Thursday, 4 June 2009

Times, they are a changin': Take Two

As a species, we humans really are remarkably adaptable. Just two short decades ago, most of us hardly dared touch a computer's "On" button. The few that did were those isolated but dedicated geeks (you know, those Spotty 'Erberts we branded losers at school but who are now looking at early retirement on the proceeds of their pioneering software designs).

Yet now, most of us are at least computer-literate - and some are even venturing out into the outer reaches of cyber-space.

To be fair, the whole computer scene has changed beyond recognition since then. In those days, pressing the "On" button produced a little luminous green square flashing ominously in the top-left corner of the black screen. You had to have a working knowledge of some mysterious secret language called "Machine Code" (or whatever it was) to take the next step (hence the rise of the Spotty 'Erberts).

As for the computer itself, it could almost fill the Albert Hall, had a screen the size of a Mars bar and the phenomenal storage capacity of about 3 kilobytes (even Bill Gates, back in 1995, said he couldn't conceive that anyone would ever need more than 640 k on their PC).

Now, every Tom, Dick & Harriet has a lap-top, palm-tops and Blackberries are a bit past it, and I'm pretty sure that we'll move on to finger-tops or direct input soon enough (if only we can downsize our fingers to match the pesky keyboards).

The pace at which technology has progressed in the space of a few years, months, weeks or days frankly takes your breath away. But even more breath-taking is the ease with which we have adapted to those changes (even to the point of forgetting how we ever functioned before mobile phones, online banking, e-mail and the like).

That's what makes my generation - that disparate band of baby-boomers born some time between the mid-50s and early 1970s - unique and (though I say it myself) rather special. We are perhaps the only generation to have a foot planted firmly in two distinct eras: Pro-Internet (P.I.) and Meta-Internet (M.I.).

We are also, perhaps, the last generation to enjoy a number of clear-cut certainties that don't seem to exist any more. During my formative teenage years in the '80s, things were crystal clear. In South Africa, apartheid still ruled and Nelson Mandela was still languishing in a prison cell on Robben Island. American missiles still sat - patiently waiting to nuke Moscow - in a bunker at Greenham Common. The Berlin Wall still stood strong and impenetrable. UK unemployment was at an all-time high (3 million!). Coal mines were being closed down across the north while Yuppies lived it up with conspicuous greed in The City. And in politics, Right was right, Left was left, and never the 'twain would meet.

In short, we knew where we stood. Our battle lines were firmly etched in granite - it was just a matter of deciding which side to stand on. It's no surprise that the post-Punk era in the UK produced such a politicised generation - we had something tangible to kick against.

Now it's a different story. Battle lines are vaguely doodled in the shifting sands of popularity contests and reality shows, and Right and Left alike have moved so close to the middle ground that they are now virtually indistinguishable (so much for the democracy of choice!). If you don't believe me, you should see the incredulous look on the faces of many Greeks when I inform them that the current UK Government (for now, at least) is in the hands of the Labour (as in Socialist) Party. Many assume that Blair & Brown are Margaret Thatcher's political offspring.

At least with Maggie, you knew where you stood.

This may all be getting a little too political for comfort, and that's not my intent. I am simply trying to show that the world we grew up in is very different from the one in which we are trying to raise our kids. And yet, we function just as well Now as we did Then.

The post-war Baby Boom produced some remarkable talents and visionaries in all fields. I'm not just thinking of the likes of Bill Gates, but also of Bob Geldof, Bono et al, who saw something wrong with the world and decided to use their fame, fortune or even egos to bang on about it until we wake up and do something about it.

Though the battle lines are only faintly drawn for our children's generation, there are some fights that should always be fought. Poverty and injustice have not gone away and despite the changes we have seen - for better and for worse - there's another world out there where thousands of children still go to bed hungry and frightened every single night.

I hope we will continue to adapt to the changes we face, and not let disillusionment push us into indifference (thus risking handing the reigns of power to a bunch of extremists riding high on the current wave of disgust at the current state of politics).

So, if you are reading this from the UK, please DO vote today and - wherever you choose to put your mark - please be guided by hope, not hate....

1 comment:

  1. guided by hope not hate. Is hope not lost? Have we let things slide too far? Is it possible that we can rescue from the ashes of honesty and truth a future, future filled with hope?