Thursday, October 23, 2014

Living for a Millennium

I was initially excited when I saw this article on The Week about 1,000 year lifespans, as something I tried to tackle in my book with its alien species was the effects of having a lifespan of a millennium. The article ended up being an extreme disappointment, although it did link to a scholarly paper on the biology of increasing our lifespans.  I've only skimmed it so far, but that at least appears to be interesting.  As for The Week article, it reads like something the author scribbled in a couple minutes before an editor added a few links.  It barely scratches the surface of many issues raised by longer lifespans, and seems to engage in magical thinking about government budgets.  The author does bring up a few questions about longer lifespans that I tried to answer in my novel, though.

First up, the author points out longer lifespans will also mean healthier lifespans, and this will give humans several hundred years to live at their peak physical level.  This has huge implications for work and family.  If our longer lifespans require us to work for centuries, does this mean we will have one career, or several?  Will we continually have to go through re-training or head back to school?  How will we cope with hundreds of years worth of technological change in our jobs?  In my book, I anticipated that with longer lifespans career changes will occur, but they won't quite be a necessity.  In a futuristic knowledge economy, there will always be some career angle for a particular set of skills.  While major career changes won't be required then to stay employed, many people will still go through them as they become bored with their old jobs.  Longer lifespans, though, will allow people to build up capital over centuries that they will then be able to use to follow their dreams.  I believe the rates of entrepreneurship and self-employment will be extremely high if we manage to live for a millennium.

I think the biggest complication with long lifespans is going to come in the area of marriage and family.  If we live for a thousand years, are we really going to want to be married to one person for the rest of our lives?  In my book, I anticipated that the answer would be yes, but with a caveat.  I think people will still marry for life, but they will take the occasional break to go off and do their own thing before returning to their spouse.  I think longer lifespans will make it imperative to have one person who is always there for you, from the time you enter adulthood to the time you die.

How having children will work with a lifespan of a millennium could be very interesting.  If childbearing years could be extended to last several centuries, all kinds of possibilities exist.  Couples could have children over the span of centuries, meaning they could still be having babies when their first set of children are several centuries old, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren or later descendants of their own.  That is something to me that is completely mind-blowing, the idea that a person could have all their ancestors going back centuries still alive.

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