Effects of Prolonged Life, Part 1

In Scribes’ Descent, the opening chapters mention medical nanobots and how they’ve prolonged human life indefinitely. In fact, because the current model was invented in the year 8125AS, only 200 years before the present day, nobody yet knows what the new life expectancy will be. Experts think it should be at least a thousand years, but it could end up being much longer.

Living for millennia would have huge impacts on society. Here is some of what I envisioned:

Population Increase
People don’t die as often as they used to, so cities become crowded. More land is developed to form new cities, and many relocate to other worlds and orbital habitats. Astronomers hunt for new habitable worlds and the wormholes to speed up travel to them. In fact, Mallory’s mother writes artificial intelligence code to help probes search for the most likely places these wormhole endpoints might be.

Age Uncertainty
And because of the youth-sustaining power of the med nanos, you wouldn’t know how old somebody really is by sight, at least not after early adulthood. Young adults and the aged now look identical. Even their voices and energy levels are the same. The main differences now are knowledge and experience. This can make for awkward social events 🙂 A girl who looks 20 might be 2,000, so let the suitors beware! This will make it socially acceptable to ask a person’s age. Keeping IDs and birth records preserved for millennia may prove tricky, and computerized storage will help. There are galactic-level databases to store such documents, which other galaxies can query for proof-of-age.

Explosion of Knowledge
1,000 years offers plenty of time to pack knowledge into the brain (and forget a lot of it, too). Society has to rethink lifelong prison sentences and lifelong political appointments. Withholding med nanos could become a form of capital punishment. People have more time to pick up talents and hobbies, have more careers (one could earn a hundred college degrees in very different fields), read books, etc. Parents can do the whole paternal apprenticeship concept over and over again, passing on skills to kids, grandkids, great grandkids, and so forth. And in that time, they’d see a lot of change and learn to cope with an astonishing variety of governments, tech levels, world events, and language changes. They might move to different worlds, star systems, galaxies, and maybe even superclusters depending on wormhole coverage. They’d have plenty of time to learn from mistakes and advance into lofty ranks of leadership. Scientists have more time to discover and develop new technology. Novelists and musicians could become virtuosos on a level never seen before. Perhaps schools/tutoring run by these people would be astonishingly expensive and exclusive.

Preservation of History
Long lifespans would help prevent the loss of historical info. The fewer times that first-hand details must be passed on to another person, the more reliable the account tends to be (more eyewitnesses still alive to corroborate facts, too) Higher tech levels and more abundant raw materials means that data storage can be much more convenient, reliable, and permanent.

Slower Loss of the Old Ways
With more people living longer, humanity might be slower to discard the old ways of life as more of those who grew up with them are still around to promote them. How would this impact society? It could lead to stagnancy in some areas, or extremely rigid traditions that the patriarchy and their incredible social power could enforce.

Explosion of Wisdom
Patriarchs would see a lot of history repeating itself and might seek to prevent that by making better decisions. Many may become profoundly wise political/business/religious/tech leaders. Their deaths would probably be huge historical events for the entire connected observable universe. (connected includes all civilizations that are in namiron comms with all others via the VerseNet) Some patriarchs might enjoy a god-like status if they move to low-tech, low-longevity worlds. Patriarchs would see life differently, have different priorities and concerns and habits, and look at the big picture of the whole observable. Older people tend to think about people vs material things and legacy vs short term thrills. They tend to reminisce about the past and treasure their time with family. And they often seek to mentor the next generation, passing down what they’ve learned. I think these tendencies would deepen and become more potent and longer lasting with more time to engage in them. There may also be a rescaling of ages at which people view themselves as middle age and elderly, so some of these tendencies might be delayed a bit in absolute terms (ex: people might behave as grandparents would only when they turn 1000 years old rather than 60, and so by that time, they have great-great-great-great-great-great grandkids on whom to dote 🙂

Family Expansion
Patriarchs could act as head of millions. A family could become like a nation, with highly centralized power resting at the top with the oldest living member, especially if that member is loved and revered by most other members. In Scribes’ Descent, Grandpa Spenner is the patriarch on Mallory’s father’s side. Perhaps one family colonizes a new planet or moon and gives it their family name. You might see a lot of “Smith” planets and “Jones” planets. Who would arbitrate the naming of these to guarantee unique naming? Without a galaxy-wide committee, nobody. Chaos would rule as people try to figure out just which Jones planet somebody is talking about when you consult your star chart. So, like domain names, people would have to apply for a new planet and star name, and possibly pay a fee? (smith004, jones10010… really ugly planet names unless the committee makes rules against this. And each galaxy could have different rules. There might be galaxies with beautiful names and others with username-like designations). Many times, mega families will formally set up a corporation, but will sometimes be informally recognized as such by most courts.

I have at least five more aspects to include, but those can wait for a part two.

See you next month!
Dylan West


  1. Two things reading the work you have done. Although the subject matter is vastly different, I couldn’t help be reminded of a Hemingway novel in its punch and strait-forward style. It takes a bit of getting used to for a more flowery writer like me, but once you do, the story really takes off!
    Next, I think it takes a very special writing ability to completely construct a new world. I’m not sure I have that much imagination, but it is very well done here! Once you learn the rules, you are well bought in and likely to finish.
    So when are you publishing!?

  2. Interesting points you wrote about. As technology advances with regeneration and body replacement parts, and the possibility of transferring electrochemical substances, having longer life spans could spark the imagination of some people.
    I read an article on Technology.com about a study by the National Institute for Aging recruiting for its Long Life Families Study. The article mentioned Robert Heinlein’s Howard Families, which I read about in his books, in which a nonprofit was trying to get families that had members that lived long lives to join with other families that lived long lives, to have children that lived longer. One of the main characters of Heinlein was Lazarus Long who lived to be over two thousand years old.
    It seems to me the possibility of preserving historical facts through longer lifespans may be limited, unless advances in memory are done. The preservation of history may be done by records more than humans though, unless human memory can be preserved better through old age. Perhaps memory stays somewhere and can be preserved, it just must be brought into human consciousness for a person to remember the memory.

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