Since Mothers Day, I’ve have many nostalgic chats with friends about moms; recalling my mom’s life, my childhood, her later years and passing two decades ago. I was struck by an interesting thought. Her generation lived through “The Great Depression” when young, but also experienced late in life our modern technological boom. While technology changed their lives, day by day year by year, it affected their parenting. Theirs is the only generation, in all of mankind, to live and die without a single clue of how their children set out in. As parents, they could only provide their children base values then had to rely on unconditional trust.
. . . . .
In medieval times, for centuries on end, a surf farmer father sleeping in a barn knew his son would grow up doing pretty much the same thing. As would a courtesan, or a knight, or traveling musician. They might hope their son would change classes, marry well, but they would understand the privileges and responsibilities a child would lose or acquire by earning (or marrying into) a different rank.
In comparison, my son at age 3 learned his alphabet on a personal computer I had for work. He played animated video games with a familiar joystick, and adapted my work LAN connection to his video gaming parties. He and I watched internet soccer and hockey TV feeds from around the world, and he pirated copies of any song or movie ever made for me, the digital equivalent of my familiar LPs and VCR tapes. He & I both now chat with technology once reserved for Dick Tracy and a blue tooth robot vacuums our floors like the Jetsons. When he heads off to work, I cannot do what he does, but I totally comprehend it (by analogy) and can provide fatherly advice.
As a child I read about the “invention of the automobile” in a textbook and shrugged. We had one parked in the driveway. My dad and I watched the incremental efforts that resulted in men walking on the moon, and my son shrugs his shoulders. Its a chapter in a middle school history class. But my generation understands, can fundamentally comprehend what his generation is doing, is learning, is inventing, is up against. From cell phones to GPS tracking, internet packets and google spiders, DNA testing and CRISPR, MRIs & micro surgery; I can understand his animated discussion and adapt to the technologies. Just like fathers from cave men & dark ages, my son and I are connected to our understanding
But my parents started life making music in the home to entertain themselves, around the hearth or an oil stove. They watched electricity come to the farm, which provided a radio that let them hear distant Chicago and New York. As children they saw the first “Talkies”, later tilted rabbit ears and literally adjusted the fuzzy black and white TV image to optimize what was then called the “test pattern”. Cable TV befuddled them and removing their roof antenna was disturbing.
As a boy my dad drove horses to plow. They traveled on city trolleys, and by train and the confusing network of blue highways. As a boy I watched expressways be cut through farmer’s fields and was later put on a modern turboprop to visit relatives. We saw TV shows about computers that filled a building to send the first rocket to the moon.
To my parents for me and my brothers and sisters, to have jobs “in computers” and later consulting, flying coast-to-coast as if nothing, visiting Europe on business and later short family vacations, even living in Florida in a house with a swimming pool; these were the things of science fiction or the dreams of a millionaire. Our everyday could have no connection to their reality.
So I thank my parents for having the where with all to provide me lasting base fundamental skills: honesty, integrity, hard work, common sense, decency and fairness. It was really all they could give during the technological tumultuous time that I grew up.
Historians often marvel at the 1950’s through 1990s for the radical Buck Rogers changes, which my generation adapted, used and enjoyed. But today, for the first time ever, I realized that these changes left my parents (and their entire depression era generation) clueless about their children. Beyond bestowing common sense, “American values” and what my dad referred to as “three square meals and shoes on your feet”. I realized how they were good, decent people up against powers they could not understand. Raising us was a leap of faith.
In further thinking I now wonder how much of today’s suddenly visible Luddite generational mobs are actually longing for those days. Does MAGA “Make America Great Again” refer to both misogyny, racism, white hats and black hats, and a living wage and predictable retirement … but also the excitement of whiz bang wonder of continuous surprising life changing improvements. Today they see instead only cynical financial manipulation (LBO’s and smear campaigns, milking for personal gain) what has now been diminished to decades of only incremental or tangential improvements.
They are watching us return to the cave man, the Roman empire, and dark ages of intergenerational predictable serfdom. Is that the anger? While I enjoy seeing our kids harness what we did not have, the angry my age somehow reject it. They seem to be the crabs in our shared barrel, adjusted to being screwed by overlords and wanting to make sure all are as well.
My mind has been wandering