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Offbeat – 07 March 2014

My betting is that in a couple of hundred years, leisure time consultancy will be a major career, and people who can come up with new and interesting forms of recreation will be the new rock stars.

This column was delayed by the death of someone close to a friend. I planned it for the week that person died then put it on hold and forgot about it. I was reminded of it now, in the hunt to find an idea. There’s never a good time to write about death so now is as good a time as any.
Death is a fear. That much is obvious. We visualise it as an arcane evil that steals our lives and joys. For some it is a skeleton. For others it is a dark, hooded figure.
These personifications carry knives or weapons usually, symbols of our fear of it, and its violence.
The struggle against death has been constant. We delay it. We create monsters that, in our imagination, are half envied for their apparent immortality: the vampire, the Wandering Jew, and others. Science fiction talks about extropianism, the transfer of minds into computers.
In reality, we fight the battle by prolonging our health by existing on a joyless diet of stuff like rice cakes and raw vegetables and, above all, we fight it with medicine.
Now, it looks like medicine is on the brink of winning the war on death. Cellular aging has been reversed. Many replacement organs can be grown in labs, and researchers are diligently working on those that aren’t yet successfully grown. Most of the major diseases are in the process of being understood to the point where cures are more than likely.
As far as the brain is concerned, the tangles that cause dementia are being unraveled by drugs. Memory is not much of a problem either now, with clouid accounts and advances in long-lived solid state memory.
In a couple of decades, it feels, the only sensible way to die will be to go out and make it happen yourself, rather than wait for old age to do the job. I wonder under what circumstances, with glowing and youthful health, at the age of 500, someone would want to die? My best guesses are boredom and frustration.
I recently read a piece by a rather canny scientist who spoke about the challenges of this sort of longevity. One of the most striking thing she mentions is the possibility of having the same boss for a hundred years. She mentioned the challenge of promotion into that position. I shuddered as I read it: the problem of a near immortal boss implies vast amounts of boredom and frustration, especially if the said boss is one of those types who have a slightly flawed and / or abusive approach to management.
Murder might seem like a solution under the circumstances but, if you will pardon the pun, if you live for a couple of hundred years, a life sentence could be a fate far worse than death. In my estimation, suicide would probably be the way to go.
The idea of finding another job backs up the idea of suicide as well. If nobody can move up in the world because everyone knows everything and the boss is near immortal as well, then the chances of changing jobs becomes ridiculous.
I have an idea that doing the same job for hundreds of years will make productive use of leisure time all the more important as a means to stay sane.
That means that people will have to find a variety of new things to do. Two hundred years of hanging out watching near immortal reality show contestants and absolutely perfect sports teams will wear very thin. Come to think of it, two hundred years of scrap-booking or flower arranging will probably be pretty dire as well.
My betting is that in a couple of hundred years, leisure time consultancy will be a major career, and people who can come up with new and interesting forms of recreation will be the new rock stars.
If anything, it will be stagnation that awaits. That sort of long life will breed perfection that makes improvement see irrelevant and pointless. What could be the point of playing a round of golf fifty four under par? Is photo-realistic embroidery really something to aspire to? How many masterpiece books are really worth reading, or writing? The irony of the defeat of death is that it will probably rob humanity of life.

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