Fixing the Broken Link

My father always used to say, “One thing leads to another,” and “There’s a possibility you’ll wake up with a tiger in your bed.” He was in the first case talking about those small changes we make in the world that have future consequences we would never have expected, like zoning and social security (We’ll talk about those in a moment). The second phrase uses the theory of probability to postulate that anything can happen.

I mentioned zoning because who would have thought that organizing communities so that commercial zones were outside neighborhoods would isolate a huge segment of our population, the elderly. When they came up with the concept of social security, a benevolent plan, no one was worried that the population distribution would change from less than 1% of the population receiving Social Security in 1940 to 18% in 2011, and we haven’t even seen the baby boomers.

222,488 — Number receiving Social Security benefits in 1940, less than 1% of the population

I suppose the point is, we just don’t know what is going to happen. A more important point is, we can change everything and be the tiger in the bed. And that is really what I want to talk about, changing our world.

Transportation, zoning, retirement and social security had a tremendous effect on our perception of seniors. Mandatory retirement, a cost saving effort by big business, put out to pasture perfectly capable older employees because it was unacceptable to lower wages and they couldn’t afford to keep paying the wages that the person had earned over a lifetime of incremental advances. Zoning moved business outside residential areas forcing workers to drive to work. Mentally capable seniors whose eyes, ears, and reflexes were deteriorating were no longer capable of passing driving exams and so became incapable of driving to jobs that they would otherwise been able to keep. The average life expectancy after retirement in the United States is 18.8 years. That is an incredibly long time not to use the greatest resource in our society, wisdom.

We are on the cusp of reversing the devastating effect of one thing leading to another with technology and awareness. The advent of the self driving car will free those seniors who currently schedule van pickups to get their groceries. The simplification of user interfaces and voice control assistance will deliver self driving cars to their front doors when they want it without a need to understand how to navigate a smartphone.

The ridiculous burden 12% of our population places on 75% of our emergency services will be displaced by intelligent sensors in senior environments coupled with notification systems that explicitly state the extent of an event that has befallen a senior, dispatching a Prius and a young man rather than 4 burly fireman and a 8 ton truck. Predictive analytics will indicate intervention is needed in communities where seniors live alone with their cat dispatching a physical therapist to avoid a slow painful decline. We will experience a wonderful future where Uber applications crowd source the care and community of our elderly bringing the young and the old together seamlessly. Very soon, the value of our seniors will be restored to our society.