The date was May 6th 2004. The tears were flowing (not by me but lots of others). The culmination of 10 years of hard work, hard watching. The highs, the lows, the laughs and the tears were over. Friends, the show that captivated the world was closing its doors for the final time. The last episode, something people were dreading since the beginning, I mean, they lived the last 10 years, almost being a part of, was airing. Then, nothing….
Until, like, the next day. When, pretty much as if it hadn’t ended, it started again. No, not a reboot but a rerun. Now, what has happened over the last 15 years is that terrestrial and cable stations main daytime staple has been episode after episode end to end then end to end again.
THEN streaming services kick in, with the opportunity to do it all over again but at your own pace. I.e. binge watching with ice cream with the dog or cat.
I’m not old but it makes me feel old to know that I, along with many others, watched that last episode and now there are kids watching the reruns who weren’t even a twinkle in their parents eyes when it ended. – weird!
Ok, so this article isn’t really about Friends, although it’ll probably still be running reruns in 80 years. This is about the fact that we are all living longer, healthier lives and that trend is set to continue. The expected age for people born in 2004 when Friends ended is 78 years old. The incredible thought though is that in 80 years, 2100, the average age expectancy is a median of 100 years and a mean of 292 years (source).
I think that, developments in living standards as well as the medical sphere are huge contributors to this. As are other factors like the reduction in war, in spite of the generally accepted thinking war is declining (source + cool visualisations), and technology as well as societal changes that lead to better decisions and care for ourselves.
Let’s look at some of the factors together.
In the mid-nineteenth century the proliferation of better public health measures and services such as hospitals and surgeries as well as access to better and safer drinking water and the large scale access to vaccination programmes began to reduce death rates and increase our life expectancy.
At one point, towards the end of the last century, the actual UN suggested that the average life expectancy would plateau as, since most people had access to better sanitation and medical support, public health initiatives would become a lesser factor in how long we might live. There was an inkling that humans generally had a ‘pre-programmed’ upper lifespan limit.
To their surprise, and probably some older people, they were wrong.
It goes without saying of course that as we continue to learn more about ourselves and the world, the chances of public health initiatives changing for better impact, and live expectancy are great.
Remember when you were a kid and there were petty limited options, home medicine wise, when you got sick? For me, it was some really sweet Paracetamol stuff. If that didn’t work over a few days then I’d be taken to the Docs’ for a check up and given something much worse tasting.
Now though, as an adult, in the past few decades things have really changed. Most of the advances in medicine are more powerful than the Ibuprofen gel I use on my back, they are actively helping to extend people’s lives. High cholesterol 30 years ago? Eat different butter and have more vegetables or something. Nowadays there are different pills for different types of cholesterol! This keeps people alive! (changes in diet are key though of course)
Cardiovascular disease 30 years back? The medication was alright but you’d be taking a big chance on the stairs at times for sure. Now, with things like beta blockers, taking the stairs is slow but it means you are hugely less likely to meet St Peter on the way up.
Huge advantages in preventative screening has also been a massive game changer and is set to take bigger leaps now we have a better steer on how the genome works. Imagine being able to know your risk of a specific cancer 30 years ago without it being a guess based on your family history? My father has Parkinsons and if he were to know about it coming on years before, there may have been things he could change in his life or diet and medicines to slow it or prevent it all together. I’ve had gene testing to assess my risks so that I can determine if I need to make changes in my life.
This is a little harder to pin down since it’s quite broad and subjective. The key point here is that, as a civilisation, generally, our society is becoming more aware of our impact on the world and the impact of the chemicals in our food and drink. We’re becoming more mindful of the pollution in the cities that we breathe on our morning commutes and the impact, long term, for children in inner-city schools near roads.
Being more aware isn’t a solution but it does mean that, for some of us, we are making different choices where we can based on economics or the freedoms afforded us by the country/regime we live in. We try (I often fail) to eat better, exercise more and think about using the car to nip to the shop for the paper. It’s small changes like that, when aggregated together make an impact on the statistics.
As these things become normalised and adopted on a larger scale, we’ll all notice the benefits long term.
This feels like a bit of an obvious one really. With improvements in technology, we are more easily helping people to live longer.
Better computing means faster data analysis for medical or environmental decision making. Better communication tools means faster and less ambiguous communication. This can lead to less misunderstandings (see conflict) as well as better knowledge sharing for the betterment of medicine.
Better tech and comms also helps to protect people better to prevent accidents or help people faster. Think about it, without better advances in car safety or road management systems, there would be an enormous amount more fatal or life-changing road incidents each day. It seems silly to connect the two, but less deaths increases the average life expectancy as well as offers better opportunities to people on-going.
Yes there are still wars, yes they are all horrible and from most people’s perspective, a huge waste of life and resources. The fact is, the number of large conflicts has decreased year on year, decade on decade for a very long time.
Better communication and societal development as well as international cooperation and trade platforms has meant that, in the most simplistic way, it is too costly monetarily and politically. Due to large national interests and the need to continue to trade globally, any conflicts now seem to be smaller and require smaller mobilisations of armies and arms. Generally, there is less impact on large populations also which means, less lives lost.
That isn’t to say that people aren’t dying needlessly still. It’s not nice, but it is happening less and less, thankfully.
My feeling is that, in the future, we’ll all be living longer and healthier lives on the whole. As well as learning more about ourselves and how we can grow. This is quite exciting for me as it opens up more possibilities for a few things.
Mostly, the ability to pass on first hand knowledge over a longer period means (potentially) less mistake repetition. It also means that we can do more in and with our lives. Learn more, see more, do more, accomplish more for the betterment of us all.
From a different angle, if we live longer and are healthier, it opens the door more easily to the possibility of exploring our Solar System and beyond. – Cool huh?
So, I guess we will indeed all be watching Friends reruns in the next 80 years, which is a little sad. What isn’t sad is that, in spite of what the media might suggest or what you might think, the data and the history shows we’re in for a good long and healthy future.
For businesses, this means potential massive changes to how people work and where. It means that retirement might be irrelevant and people want to and are capable of working for longer. There are big changes to consider there and the businesses or nations that make steps first will reap the rewards sooner and for longer.