhere.

  6. “How do you see civilization changing (for good and ill) with the advent of more or less miraculous medical fixes for such inconveniences as advanced age and it’s attendant unpleasantnesses?”

    People would be a lot less tolerant of accidents and unsafe conditions. I expect that as they got older and older they’d be a lot less accepting of most things that we all put up with.

    Lots of “get off my lawn” and not much respect for fake-faced politicians.

  7. Here’s an idea for any Muse- bereft writers out there. In a future where risk-takers are penalized, will insurance companies charge more to patriotic young men who decide to enlist in the military? Esp. combat arms. Where will Johnny Rico find an insurer?

      1. A staggering number of MI wannabees aren’t gonna make it through their initial enlistment. Actuaries are gonna look askance at SGLI policies. Maybe govt subsidies? I only posited this scenario as fodder for a work of fiction. Maybe allow the public to handicap enlistees?
        like a deadpool. “I got 5,000 simollions sez that guy don’t make it a week.”
        This is not that far-fetched. I was a student at Coronado. (2nd Class diver school).We’d be eating breakfast when BUDS candidates rolled in, wet,sandy, exhausted. (It was Hell Week.)
        We’d bet on who’d not be there the next day. It was surprisingly easy, obvious even, to pick a few of the weaker animals out of the herd.
        The squids knew what to expect. The chief that ran the mess had a detail of swabbies to clean the tables and mop the decks as soon as those poor tortured candidates got rounded up to return to Hell Week.

  8. The universe I want to write in (still getting the 1,000,000 words out of the way before trying) has this problem “by accident.” It’s about 500 years in the future. It seems silly to envision a space faring civilization that doesn’t have good medical tech. I’m trying to avoid “immortal”, but “until struck by lightening” seems unavoidable. Perhaps I’m being optimistic.

    I’ve “seen” two major repercussions:

    1. Political change is slow, except when it’s fast. It’s not just the old people in power. It’s also the living memory of how things went terribly awry last time. For example, I’m imagining a fairly unpleasant fight for independence on Mars, which leads to the rather expeditious granting of independence to other colonies who want it because no one wants to go through the Mars mess, again. (The moon is another issue – one can actually see Earth in the sky all the time; cutting ties is a different sort of thing.) Some form of colonial indentured servitude seems likely: We invested X to establish the colony/habitat so we want X+Y in profit before we let you go. Establish that up front and by and large things should go OK. Yes, the obvious exceptions will make good stories.

    2. It pushes expansion. This is the old people in power problem. Young people really don’t have much choice except to be subservient indefinitely or leave. My original thought was interstellar expansion. I’m now thinking that’s probably unrealistic in non-fast-FTL cases. Some people may want to really get away, but most would probably prefer to be within sane communication distance. A Dyson swarm is probably more likely. But I want aliens, so the standard space opera FTL universe(*) is probably where I’ll end up.

    (*) I’ve come up with a super-cheaty explanation: We create AIs, who don’t really want to hang around. They figure out FTL and give it to us as a going away present. We have no clue how it actually works and they’re gone. (We’ve been told not to build more AIs; when we, completely predictably, ignore that proscription, the new ones find the clues the old ones left behind, do a few mean things to us for ignoring the rule, then leave, themselves.)

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