Friday, 23 March 2018

Victorian Dad

As regular readers will be aware, my interpretation of my own rules is so fast and loose that I'm happy to jump from the premise that science fiction encompasses stories, any story, set in the future, to include any idea about how the present will transmute into the time yet to pass.

From there, it's a short jump to musing on how the past has become the present, as how else do we learn what direction we're heading in?  And this is all in the context of my rejection of the teleological approach to history, the idea that we're progressing towards something or someplace.  Rather, I firmly hold that we're running around in circles, repeating ourselves, learning from our mistakes and, to quote my fellow Torquinian, Peter Cook, repeating them exactly.

Such as the Pilgrim Fathers being proto-Taliban, too puritan to live in England, therefore they had to find a big empty (more or less) space to be narrow-minded and bigoted in.  Or Isis' destruction of Palmyra?  Henry VIII's Reformation of the Church just coming around again.  We just don't have much of a record of all the iconography and art that his soldiers burnt and broke, just a countryside littered with the broken remains of monasteries like bleached whale skeletons washed up on the beach.

If we're going anywhere, it's with a drunk's walk at best, stumbling on sights that look all too familiar because we've been here before.

So, today's sermon is about Victorian parenting.

When I had kids I imagined a house of footsteps, laughter, shouting, loud music.  Okay, with me in the background yelling for quiet, with the same hope Cnut must have felt standing on the shingle.  Instead, in the early stages of the twenty-first century, I have a house of silence.  Like a library or a monastery.  Except with less reading or illuminating of manuscripts.  Instead, pixelated footballers, racing drivers or gunmen are being manipulated, or videos of sharks are being watched.  All with headphones over teenage ears.

Children should be seen and not heard, the saying goes.  I don't think this is what was intended.

If they ever picked up a book and stumbled across a Victorian reference to children being sent to their rooms, they'd be mystified.  That's exactly where they gravitate to.  In a world of central heating and wifi, they can't compute the very idea that bedrooms were cold and lonely spaces, away from the hearth and welcome hubbub of family life.  We all die alone, the cliche goes; I seem to be watching a social experiment that suggests we all wish to live alone as well.

We went to visit my father-in-law in hospital yesterday; I noticed the occupant on the next bed and his visitor, young marrieds, whether literally or figuratively, lay and sat, respectively, in silence, staring at their screens.  That would have been dystopian sci-fi ten years ago; now it's just everyday.

And in fifty years?  Don't be surprised if we're all living in individual pods in tower blocks, a beehive writ large, in-eye VR technology giving us the illusion of space or a sea view, as well as all the information, entertainment and networking we demand.  Action-at-a-distance (A3D) technology will enable us to do any job from the comfort of own pod, a robotic avatar reproducing the movements of our hands exactly, whether polishing a diamond or signing a contract.  Drones will bring us food; 3D printers will provide our shoes and clothes.

Maybe the only hope for the planet is that we forget to come together to procreate.


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