Monday 29th May
Blur famously finished the sentence with the words ‘is rubbish’. But I am not sure they were right. But Modern Life is certainly different, different anyway than a few years ago, different than when I was a child. And it will always be different. I cannot imagine the pace of change will slow down or to ever stop. Though many science fiction writers have imagined future Worlds where all of mankind’s needs are met by robots and computers, personal avatars to do everything for us, and therefore no need to strive, no need to struggle anymore – I doubt very much if that will be the case. A few years ago, a famous commentator said that we had reached ‘The End of History’ with the collapse of Communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Unification of Germany. How wrong he was. It would seem that History will never end, unless we blow ourselves up completely, or are wiped out by some biochemical means. But what of Modern Life itself, what do we make of it? The trouble is that things are changing so fast, as they always do, that we can only tell how we feel about Modern life when it is no longer current, but a few years past.
I am re-reading the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, the first trilogy covering from around 1880 to 1920. Only forty years and yet the pace of change was just as relentless then as now; the introduction of motor cars, women smoking in public, the Boer War and the Great War bringing about huge social changes. The Russian Revolution spiked fear into the rich, they were genuinely scared of the mob, of the worker’s demands, of the Labour Party even. How times change. Modern Life is so different that people a hundred years ago would barely have any means of comprehension of our lives. We are so reliant on technology, on computers, on electricity that even we cannot imagine living without them. Even television is no longer restricted to watching broadcast programmes, many people watch on tablets or phones. In fact phones are no longer phones at all, but personal handheld computers. Like most people, as we get older we slow down on our acceptance and use of technology. I barely use my phone for anything other than phoning or texting – I find the screen too small for anything else. But our grandchildren have no such problem, to them they are just another thing to play with, another part of Modern life, they don’t even know how recent they are.. I find the hardest thing about the Modern World is simply to switch off. If you go out without your phone you panic; e-mails are constantly checked. We are bombarded with stuff, facebook posts, tv news, newspapers on line, notifications from your bank or energy supplier – it is almost impossible to just switch it all off. And I find this is a constant source of stress, anxiety almost. Only a hundred years ago people had no television, no computers, no radio, no reproduced music even. Life must have been a lot quieter. Evenings were for talking to each other, or for reading the newspaper or a book.
And of course, my children and grandchildren will look back on today as such an old-fashioned time. Modern life for them will have moved on, to what we can only imagine. And they too may be uncomfortable with much of it, and hark back to a simpler time of computers you could switch off, of cars you could drive yourself, of what I can only imagine.
Modern life is the life we are stuck with and stuck in, whether we like it not. We just have to make the best of it, and hope that more things get better than worse.