Approaching generation 495: the story so far

What a journey we have made in four generations.

A baby rabbit has taken to visiting our garden in the evenings. Its parents were probably born last year, their parents the year before. Four years ago its great-great grandparents were eating grass and looking out for danger just as this one does.

Compare that to the experience of our great-great grandparents at the turn of the twentieth century. As with the rabbits, we have the basic needs in common: food, shelter, safety, companions. But what is available to us to think about and experience has been transformed.

One of the transformations that I see is in the meaning of the word ‘community’. In the early 1900’s a community was a geographical entity – a street, a village, a town. Then as radio and TV became more widespread that sense of community started to diminish. Through the television a person might support a football team on another continent rather than the one physically nearest to them. People became more isolated in their own rooms. And now we have so many virtual communities that the possibilities are breathtaking. I have friends I have never met, with whom I share values and interests that I do not have in common with the people I see every day. It is as if we had to jettison the known securities of the old idea of community to build a new one with less of a safety net and much more scope.

Another interesting feature is the levelling effect of technologies. Each invention starts off as a luxury, available only to the few with enough money to buy it, and within a generation becomes accessible to most of the rest of us. Take air travel, for example. Two generations ago it was out of reach of most people. Now it is available to the generation who can make good use of it, the young adults. If you have ever been through Stansted Airport in the UK (a hub for the budget airlines) check the average age of the travellers, and the number of nationalities there are, all on the move.

So this story talks to me so far of a move towards individual empowerment with its associated risks. The opportunities are not available to everyone however: many people still do not have access to electricity, either mains or solar. That means they can’t even start to find their own community. But many more of us can than a century ago.

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