Inventing a new phase of life

Marc Freedman

Marc Freedman

It was a huge treat to meet Marc Freedman this week when he was in London. At Agebomb’s event at NESTA, he talked about the paradox that longer lives – which are obviously a good thing – are also widely seen as a social disaster. In the US, as well as here, there are plenty of people ready to warn of impending conflict between the generations.

Marc described how his involvement with mentoring programmes started him thinking about the contributions that people over the age of 55 are capable of making. This has led him to spearhead a movement in the United States for Encore careers – demanding work in the public good in the second half of life. He suggested we need to invent a new phase of life to acknowledge that this is happening, much as adolescence was invented in the early twentieth century.

Funnily enough, the man who popularised the notion of adolescence, G. Stanley Hall, decided in the last years of his life that he should have focused instead on a different phase: when people have finished bringing up kids but aren’t anywhere near ready to die, the very stage we now need acknowledged and catered for.

So what should we call them, these people who face 10, 20, 30 more years of active life, yet who aren’t the young executives and midlife parents who form our presiding image of adulthood? Could we think of something active and aspirational; something that makes sense of what Marc called the ‘windfall of talent’ they represent?

G. Stanley Hall thought the phase should be called senescence, but that’s out now because it’s attracted too many connotations of decline. What’s needed is something that suggests potential.

Marc describes people in this phase – whatever we’re going to call it – as existing in an ‘identity void.’ They’re not taken seriously by the media, nor by the world of work. It’s not always easy for them to achieve the kinds of things they want to. Yet they have distinctive talents and aspirations. In his view, these come from a combination of their sense of mortality – that there’s only a limited time left to achieve; their recognition that it is nevertheless enough time to do something significant; and their consciousness that we are what survives of us – a kind of future-mindedness.

This collision of different senses of time, he argues, leads to an urgency to achieve, a new phase of innovation. People in this period of life have a distinctive purpose. Of course, stages of life are man-made (a friend of mine who works with Afghan refugees tells me Afghans have little sense of age and don’t celebrate birthdays). But this would be a useful invention at this point, because it would pave the way for and legitimise institutions to go with it – internships in socially useful occupations, for example, and MBAs targeted at the over 55s.

In the United States, the Purpose Prize, which Marc founded to recognise entrepreneurs over the age of 60 who are doing something for the public good, attracts 1500 applications a year. For many people in the first half of the twentieth century, this life stage is not about freedom from work, but freedom to work. These people are already here and they want work that is meaningful, rewarding, and has an eye on the long term. We really should find a way to recognise them.

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Come to our ‘what is the point of retirement?’ event

retire

Here is the invitation to Agebomb’s NESTA event on October 5th. Please do sign up!

Innovation for a New Old Age

What is the future of retirement?  68% of Britons now expect to work past retirement age while one in 10 believe they will never be able to afford to give up work.  As the default retirement age is abolished, and the state pension age recedes, what are the implications for graduates who can’t get jobs?  What does the future hold for people now in their forties, fifties and sixties?

NESTA and Agebomb will be considering these questions on Tuesday 5th October.  We will be joined by Marc Freedman, the San Francisco-based author of Prime Time and Encore and campaigner for socially useful, demanding work for people in the second half of life.  One of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, Marc founded the Experience Corps in the US, and the Purpose Prize, which awards prizes to entrepreneurs over the age of 60.  His new book Shift looks at how baby boomers need to change to make their lives productive, happy and fulfilling.

Baroness Julia Neuberger will give a campaigning baby boomer’s perspective.  Charlie Leadbeater – NESTA fellow and a leading thinker on social innovation, Geraldine Bedell – journalist and founder of the Agebomb website – and Caroline Waters – BT and Chair for NESTA’s work on ageing will also be speaking.

For the last year, NESTA has been running an extensive programme devoted to innovation in ageing, working with individuals and organisations across England and Scotland.  Please join us for a stimulating debate about whether the second half of life can be an opportunity to extend working lives, even give something back.

To register for this event, please click here Date: Tuesday, 5th October
Time: 09:00 – 10:45 (registration and breakfast will open at 08:30 with presentations starting at 09:00) 
Venue: NESTA, 1 Plough Place, London, EC4A 1DE

Agebomb to hold an event with Nesta in early October

Stop Press!Excellent news: the splendid Marc Freedman will be visiting London from San Francisco for two days in early October and has agreed to be the keynote speaker at an Agebomb event on the new old age, to be held in conjunction with Nesta on the morning of Tuesday October 5.

We will be looking at innovation to make the second half of life a success.

Marc spearheaded the creation of the Experience Corps, which gets older people working with schools and other youth organisations across the United States. He is an eloquent campaigner for Encore Careers – serious, socially useful work for people in the second half of life – and the founder of The Purpose Prize, which awards prizes of $100,000 and $50,000 to social innovators over the age of 55.

His new book, Shift, which will be published in January 2011, is about the transition of the boomer generation to a new stage of life.

Charlie Leadbeater, a leading thinker on social innovation, author of We-Think: The Power of Mass Creativity, and occasional guest blogger on Agebomb, is also a confirmed speaker. Other speakers will be unveiled soon.

Through its Age Unlimited programme, Nesta has done a good deal of work on the demands and ambitions of a different kind of older population, and this is will be an opportunity to think about what the second half of life will hold for a generation with entirely different, but very varied, expectations.

We will be asking: what is the point of retirement? Is there any real choice for people in how they spend the second half of their lives? If not, what would make a difference? Could Encore careers work in the UK? Can you change the second half of life without changing the first?

More news soon.

When is a radio not a radio? When it tells people how you’re feeling

BuddyIt looks like a radio. (A rather nice one.) It plays radio stations. But this is not just a radio, this is a Buddy radio – the latest idea in social networking, designed to connect people who are frail and vulnerable to those who care about them.

I heard about Buddy from the dynamic Adil Abrar of Sidekick Studios, its designers. Buddy is still at an early stage of development (four months ago, it was only a thought in Adil’s mind) so there are still issues to be resolved, but you can see its potential.

There’s already quite a lot of technology on offer to monitor people’s health and alert carers and nurses to trouble. Unfortunately, most of it suffers from various problems:

  • It’s often hideous and faintly embarrassing to have in the home
  • It’s stigmatising: it implies that you’re on the verge of collapsing, because that’s all it cares about: Are you still on your feet?
  • There’s a suspicion it’s a substitute for human contact. Sold as a way of caring for your vulnerable old person, it’s actually a way of ignoring your vulnerable old person until they actually fall down, possibly dead, and you get an alarm signal. (I’m sure telehealth isn’t used like that by everyone, but if someone suggested getting one of these devices for me, that would be my first thought; they’re doing this so they don’t have to call in any more). Continue reading

Time for us to move in together?

A US cohousing scheme

A US cohousing scheme

Don’t know your neighbours? No one to rely on? Find the area outside your front door forbidding? Maybe you need cohousing.

Two of the world’s leading architects of cohousing were at Nesta yesterday as part of its Age Unlimited programme, to talk about a movement that began in Denmark, has spread to the US, and is now exciting a lot of interest in Britain. Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant – Chuck and Katy to their friends – talked about the particular benefits to older people of living in communities of 20-30 households, in which cars are kept to the periphery, in homes that residents have designed and that share some communal facilities.

Continue reading