As is often the case I feel the need to write something, although on this occasion I am less sure how this one is going to pan out. I have a number of things running round in my head this week, issues which I have a sneaking suspicion are somehow connected. I often find that writing about such ideas helps me to get them into a more coherent order, I guess that if you are reading this I have felt that I have succeeded.
So this week has seen a number of disparate things happen, which on their own do not seem to be that remarkable; nor do they seem to be particularly connected. For me the key event of the week was my eldest son turning eleven. Up to this point we had held off giving him a mobile phone, but realised that if we want him to be more independent having such a device would give him the confidence to spread his wings.
What is immediately apparent, even after two days, is how much this has added a different dimension to his life, for good or ill, enabling him to communicate with his friends out of school (it appears that some of these like being on their phones A LOT). Having read all the horror stories about the vulnerability of children online we have put a few ‘security’ and ‘monitoring’ measures in place… measures that his peers do not necessarily seem to have. It is these that I think link in with what else I have been thinking about this week so I will come back to it in a minute.
The next point involves the now venerable institution of ‘The Great British Bake Off‘*, a show which I find comfortingly British in nearly all the right ways. It is gentle and it has a traditional feel to it. Yet it is also inclusive and contemporary bringing in a mixture of themes that suggest a Britain that it outward looking, and having contestants that come from a variety of backgrounds. This week was ‘Vegan Week’, and although this clearly did not sit 100% well with one of the judges it does nevertheless recognise and mark a change in British culture.
When I was growing up we had meat or fish at nearly every meal. It fact it was not considered a meal without them. I gradually became aware of vegetarianism, but for me it was related very strongly to those ‘hippie’ shops that tended to smell of pachouli oil and/ or exotic spices. There were ‘alternative’ and tended to be outside my experience, and certainly not part of the mainstream. Over the years vegetarianism has become far more central, although I know that those who do not eat meal still often find restaurants to be frustrating places. Like with booze my intake of meat has declined gradually over the last few years, and I am also increasingly finding myself taking the next step into vegan food, which is why I found this episode of bake off to be so fascinating.
As a result, and this is becoming far more prevalent, alternatives to milk in particular are increasingly becoming available; and I am finding myself more and more trying soya, almond, oat and coconut milk; with a key motivator being the impact on the planet that these have in comparison to regular milk. We have also found a cracking vegan recipe book called ‘Bosh’* which is really transforming how we eat at home… and I have even baked my own vegan cake as a result…. very ‘Bake Off’
So what has this to do with my son getting a mobile phone, well just bear with me a little bit longer because before attempting to join up the dots I also want to refer to a couple of seemingly unrelated articles that I came across this week. The first reported findings that a third of under 25 year olds in the UK consider themselves to be tee total; and the other arguing that within ten years we will have ceased to be a car owning society. The latter had two images of Times Square in New York only thirteen years apart (see screenshot below) showing that in that period cars had almost completely taken over from horses. This was an incredible statistic that both shocked me and comforted me, because it was not very long before that there was general concern that travelling by car would cause all sorts of mental and physical damage that never came to pass. I took some solace from this imagining those who seem opposed to all change as the men with red flags walking in front of vehicles, the last gasp of an old society and soon to be replaced.
The article about the young drinking less also felt like a positive one to me, but nevertheless one that represents a massive change to our culture. When I was young the whole social scene revolved around alcohol (again referring back to my booze article), no doubt to the detriment of those who chose not to. At one time I would have found this move threatening, worried that those who did not drink ‘were not like me’; something that I hope that is no longer the case. After a while though this article also worried me, and this is where it links back round to my son with his mobile phone. Is this trend, I wondered, because young people are being let social, certainly in a face to face context? Are they not drinking because they are more isolated, sitting inside and communicating only through social media? And why was this a cause of concern to me?
So how do I bring this all together? Well, as I mention in every post, the key themes of this blog are balance, change and freedom and it seems to me that all these seemingly different perspectives can be viewed two ways. We retreat into our nostalgic bunkers and argue that it was not like that in our day, or we can embrace change and see the benefits.
To be honest I rather enjoy having the internet and can see many positives that it brings, I can see the benefits of becoming vegan and certainly do not miss meat when I do not have it. I have already largely embraced a life without alcohol, and am fully prepared to think that by the time my children are old enough to drive in ten years or so the internal combustion engine may well be on its way out.
Collectively just these four things represent a massive change to our lives, and our health. Each has the potential to grant us new freedoms, yet they also have the potential to overwhelm us. It is easy, I think, to get caught between the two; for instance in providing a child with a mobile phone and the fretting about the cans of worms that can be opened as a result.
So how can I sum this up? I guess it is to say that the future need not be scary, after all this was the future once. I feel that change can be good, but that we need to temper it with balance… we need to at least feel some element of control which I guess acts as a valve as we process the constant difference. A balance perhaps between becoming engulfed by chance and treating it as something ‘other’. I do not want to lose the past completely but, like my son with his new phone, I really want to keep in touch.
* I have not received anything for mentioning any products or programme in this post.
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