Master Eight is fascinated with hearing about “the olden days” at the moment. Sadly, the days he means when he uses that phrase are the days of my own childhood. I keep trying to tell him that, no, it’s my parents who grew up in the olden days, but to no avail. As far as he’s concerned, my childhood is closer to the age of the dinosaurs than to the present reality of his every day life.
A few months ago, I told him the story of the day I was born.
“My mum, Nana, started feeling funny,” I said, “and had pains in her back. My dad was worried about her, and decided to call the doctor to check if he should be doing anything. But they didn’t have a phone at their house, so he had to run down the street — in his pyjamas (this elicited the laugh I expected) — to the pay phone and call the doctor. The doctor said: ‘Son, your wife’s having a baby. Take her to the hospital!’ And a little while later, I was born.”
Master Eight listened in rapt attention, giggled in the right places, and nodded along. When I finished telling the story, he looked confused for a minute and asked, “Why didn’t they have a phone in their house?”
I explained that, back in those days, not everyone had a phone in their house, so they had to use pay phones. He still looked confused, and then his face filled with understanding. “Oh!” he said. “And his mobile was out of battery!”
I think that moment, more than any other, made me realise exactly how removed his childhood is from mine — he lives in a world where not having a landline is fine, but not having a mobile phone is inconceivable. A world where not being able to look up information immediately from the comfort of your phone or laptop is an alien concept. A world where communication takes place instantly or never — there is no in between.
Since then, I’ve noticed it more and more in the books we read together. Sometimes when I’m reading him Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton or Norton Juster, he looks at me and asks why people didn’t just use their phones. Or why they didn’t just google in the information.
I’ve spoken to people who feel this disconnect makes those older stories incomprehensible to children of today, or who avoid reading stories that will confuse young readers. Me? I take a different view.
Every gap in understanding that results in a question about technology is a window into a conversation about the way the world has changed, and a brainstorming session on how the world of the future will look. And, let me tell you this. If it turns out half as wonderous as my son imagines, it’s going to be a bright and shiny future.
I hope I’m here to see it.
(This post was inspired by Owen Duffy’s The books I loved as a child have lasted — but the world has changed.)