Last year on our flight to America, my boys were looking forward to the Pac-Man knockoff game on the in-flight entertainment system before we even boarded. My daughter remembered which movies she had watched two flights before. She had just turned six, and was about to take her fourth trip over the Atlantic.
This was not my childhood.
My children have seen, tasted, and experienced things that I had only read about at their age. They’ve travelled to cities I had never heard of, and even in our own home have grown used to technology I had only seen in science fiction. The future I used to read about is their everyday reality, but that’s not all: My children have tasted more deeply of the past as well. I grew up in a ‘young’ country, but they treat the ruins of local castles like old friends. The signs of age are all around us in Ireland, in stone walls, cottages, ancient streets and even the crest of Queen Victoria on post boxes, still showing through the green paint on top of the old British red.
I’m thankful that my children have these things. I think it’s great that they can travel at insane speeds over the ocean while playing on a touch screen and then return to life in a town that grew up beside a Norman castle. Knowing these things as a regular part of their lives can help them gain a wider perspective on the world and their place in its history. But I also recognise that the advantages won’t be automatic. The internet is full of much more than just fun and useful information. Technology has brought as many curses as it has blessings, and my children will have to learn to navigate this minefield much earlier than I did. That’s difficult, and dangerous. A wrong turn could lead them down a rabbit-hole of filth, or trading messages with a disaster in disguise. The future can be terrifying, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to hide in the ruins of the past. Certainly, the mouldering monuments of the ancient Celts have a lot to teach us, if we’ll learn. But many of their stories are sad. The injustices of the past are written in the lines of these awe-inspiring stones, refusing to be erased.
It’s the same every direction we look, a mix of wonder and horror. It’s the same every direction we look, people. It was people who populated the past, and filled it with love and desire and hate and war and abuse and kindness. Looking around today, not much has changed. It is people who populate the internet, and fill it with all the same things. Even after all these years, we’re still people. Good, bad, jealous, passionate, self-sacrificing, self-serving people.
I know my children have some advantages that I didn’t have, but I also know they are made of the same stuff we’re all made of, whether Vikings or Celts or members of the European Union. I’m happy for them to use sci-fi tech as they climb the ruins, but I won’t deny I want more for them. I don’t just want them to know history, I want them to know what history means. I don’t just want them to have technology, I want them to know what these things are for. I want them to know what makes villains villainous, and heroes heroic. I want them to know what it means to be a human, made in the image of God. Experience alone won’t teach them this. Meaning is not the result of more experience, and purpose isn’t the product of more access to information. I want them to have the experiences and learn the history, but I want much more for them to have a solid foundation that will launch them to use their experience and knowledge for good. I know that’s mostly going to involve hard, intentional work in the quiet unimpressive moments of home life, but I’m still thankful for the castles and airplanes.