Observations on “quality of life”

Observation

In the United States, and in many developed nations, we are speeding headlong toward a utopian future of longer lives and extended health. We are doing battle with the diseases that plague our species, putting cancer and dementia and heart failure under siege of technology and the willpower of humans to treat if not cure (if not eradicate) them altogether. HIV/AIDS, an epidemic that shocked and scared the world in the 1980s, one that has resulted in an estimated 36 million deaths, is now treatable to the point of near-normal life expectancy, only 35 years after its discovery. For comparison, polio was first observed in 1789 yet the first polio vaccine was not developed until the 1950s. Our battle with these diseases seems to be one of an inevitable end: humans will emerge the victor.

Observation

The term “quality of life” is commonly associated with economic status and availability of healthcare, safety, healthy food, water, etc. This is a definition of the word quality that deals solely in the ability of a human to continue living. When you are ill you can find treatment. When you are hungry you have food to eat. When there is a rainstorm you have a dry place to sleep at night. And while this is still not possible for all people, history suggests that we will only continue making progress on that path, of making those things available to every human. With that in mind, might there be other ways we can measure the “quality” of our lives? Hold that thought.

Observation

Jobs in first world countries are rapidly moving toward a binary of manual labor and high technology. You are the software engineer and I am the line cook in your in-office kitchen. I am the venture-funded CEO of a food delivery service and you are my delivery driver. You are the Wall Street banker and I am a custodian in your building. You own a fast food chain, I work in it. You hear this sentiment often, especially during election season. “The death of the middle class.” On either end of this spectrum we are moving away from an ideal definition of freedom; on one end you are indentured to those who employ you, and on the other you are owned in a wholly different way, by the money you make and the investors you must appease.

Observation

There is a logical fallacy in the belief that inevitable longevity and extended health will bring a higher quality of life. It assumes that quality has only one definition. Imagine a future where the average life expectancy is 120 years. In turn, this infers that the age of retirement must adjust accordingly; let’s presume 80, as a safe estimate. A longer life mandates more money to live on. The average career length, currently around 40 years, would almost double. Now both the underpaid and overworked employees are unhappy for double the amount of time over the span of their lives.

Observation

If I expect to live a longer life than my predecessors—and I do, given the rate of medical advancement—I want to redefine what “quality of life” means to me. With enough money to live, food to eat and a place to live taken as a baseline, quality must become more about how we relate to other people, the strength of the communities we live in, time spent outdoors and away from machines that encourage sedentary, unhealthy behavior.