Given how quickly the world is changing technologically, economically and politically, what wisdom can you extend, oh aged ones?
That is the question underpinning this month’s Observer cover story, “Dear Grandkids
.” In it, six prominent Canadian authors pen letters to their grandchildren. They are David Suzuki, Sally Armstrong, Margaret Atwood, Rudy Wiebe, Wayne Grady and Frances Itani.
In each letter, the grandparents reveal their depth of feelings for the newest generations, from Armstrong’s warm familial frolics to Atwood’s brew of despondency and hope.
But what none of them know — or can know — is what circumstances their grandchildrens’ lives will be lived in. Will the medium-term future be an extension of our current times? Or something completely different?
Futurism is an art, not a science, of course. Still, in thinking about what wisdom you might articulate for your own grandchildren, consider these five predictions for the world that your grandchildren may inhabit as adults. 1. Pandemic disease is comingBook:
Sonia Shah’s 2016 Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond Prediction:
Through globalization, urbanization and other changes, humans will cause perfect circumstances for more pandemics. Grandparents’ experience:
The 20th century saw terrifying waves of global diseases, from the Spanish Flu to polio and HIV/AIDS, but also the near-eradication of others thanks to public health efforts. Wisdom: Vaccinate?
Move north of 60? Wash your hands? 2. The elite will survive climate changeBook:
Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2017 novel, New York 2140 Prediction:
Manhattan will be flooded as sea levels rise
, but otherwise, the world’s culture and financial capital carries on, unfazed. Grandparents’ experience:
Climate change only became a “thing” in the past 20 years or so, and even now, it largely affects the developing world.Wisdom:
Stay rich? Fight for emission standards? Seek justice?
3. Privacy is soooo 20th centuryBlog: 2050.earth
, a 2017 project by futurist think tank Kapersky Lab Prediction:
Augmented reality glasses will let others learn about you by simply looking at you. Constant surveillance will be the norm. Grandparents’ experience:
By the turn of the millennium, the Internet brought the best and the worst of shared information, from electronic medical records to identity theft. Wisdom:
Go off-grid? Keep your nose clean and succumb to it?4. Wealth won’t come from workBook:
Thomas Picketty's Capital in the 21st Century
“Patrimonial capitalism” — Picketty’s phrase for an economic system largely driven by inheritance rather than salaries — is on the upswing. The rich will get richer based on the luck of their birth. Working wages
will stagnate and decline.Grandparents’ experience:
Post-WWII unions and a thriving resource economy created a generation of relatively wealthy wage-earners and property-owners in Canada. Wisdom:
Don’t fritter away your inheritance? Invest? Rage for living wages?
5. Congregations will mutateBooks:
Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretic
s (2013) versus Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
Liberal Christianity will change — perhaps into a reinvigourated post-institutional movement (Butler Bass) — or it’ll desiccate toward death (Douthat).Grandparents’ experience:
Today’s grandparents witnessed the vibrancy of liberal Christianity
, which reached its height between the 1950s and 1970s, and its profound influence on public policy. Plus, its rapid decline in attendees, resources and influence since the 1980s. Wisdom:
Get your bums in pews? Build labyrinths? Pray?