How old will you be in 2050? I will be 81. At 81 I plan to be still working in higher ed, still running, still writing, still teaching, still contributing. What about you?
We are not alone. As Ted Fishman describes in his wonderful new book, Shock of Gray: The Aging of the World's Population and How It Pits Young Against Old, Child Against Parent, Worker Against Boss, Company Against Rival, and Nation Against Nation, the gifts and challenges of an aging world will define both our individual and our societal narratives over the next 40 years.
Fishman takes us on a tour of what an aging population means to places (cities and whole countries), companies, families, and individuals. He spends time in the Sarasota Florida (where my parents are as I write this), a city that has built its economy on and culture around the idea of active and healthy aging. We learn about Rockford Illinois, and the challenges that older industrial cities face as the economy transitions from manufacturing to service while a population ages in place.
The aging challenges of the U.S., however, seem manageable compared to what is in store
for Europe of much of East Asia. Fishman's portrait of Spain, the lowest fertility and longest lived country in Europe, will make you relieved for American fertility (and immigration). By 2050, Japan's population may decrease 25%, with close to 4-in-10 Japanese being 65 or older. The question for China will be if the country can grow rich before it grows too old, as the one child policy has insured that Chinese society will be amongst the most rapidly aging, with over 400 million elderly by 2050.
Fishman investigates the causes and consequences of aging for all these places, as well as delving in to the reasons behind the great increase in lifespans, the declines in fertility, and the science of aging.
I came away from Shock of Gray convinced that we need to think about what an aging American will mean for our institutions of higher learning.
Today, we have about 30 million people between the ages of 18 and 24, and about 40 million people 65 and over (out of a total of 310 million). By 2050, the number of 18 to 24 year olds is expected to grow to about 40 million, but the people 65 and over to almost 90 million (out of about 440 million). This flood of older Americans will be healthier, wealthier, and more engaged than any population in our history.
Are we doing enough to re-design our colleges and universities to make them attractive and relevant to this huge and growing 65+ population?
Can we re-think undergraduate and graduate programs to a system that would be attractive to people looking to challenge their brains, follow their passions, and learn new skills after decades in the paid labor force?
What models do we have of turning our campuses into places where both 70 year olds and 20 year olds can come together to live and learn?
Could people in their 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th decades be our best customers, and our best students, in the years to come?
Who in academia is taking a leadership role in the interplay between an aging society and a changing system of higher education?
Where will you be in 2050?
When I was in 9th grade (in 1984) I subscribed to 4 car magazines: Motor Trend, Car & Driver, Road & Track, and & Automobile. Today, my fondest dream is to own zero cars and to rent an occasional Zip Car (preferably a Prius, Volt, or Leaf) whenever the need for driving should arise.
Reading "Engines of Change" was a good reminder for me about how important automobiles once loomed in my worldview. At some point my passion for cars was replaced by a passion for computers and technology. At 14 I thought I wanted to be an automotive journalist, and 42 I'm very happy to work at the intersection of education and technology (and to be driving a minivan - slowly).
I'm betting that my story, one of a shift from a love of automobiles to a love of computers, is not unique. How many teenagers who once spent time changing spark plugs and reading car magazines morphed into building PCs and hanging out on computing message boards? I have this theory that today's computer geeks were yesterday's car enthusiasts - and that is why today's Apple new product announcements are so much more exciting than the new model car launches.
Ingrassia takes us back to a time when new cars really mattered. He profiles 15 cars that have had a large impact on American culture. These stories are all engaging and well-told, and in learning about the Model T or the Corvette or the Mustang or the Honda Accord we also learn a great deal about the times in which they were introduced. This is not a book about the "15 best cars of all time", rather Ingrassia is interesting in describing the cars that had the biggest cultural impact.
Ford's Model T literally changed how American society was organized, as an affordable mass produced automobile was a prerequisite to a rural to urban migration and a mobile society. The Honda Accord was the first Japanese car to be built in a U.S. factory (in Ohio), and ushered in a long-term transition away from UAW dominance and the decline of The Big 3. The Chrysler minivan (a Lee Iacocca encore after bringing to life the Mustang) killed the traditional station wagon, empowered a new generation of soccer parents, and eventually led to Mercedes Benz's disastrous and short-lived purchase of Chrysler.
Ingrassia is a terrific writer, and is also the author of the excellent Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road to Bankruptcy and Bailout-and Beyond. I hope that Ingrassia's next project is about the only cars that really excite me now, cars that run on electricity (although his chapter on the Prius in Engines of Change is excellent).
I think that there is a huge market of computer geeks (and educational technologists!) just waiting to buy our first batter powered car, as soon as the technology improves and the costs come down to a point where electric cars are nearly competitive with gas powered vehicles.
The world, or at least my world, needs more high quality concise books. Bryson's new Shakespeare, from the Eminent Lives Series, is one of the genres better examples.
The Modern Library Chronicles is another imprint with some excellent texts. To quote from their page:
"Modern Library Chronicles feature the world's great historians on the world's great subjects. Lively, accessible, and brief (most under 150 pages), these authoritative short histories are designed to appeal to general readers as well as to students in the classroom".
Wonderful, sweeping economic history of the world by one of my favorite writers (Bernstein also wrote "The Birth of Plenty"). These "big" history and "big" thought books are a great antidote to the short time frames and disposable knowledge of our blogging and information overload world. Helps to have a long-term framework to understand our own material lives. Excellent counterpart to Friedman's The World is Flat.
Fascinating extension of the evolutionary psychology framework. Argues that our brains have evolved in often "klugy" ways, meaning that evolution favors what works (and what comes first) and not what is optimal. I learned a good deal about things like memory, emotions, and perception...and now I know why I can be so dumb sometimes. Well written....a fun read.
Fun book from the NYTime's Magazine Consumed column...delves into the world of "murketing" - the new method of connecting with consumers who are immune to traditional mass marketing. Some interesting connections on how we could "market" educational technology.
You will never go into someone's house or office in the same way again. A psychologist who pioneered the field of personality research based on peoples stuff.
The author, a physicist at Cal Tech, is among those rare academics who both write beautifully, and can manage to make complex explanations understandable. This book definitely changed how I understand some fundamental aspects of my life and the lives of those around me, as getting a handle on randomness and probability (which again, our brains don't seem to be built easily to accomplish), helps illuminate some of the fundamental errors in judgment that I seem to make all too often.
Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein covers many of the same studies and experiments, and then puts a public policy slant on the conclusions. I'm finding in these sorts of books that the same academic studies and examples pop-up time after time, which is good as it takes me about 5 times to get them straight. Where Sway helped me understand why I'm susceptible to make bad decisions, Nudge helped me understand how I can use the principles of "choice architecture" to influence events and decisions. Both worthwhile reads for folks like us who have a vision of education we are trying to implement, both in terms of why people do things the way they do, and some "libertarian paternalistic" ways to shape decisions and actions.
The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman, Rom Brafman is a sweet, short popularizer of the current social psych and behavioral econ research.
The original academic and body of research that Gladwell based his best-selling "Blink" on. Gigerenzer experiments on "fast and frugal" decision making have many implications for situations we face all the time in our lives - I just have not quite worked out if I'm so easily swayed and nudged (see below), and my mental probabilistic machinery is so poor (again see below) when I should trust my gut feelings and when I should do the opposite.
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