One aspect of sustainability that is often overlooked is the need to operate a fair and just society. The definition of what is fair varies between communities and changes over time. However, it is usually the case that an equitable solution should be reached as a pre-requisite for a well balanced society.
A key measure of equity in society is how its vulnerable members are treated. Traditionally, the focus has been upon the education of the young, the social care of the old, and the healthcare of society as a whole. We are living at a time when these definitions are blurring and the traditional compartments for social care no longer work as well.
For example, to serve the needs of a knowledge economy, there has to be provision for life-long learning well beyond the traditional school leaving age. Alternatively, as our society ages, the link between chronological age and dependency age is weakening. In the field of healthcare, we are all becoming more demanding of services as our expectations rise. As we move into the next two decades, technology has the promise of upsetting the traditional relationships even further.
The direction of technology is to allow our devices to become smaller, faster, more connected, and cheaper to run. This has the potential to revolutionise the way in which care is delivered in a very short timeframe. So far, it has given rise to more distributed forms of care delivery, a trend that has a great deal of momentum as we move out to 2030. By this time, it is entirely possible that a good part of education, eldercare, and healthcare are delivered in the home. If this comes to pass, then it raises questions about our current investment in centralised delivery services.
Another area in which technology could impact upon the caring community in the next two decades is through the advances in bio-technology and pharmaceuticals. The current direction of bio-tech is to retard the ageing process and to augment our natural abilities, both through the mechanical augmentation of our body organs and through the pharmaceutical enhancement of our mental capabilities. Both of these developments have the potential to significantly alter the care paradigm.
We are at a point where the boundaries of public and private provision are changing, where the private sector has a greater role to play in activities formerly undertaken by the public sector. It is uncertain as to how far will the pendulum move in that direction. It really depends upon what the future needs base looks like. Technology could assist or impede this process. What we can say with some certainty is that there is a very real chance that the caring community in 2030 will be radically different from how it is today.
© The European Futures Observatory 2012