Unbelievably, it’s almost 25 years since my old man went to meet his maker. 25 years. As the esteemed British philosopher, Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock would have put it, “25 years! That’s nearly an armful.”
I can remember the day he died as though it was yesterday. I can remember his funeral as though it were this morning. I can remember England failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup on the evening of his funeral as though it were an hour ago. What a great day.
Twenty five years seems an awfully long time when you say it out loud. But as you get older and the recruitment mailings from AARP start showing up with more frequency, you start to realize that 25 years is no time at all.
I’ve been thinking about this span of time a lot recently, since visiting A.W.R. over the summer. What’s struck me is how much has changed since 1993. The world we live in in 2018 is full of things that would have been science fiction to my Dad. Just think, he never used or experienced;
- A computer
- The Internet
- A cell phone
- Satellite TV
- An App
- Facial recognition
- Voice recognition
- Artificial Intelligence
- Web Conferencing
- Video Conferencing
- A head up display
- Touchless payment
- An Apple Watch
- World of Warcraft
- A Tesla
- Virtual Reality
- The Cloud
- Atlas the Robot
- A QR Code
If he came back to earth and spent a day with me he’d be literally speechless at all these things – invented or popularized since his death – that I use without blinking an eye; the magic that surrounds me and which I summon with a nonchalant swipe or spoken command. If I drove him down the pub he’d probably faint as I said to the car “Navigate to Liam McGuire’s in Falmouth, Massachusetts” and the head up display automagically placed the directions on the windscreen. When we came back from the pub and sat down in front of the 50 inch flat screen HD TV to watch the live Super 14 rugby game from the other side of the world he’d wonder if he was still in heaven or simply dreaming. If he saw me working at my desk, writing this piece – by the sea, 75 miles from the nearest city, using a “laptop”, a “desktop”, an ”iPhone”, “Wikipedia”, “Google”, and “video conferencing” with a colleague in San Francisco – he might think he’d come back to the world in 2093. Or 2193.
He’d sit, Guinness to hand, and wonder why I was living in America, why I wasn’t wearing a tie, why there wasn’t a copy of the Daily Telegraph in the house (“It’s on my phone Dad”, “What? On your phone? How can it be on your phone? That’s a phone not a newspaper!”), and who the strange man with the orange hair was, who came on the TV after the rugby. At least the Guinness would be familiar, though the little gizmo in the can would be a tad confusing to him.
Man as a species is hardwired to adapt and assimilate to change; this hardwiring has made us the jungle VIPs but has left us with an inability to comprehend the nature and scale of the changes we experience. We take for granted that the world will mutate as we furiously scramble for the next hit of adrenaline, endorphin, dopamine, glucose, opium …
Maybe if we stopped and thought about how much was changing all around us we’d stop changing? Who knows? But I can’t see us changing anytime soon. This thought set to music for you by John Mayer (16 years old in 1993 and working away on his guitar in his bedroom on being that good …)
Professional forecasters tend to restrict their prognostications to five years out. Purchasers of such Delphic mutterings tend to understandably want guidance on the relatively short term bets that they’re trying to make. But five years isn’t really long enough for things to change that much. The Strange Man with the Orange Hair after all might still be in the same job in 2023.
Bill Gates of Microsoft fame (Ha! Everyone knows who Bill Gates is, right? Well, not really. He retired from Microsoft 14 years ago. That’s nearly an armful. Many teenagers haven’t a clue why he’s famous or rich) famously said that we overestimate the amount of change in the next five years and underestimate the amount of change in the next 10 years. Spot on. But I’d say in this Age of Acceleration we’ve veered towards overestimating change in the next few months and forgotten entirely the 10 years, let alone the 25 years ahead.
Twenty five years feels an important amount of time though. It’s both the blink of an eye and a long enough stretch for the world to change materially. Twenty five years is long enough to create a future that perhaps we won’t be able to recognize. Twenty five years is long enough for us to realize just how much has changed – due to technology – in such a short period of time and how profoundly wrong Professor Robert Gordon of Northwestern University is, in his famously curmudgeonly (nay, Hancockian) anti-technology perspectives. The years between 1870 and 1940 were undoubtedly transformative – the core of Professor Gordon’s argument – but to dismiss the last 70 years – the Information Age – and particularly the years since Graham Taylor was sacked as England manager as chopped liver - which the Professor does - seems plain eccentric.
I bet if Arthur Pring did come back today he’d look around and be amazed. “Stone me, what a life,” he’d declare, channeling his inner Hancock. He’d text his pals at Wasps Rugby Club, and FaceTime his wife back at HQ. Maybe he’d re-up his subscription to the Telegraph app with Bitcoin. And maybe he’d like to try swiping right. (He was always tickled by the rugby toast, “Wives and Girlfriends. May they never meet.”) Yes, I think he’d be impressed. Stone me, what a science fiction life – made real - indeed...