It is difficult for those of recent generations to comprehend the exuberance of the golden years of post-war expansion, the formative context of the baby boomer psyche. The belief in a link between both national and personal success and consumption was inviolable, as was their trust in technological progress and its promise of ever more commodious living conditions; just think back to the benign millennial futures portrayed by ‘50s and ‘60s popular culture. It is no wonder that boomers are characterised as unfailingly positive – they grew up expecting a future significantly more fantastic than their already incredible childhood.
As those who were born in these decades enter retirement, however, their predictions appear painfully premature. Being old in 2013 is not markedly better than it was in 1953; we have learnt how to live longer but not necessarily better, and the extended period of physical and mental frailty towards the end of life is a challenge with which the design disciplines, among others, have thus far failed to come to terms. This must come as a particular shock to those indoctrinated in the belief that the invisible hand of the market will always provide, correcting all inadequacies. Instead, the further you pass beyond the age of the idealized consumer (18 – 35) the greater the struggle to adapt. The top down solutions of the medical-industrial complex tend to remain tied to technocratic and consumption driven optimism (companion robots, motorised exoskeletons, tailored social networks). But these lack the personal sensitivity needed at the point when our humanity has become most fragile.