Isn’t life strange?
A turn of the page
Can read like before
Could we ask for more?
Isn’t Life Strange? [J.Lodge] The Moody Blues Seventh Sojourn 1972
The Moody Blues. Good group. Gave me many hours of peaceful enchantment in my youth, even managed to see them “live” a few times in the 80s. Some people today will not know them, some will only remember them for Go Now or Nights in White Satin. But they had many great songs; my personal favourites include Voices In The Sky, Question, Dr Livingstone, I Presume, Dear Diary, Eyes Of a Child, it’s a long list. In fact the whole of Seventh Sojourn is magical, made at a time when people made albums, not singles. For My Lady, Lost In A Lost World and New Horizons are each worth listening to, making up (along with Isn’t Life Strange) the rest of just one side of the album.
As I proceed towards grandfatherhood, and as I watch my children become parents in their own right, I’m presented with new opportunities for reflection. Last night and this morning, I was thinking about the world my grandchildren are coming into, and how that’s different from the world I came into.
I love being nostalgic, while living life in the present, and always, always looking forward to the future. A part of me, the incessant learner, the passionately curious one, looks at everything I’ve experienced as having one very important purpose: to prepare me for what is to come. That perspective allows me to look at the past with fondness not just for the “good times” but for everything else in between.
And so I was thinking. Wow. My grandchildren will come into a world where things happen with a click. Hmmm. I was born into a world where things happened with a click. My father, and his father before him, clicked his fingers, and things happened.
My grandchildren will have their groceries delivered to their door. Hmmm. I remember how fresh milk was delivered when I was young. It was pretty fresh. It came wrapped in some unusual packaging. A cow.
My grandchildren will be able to be in touch with people all over the world, with the sequels to Facebook and Twitter; some of them will be from strange lands and cultures with unpronounceable names and unspeakable diets. Hmmm. We used to be able to send letters to people and they actually got there and were opened and read and answered. We called that the postal system. And some of us had penpals, in strange places and with strange customs.
My grandchildren will be able to buy custom products and services delivered specifically in keeping with their preferences and context. Hmmm. When I was young everything I wore was tailored for me. As it was for everyone else, whatever their upbringing or socio-economic class. India hadn’t quite acquired the off-the-shelf habit yet.
My grandchildren will be able to eat fresh, organic, preservative-free food, exercise at will, live healthy, satisfying lives. Hmmm. When I was growing up, some people had refrigerators, a few had air conditioners. They looked very nice. But they weren’t much use. We had very little electricity, and that which we had was needed for industrial things. Or so we were told. So we had a lot of fresh preservative-free organic food.
My grandchildren will be able to enjoy entertainment wherever they are, at their fingertips, music, books, magazines, shows. Hmmm. In between the cows and the grocery bringers, we had snake charmers and monkey tamers and even the odd bear or three. And something called a radio, a device that knew how to whistle and snap, crackle and pop, a device that knew how to suffuse the environment with an aroma that entranced and lingered and made you feel warm. And travelling libraries.
My grandchildren will be able to experience and relive events of the past, in magical and wondrous ways. Hmmm. We used to have Pathe newsreels before every film. And places like the British Council and the USIS and Max Mueller Bhavan and the Alliance Francaise, who’d replay events pertaining to their culture and context.
You get my drift.
Every generation will have their wonders and their enchantments.
Of course paradigms shift. Of course there are technological discontinuities. Some more important than others.
People who lived in the time of the discovery of penicillin had their reasons to sing hallelujah. People who will live in the time of smart-machines-meet-biotech-and-nano will have their reasons to sing hallelujah.
The internet, the web, affordable ubiquitous connectivity, these are different. They represent something precious.
When I look at the hatred and intolerance humans have for other humans, I feel sad. When I look at how much of this is fuelled in the name of faith or science, I feel sadder still. When I look at how we can’t solve problems to do with climate change or nutrition or disease or obesity, I feel sad. Science and faith.
We’ve had robber barons before, we have them now and we will have them in time to come. They go by different names and styles and professions. But you know something? I’ve never seen or heard of or met or read about a happy robber baron.
So why do I feel optimistic for the world my grandchildren will inhabit.
Education. Access to education. Access to information. The ability to be informed, and to act on that information. Freedom of speech and expression. The power to connect and form groups and to act in community.
The internet, the web, ubiquitous affordable connectivity. Those cats are well out of the bag.
The internet, the web, ubiquitous affordable connectivity. They’re alive in the freedoms of opportunity and choice and expression that they represent, in the ability to share and support and grow and act as community,
The infrastructure used to make all this happen is not them, whoever owns them. The arguments about ownership and funding and taxation do not represent them.
The laws sought to control that infrastructure is not them.
The robber barons that seek to exploit the infrastructure is not them.
You are them.
We are them.
Our children and grandchildren, their children and grandchildren, they are them.
They are the internet, the web, ubiquitous affordable connectivity.
They are the makers.
Many of the things they will experience will have been experienced by prior generations.
But one thing is new for them. They are the internet, the web, ubiquitous affordable connectivity.
And it can’t get taken away from them. Because “it” is not in the infrastructure. “It” is in them. It is them.
The age my grandchildren are being born into has its new challenges, often variants of old ones, but some no one has explored or conquered before.
Problems of identity and relationship and trust. Problems of relating to oneself and to others. Problems of understanding what the group you belong to will tolerate and what they won’t. Problems of dealing with all that even if the group you belong to appears to have no other members.
How to trust people. Whom to trust. What to share. What not to share. How to know what is true, and what is not. How to know what matters, and what doesn’t.
New things. Perhaps. The scale has changed. Perhaps. The reach has changed. Perhaps.
What has changed for sure is the propensity to be educated, to be informed, to have choice, to be able to exercise that choice.
All this may sound very first-world and Utopian and rose-coloured-spectacles while sitting in comfort somewhere in the Home Counties. And maybe it is all that.
But it’s more than that. The internet, the web and ubiquitous affordable connectivity, the powers and freedoms they represent, mean as much to those oppressed in the East as in the West, in the North as in the South. You may argue about Je Suis Charlie vs the victims of Boko Haram, about people dying of malnutrition in Africa or dying of obesity, about the dangers of failed states or the dangers of failed two-party systems of governments.
But when you argue, it is possible that you may be arguing from a better position than you would have been in generations prior. It’s become harder to control information, to hide the truth. Of course we have to learn more about developing our own abilities of filtering and curation and bullshit detection; education education education.
I want to keep reminding myself that I must do everything in my power to ensure that my children, and my children’s children, and their children, will share in that propensity, in the freedoms bestowed there.
The ability to learn is a precious gift. More than anything else, that’s what we have to fight for, to preserve. Some of the new tools of our age have the propensity to raise that ability in incredible ways. It’s happening already, in incredible ways. In every walk of life, from healthcare to politics and welfare, from manufacturing to agriculture, from the very large to the very small.
It all begins with education. In a world where knowledge is power, in a world where privilege is about information and learning, the freedoms represented by the internet, the web and ubiquitous affordable connectivity are precious.
Education is first and foremost about learning; teaching is the word used to describe the enabling of learning. Where no learning is taking place there is no teaching taking place.
Education doesn’t just take place in educational establishments or even just in homes. It takes places in hearts and minds, in the imagination, in dreams.
I read every day that the internet is about to fail, that web is dead, that governments and spies and bad actors have messed everything up.
I read every day that the infrastructure that our world of connected knowledge “relies on” is underpowered and about to collapse, that there have to be concessions and sweeteners and tax deals to compensate.
I read every day that the powers-that-be have only their own personal interests at heart, and that they will enact laws that will take everything away from everyone.
I read every day that the age of meritocracy is dead in a world where information and education is the new privilege.
And there’s a bit of truth in all this.
But as I said some years ago, it’s over.
It’s still over.
And I look forward to seeing my grandchildren and spending time with them.