Archive for June 12th, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

End of the Future

German governments are usually formed by more than one political party. While negotiating the policies of their four-year term, they also produce a slogan, quite similar to the old Chinese emperors. The current grand coalition took the motto “Mut und Menschlichkeit” (courage and humaneness) in 2005. Some newly-elected federal government will choose another one, late this year.

“Mut zur Zukunft” – trust in the future – was the headline of a social democratic and liberal parties’ coalition government program in 1980. About the same time, some of my classmates wore jackets sporting a more popular slogan – no future. Others sprayed the words on the walls in town.

I’m wondering if anyone, except some die-hard punks, would do that today. I haven’t seen that happen for a long time. But it could hardly fit better than now. Take a look on a group of elementary school students on a school trip. All the mobile phones are out and in action. “Can you send me that squirrel on drugs?” – “sure” – “That went fast! Do you want the mad customer on the hotline?” – “yeah.”

On, and on, and on, for hours. I’m wondering if they are using a flatrate. No books. No game of chess. No past. No history. Only a digital desert here, and small heads full of crap. Many of their parents must be struggling to afford these gadgets to their offspring. No child left behind – it might become an outsider without state-of-the-art tech. God forbid.

I know – every generation ever since the old Greeks have predicted the end of the world, or at least of civilization. But you see, JR isn’t doing that at all. He’s not repeating history. He’s only predicting the end of the future.

Sure, most of these kids, so they’ll live, do have a future. But once the future will be here, it will be the present tense. Future is about ideas, plans, and expectations. Many young people have no plans. They make no plans. They only have their here and now. If some kind of future dawns on them, something which is no stuff of dreams, but something about real life, it makes them feel uneasy, and they turn away from it. And after all, how could they be positively curious about the future, when their parents’ fear of it is palpable? Children pick up such signals very quickly.

When my classmates wore their no-future stickers, they weren’t too positive about the future either. But they were aware of the future. Most of us, no matter if we liked the slogan or not, understood that we should embrace the future, and make the best of it.

Most of our parents and teachers were usually quite helpful. Not because they were so much brighter than us, but rather, because they usually avoided overextending themselves. They didn’t take our spleens too serious. They didn’t try to “understand” us all the time. Seeing the relationship between generations today – I’ve heard several teenage girls say that their mothers are their best friends – makes me feel grateful for the hard-headedness and realism of our parents. Parents and teachers might be role models in certain ways – and often, rather at hindsight, than during childhood itself. But I won’t believe for a moment that there are no serious tensions between the generations. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons who say otherwise, are only in denial – or they are potted plants walking. So are teachers who think they can be their students’ friends. This could only work if there was no change, from one generation to the next. But the fact is that the world has never changed as fast, as it is doing now. If people refuse to fight about it [update: the future], they refuse to go with the times.

Most of the people I know from schooldays would have felt embarrassed, if our elders had tried to make friends with us. We would have sensed the fabrication.

It can’t be easy to be a child these days.

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