To my beloved child

Available in 'Youth in Print: Past and Future' (Whitehorse Youth Representative Committee, 2010)

To my beloved child,

I regrettably must begin this letter with an apology.

I am sorry that I don’t know your birthday.
I am sorry that I don’t know your first words.
I am sorry that I don’t even know your mother.

In my defence, though, you haven’t even been born yet.

The year is 2010. I am a teenager, unsure of where life will take me. Assuming I have educated you well, you should be able to identify what happens next. Perhaps I get married, perhaps I move overseas, perhaps I experience a life-changing epiphany. I can only speculate as to my future, but you already know what happens. Don’t take that for granted. You may not have figured out your own life yet, but appreciate the fact that billions before you have a story to tell. Listening to one or two of them every once in a while will serve you well.

By writing this, I am not abiding by the social norm. In the Twenty Tens, it is not common for teenagers to write letters, let alone letters to their non-existent children. Hence, the note you are now reading is far from orthodox. My generation, however, accepts the occasional unorthodox act. It doesn’t necessarily make one a freak.

Feel free to judge me for my avant-garde correspondence, but I beg you not to generalise. I’d rather you perceive me as the black sheep of the pack – which I’m sure you already do – than judge my entire generation from my actions. In response I will try my best to maintain respect for yours. When you come home late from parties, when you fail your maths tests, and when you adopt an eccentric fashion sense I promise not to label your compatriots. As your father I will offer you the greatest advice I can give, but I accept that you are merely seeking the independence that I presently yearn for.

I am writing you this letter because I’m scared. I’m scared that your generation is going to wipe my generation’s history off the records. When I recount anecdotes of yesteryear I don’t mean to bore you. Rather I want you to recognise that the years preceding your birth were not prehistoric. I find it easy to dismiss the ancient lifestyles of my parents, but I implore you not to follow suit. I hope you can realise that had you lived in ‘my day’, you would have fitted in perfectly fine.

Understanding my context of time will probably be the most difficult thing for you to muster. Your history classes probably cite that African poverty was at its worst, natural disasters at their most damaging, and climate change at its horrifying inception. I’m sure the war on terror, the conflict of North Korea, and the Global Financial Crisis likewise add colour to your textbooks – and hopefully not your newspapers – but I wouldn’t get too preoccupied with these events if I were you.

Of course these are blights on the face of my world, but don’t believe the hype. Their influence on Western lifestyles has been minimal. Terrorism doesn’t stop me catching the train, poverty doesn’t leave me with depression, and climate change doesn’t stop me using the computer. This may sound selfish and absurd – which it is – but I’d be lying if I claimed otherwise. In fact, the occasional documentary film or news report is the only thing that stops me from believing the world isn’t already a peaceful place.

You may laugh at this next statement, but we consider our technology to be incredibly advanced. When I watch television I honestly believe that we have reached the summit. The high definition picture is sharp, the sound is crisp and the graphics are – dare I say it – futuristic. That is not to say that television overwhelms me. Rather, it is one of the many things my generation takes for granted.

When – or if – you watch films like Inception and Avatar, are you impressed? Is their visual splendour still revolutionary, or is your generation sophisticated – or cynical – enough to dismiss these works of art as primitive relics? From a noughties perspective it is easy to dismiss E.T. as a rigid machine and laugh at the horrors of Ghostbusters, but surely the films of my day are impressive enough to demand your respect. Call me naïve, but I don’t think your generation can do that much better.

Likewise, when I make international videocalls over the internet; when I mimic numerous instruments on my keyboard; when I control sporty avatars with my remote control; when I gain access to buildings with my fingerprints; and when I transport halfway around the world within a day, I struggle to believe that technology can progress any further.

If you’re familiar with your late 19th century history, you may draw comparisons to Charles Duell, who famously affirmed that “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Of course it sounds stupid, now, but I sympathise with Duell. And I hope you can sympathise with me.

There are some aspects of the early twenty-first century that I will forgive you for lambasting. Fashion is one of those. The best disclaimer I can offer you is that not everybody is as fickle as your documentaries and books may suggest. I am yet to see any normal people don the attire exhibited in our catwalks or fashion magazines. A variety of embarrassing bits and pieces – like tight black pants and Hawaiian shirts – have been made popular at one stage or another by our various sub-cultures, but the majority of us are just as critical as you. Not all of us conform to the standards of the media. We wear what we feel comfortable in and grow our hair to the lengths that suit us best.

If, however, your generation has become critical of denim, then please understand my resilience. Jeans are ‘cool’ – so long as that word still carries positive connotations – and I pray that not even a few decades of cultural evolution can change that. Otherwise I am nothing more than a daggy old fool, incapable of redeeming myself.

God knows what kind of revolutionary gadgets shape the world in your day. Maybe you’ve figured out how to make flying cars, human-replicated robots or even teleportation. You may have even reinvented the wheel. Regardless of what it is, though, I am sure it serves some kind of practical purpose. I’m sure that this world is better off because of it. But please don’t be ignorant enough to dismiss history. Don’t bother asking the question “How did people manage without it.” Let me assure you; life functioned perfectly fine before the idea of it was even conceived.

With this in mind, I must regrettably conclude this letter with an apology.

I am sorry that I don’t know how to operate it. I’m sure I’m trying my best.

Lots of love,
Your father.