All month, I’m dedicating this column to looking at the future as we take our first steps into the new decade. It might be the most important work I’ve done in this space. It’s essential we expand our vision past just 2020. We can’t look at only what’s facing us in the next three months, three weeks or three days. We need to look at the decade as a whole to what life will be like in 2030. There are certain paths we are headed down as a society and if we don’t like where the path is heading, then we need to begin to change course now before it’s too late.

These issues are a mix of cultural and business issues that I’ve been discussing over 13 years as a chamber of commerce leader in two different regions of the state. Part one looked at the aging workforce, leadership voids and the need to train tomorrow’s leaders immediately. Part two looked at unique customer service, technological effects on retail and growing dental care issues. Here are a couple of other topics to keep an eye on over the next decade.

Senior Living/Retirement
My wife is from Hawaii, and in Hawaii it isn’t uncommon for multiple generations to live under one roof. As more employees begin to reach retirement age, but don’t necessarily have the retirement income to live out their days in a retirement home or senior living facility, you have to ask, what is to become of their lifestyle? Will they continue to work? Will they be able to live alone and take care of their homes in our four-season communities?

I’m beginning to hear more friends in their 30s and 40s helping to take care of their parents, or buying homes near parents, or buying homes with an apartment above the garage or an extra bedroom in the basement, in case their parents need to move in with them. Don’t get me wrong, there is no fault being put on the cost of senior care and senior living facilities. They charge what they need to in order to provide care and pay their employees. Yet with such a large percentage of the population heading into retirement (72 million Baby Boomers make up over 1 in 5 Americans) we may not have the facilities or the number of employees to work those facilities, to care for our seniors. Maine is the oldest state- this issue isn’t on the brink, for some families, it’s already here.

Bottom line: Multi-generational homes will likely become more regular in the years to come and may double-dip as an in-home childcare solution for many parents struggling with how to afford care for young children. How does that change the family dynamic, the work dynamic and the shopping and care needs of our households?

Our Increased Need for Escapism & Making Meaningful Connections
No one tells their friends about how many candies they crushed the night before. Or how their digital farms and gardens are growing. Or how their digital kingdom is growing and preparing for war against a competing clan.

For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, these are games that are commonly played on our phones and tablets. Yet, these games speak to a much larger issue of escapism.

There is so much stress and numerous stimuli begging for our attention right now, that escapism becomes more prevalent. Your office used to have mail, phone, fax and customers. Then it was e-mail and instant messenger to further split your attention and ways to connect to customers, clients and colleagues. Now there is Facebook, Skyping, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, work e-mail, private e-mail and, oh, regular text messages on your cell phone.

It’s a lot to keep up with. So, what becomes the preferred release for many people? Escapism. Playing a simple game with a tangible attainable goal to get away from the rest of the noise. Crush 25 yellow candies in 15 moves and you advance to the next round. Get your troops to cut down more trees to build a new section of wall to protect your village. Simple, tangible goals.

We play these games because they’re an easy distraction, and somewhat addictive because of the shot of serotonin you receive once completing a task. It’s uncomplicated, and it gives you something to focus on that isn’t all of the other distractions.

That’s a little sad, and a little scary to think about. We have more ways to connect with our fellow humans but many of us feel less connected then we have ever been. What do we do to change this course? How do we have more meaningful connections?

I think we have moved beyond simply giving up on technology and those connections. These are ingrained in our society at this point. I don’t think it’ll happen overnight, but I think it will take an actual concentrated effort to overcome this.

It will require engaging more in community activities. Agreeing to leave your phones and tablets in the car, or in your pocket, when spending a night with friends. Maybe it will take a designated “no screen day” for families. Or screen time together where you see what your family members are doing online so you can be a part of it with them.

Bottom Line: I’m not sure what the answers are entirely- no one does- and I’m not sure everyone wants a solution. But for those that do, it needs to be about human interaction, and face-to-face meetings, and handshakes and laughter. It’s about sharing all sides of yourself and not just the one that makes you look best- it’s about being genuine and open. This is a topic that I’d love to have people chime in on if they hear of good solutions.

Look for Part IV next week and thanks, as always, for reading.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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