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A grandchild’s journey

January 9, 2018

Last week I met my first grandchild.

As new-borns often do, he was mewling softly, seemingly unable to work out whether he wanted feeding or putting down to sleep. He had a slightly surprised expression on his little face. Surprised perhaps at his new-found independence, at the lack of a ribcage to push against, at the absence of constraints preventing him from kicking out his legs or moving his arms without resistance.

It was the first time I’d held a new-born baby since I took his mother in my arms, twenty-seven years ago. I’d forgotten how tiny they are, how vulnerable, and how our instinct to protect them kicks in so powerfully.

Over the past few weeks, as his arrival came closer, I’d been wondering what the life he’s joining has in store for him. What hurdles he will have to straddle that I never had to face. Will he, as I wrote on the congratulations card we gave to his parents, become a rock climber, a politician or an England footballer?

I was joking, of course; I wouldn’t wish any of those occupations on him, except possibly rock climbing.

A few random thoughts, then, about his future.

As the first child, his parents will learn from him as well as he from them. He will be the victim of their mistakes as well as the beneficiary of their exclusive love. Nothing new there, but in other respects his life will be different from that enjoyed – or otherwise – by previous generations.

He has a great chance of living for a hundred years. Even if he needs a little help on the way from the medical profession, advances in cancer treatment, gene therapy, prosthetics and preventive medicine will stack the odds in his favour. The rest will be down to him.

By the time he’s been through the school system, it should be reasonably clear what sort of skills he will need if he is to avoid being sidelined by the robotic revolution. But he’ll need to understand that the ground will be constantly shifting. Agility will be at a premium.

The dividing line between mind and machine will steadily dissolve. He will laugh at our smartphones and our clumsy keyboarding. He will be able to record his dreams as easily as we are able to take video clips.

He may well spend some of his life living and working abroad. Depending on how things work out post-Brexit, he may need an Irish passport – for which he will thank his Irish granny – if he is to work in the near abroad. But if he’s smart enough, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t work anywhere in the world. He will only be inhibited by energy constraints, war zones and resource shortages.

He will have great demands placed upon his attention span. If he can concentrate on a single activity for sustained periods, he will have a big advantage over those who are unable to filter out unwanted input and omnidirectional noise. That noise will only become louder in the decades to come.

He will not be able to take his gender for granted. The boundaries between male and female will become ever fuzzier. By the time he gets to be a parent, the boys are as likely to be wearing pink as the girls wear blue.

He will live by stricter rules that dictate his interaction with others, at school, at the workplace and in his social life. His ability to use common sense where no rules exist will become increasingly circumscribed.

He will be watched and monitored – by cameras, health sensors and big data. He and his generation might eventually feel that the only safe space will be where he can avoid the watchers.

He might never need to drive a car, even if he could afford one. By the time he’s ready to apply for his driver’s licence, driverless cars will be pervasive. Even if they’re not the norm, the software used in their development will protect those who choose to get behind the wheel.

He will need to live with casual danger. Terror attacks have been with us for the past fifty years, and are likely to be a feature of the next fifty. Low-tech violence is unlikely to go away, particularly if the gap between rich and poor produces increased social unrest. And then there’s the changing climate – more violent weather.

With a fair wind, he will live to see people on Mars, the end of cancer as a deadly disease, and unlimited energy through wind, tidal, solar or nuclear fusion. The potential downsides – asteroids, volcanos and the aftermath of Trump’s button among them – can wait for another day.

Most important of all are the gifts that his parents will bring to him.

It’s often said that children should learn before anything else the difference between right and wrong. No longer. Add to the equation the distinction between truth and lies, and the meaning of objective and subjective.

These concepts are at the heart of critical thinking. If his mum and dad can help him to understand them, and by their example and encouragement to acquire the resilience he will need if he’s to overcome hurdles not yet imagined, then they will have done their job.

Welcome to the world, little one. Have a good life. Be the light, not the darkness, and even if times get hard, never forget three little words: amor vincit omnia.

  1. JPD permalink

    First of all, Steve, many congratulations and welcome to the world of grandparents. Loved this piece – indeed, I’ve had similar thoughts regarding my own grandchildren: while I had some concept of the world in which my children would grow, I have no idea what it will be like for the next generation.

    So, since my brain can’t handle the big questions, I stick with the smaller ones. When I’m trying to be clever, I say that having grandchildren is the perfect revenge on one’s own offspring. But when I really think about it, it’s the happiest I’ve ever seen my children and, as someone wiser pointed out: for the first time, our children get a sense of what they mean to us.

    Enjoy the adventure and welcome, little one.


    • Thank you John. You have much more grand parenting skills than me. Don’t be surprised if I come to you for counselling! S

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