Coming Soon: A Future To Make the Present Look Like the Good Old Days

SUNDAY, JUNE 25, 2000


Visiting US futurist Maddy Kent Dychtwald is a dab hand at dispensing dire warnings. It’s all in the delivery; so relaxed and nice you barely notice sheís actually saying that one day, the chances are youíll be very old, very poor, and probably very despised by your children and grandchildren. If you don’t change your ways.

Dychtwald was the key speaker at last weekís Mercedes Benz Women’s Forum, Trend Spotting, at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt hotel.

In the US she is an authority on consumer marketing trends, especially those that alter and affect us as we age. She spots macro social and economic trends, examines their links to each other, then predicts what their outcomes will be in 10, 20 or even 50 years.

Trends, for instance, such as we’re retiring earlier, living longer (she said many of us will live to be 100, thanks to biotechnical breakthroughs) and are producing fewer babies to grow up and pay the taxes needed to fund the inevitable gaps between superannuation, social security capacity and life expectancy.

Our whole social security structure was designed at a time when people were expected to die at 65.

She said that in the US, presidential candidates are refusing to tackle the discre‚pancy – pretending it’ll all go away – and this would have dire consequences in the future.

You think it’s all so unfair right now; here we are, killing ourselves, working, bringing up kids, paying the mortgage, high taxes, while all these mature, healthy adults are (retired) on a perpetual vacation. Well, just wait until Generation X – a small generation by the way, a diminishing generation – has to pay for your old age. That could be 30, 40 years. All that playing golf, pottering in the garden, doing a little volunteer work in retirement, must change. It is so unfair to do that to our children. Do you think they’ll want to pay heavier and heavier taxes to fund our retirement when weíre still healthy and capable to work?

Dychtwald’s crystal ball does not reveal all bad news. But she believes drastic changes must be made – now – if her dire warnings are not to bear some sour fruit, including ‘age wars’ in which different generations actively resent and withhold resources from each other – ìitís starting to happen now.

Significantly delaying the age of retirement, encourag‚ing workers to save and invest more wisely, and raising taxes now to fund the future are some of her solutions.

Changing the perception that retirement is just one long holiday is another.

Older adults can be useful, says Dychtwald. They have a lot to offer – their values, wisdom, experience. Weíll see a lot more of them consulting for business, working in the community. And for free. I think it should be government-mandated that over 65s provide free child care. Why not? Your government seems to want to encourage women to stay barefoot, pregnant and at home. They’ve made child care so difficult! Why not ask older people to provide day care for free?

She even ventured that this might encourage more women to have children. And isn’t that what your government wants anyway?

She predicts that combining children and work will become easier as the ìvirtual workplaceî becomes more common.

There is already a new airline in the states – Blue, I think it’s called – that has a booking system completely manned by people at home.

Dychtwald predicts a golden future for religion and spirituality as more baby boomers move towards old age and death.

ìIn a materialistic, market-driven world, and with all these technologies around, I think people want more control, and they want to know thereís something more meaningful, something bigger out there than just this. Baby boomers are starting to see their parents disabled and dying . . . they want to know, what does it all mean?

She managed to extrapolate future trends in architecture from our need for spirituality. ìThereís our need to simplify, to get away from all this media – itís all about money, all about stuff. And it’s nauseating!

  • Bio-technical breakthroughs now mean more of us will live to 100.
  • Baby boomers must work harder and longer to fund their mature years or their children and grandchildren will resent the extra tax burden levied on them.
  • Workplace gains like maternity and paternity leave, flexible hours, job-sharing and the ìvirtual workplaceî will become more common, with more employees working from home.
  • People will retire later and ìretireesî will continue to work and contribute to their community.
  • Religion and spirituality will increase in popularity.
  • Surgical and non-surgical cosmetic enhancement will continue to boom.
  • The trend to simplify life will extend to architecture: big will become less desirable than small, and ìdetail oriented.