Reflections on change, mortality, and technology

by Jennifer Vesperman

Tomorrow I go up to Brisbane (Australia) to see my dying grandmother.

She was born in the first decade of the 20th Century, and was a young mother during the Great Depression. She remembers hearing her first radio and seeing her first car.

I was born the year man walked on the moon. I remember seeing my first VCR, and watching the first Space Shuttle mission. It's not exactly the same thing as major technological changes go.

She grew up and got married in a time when the husband paid all the bills. If the bills weren't paid, the tradesman who came to shut off the gas expected that Nan didn't know the bill hadn't been paid, and would come back tomorrow to see if she'd managed to get money from her husband. That was normal. When my grandfather divorced her, she had to be taught how to write a cheque. Later, she had to learn to cope with ATMs.

I'm a programmer and a writer. I earn my own money, negotiate my own contracts, and know the difference between stocks and bonds. If my bills aren't paid, it's my problem.

By the time she was my age, my Nan had two daughters. She would have two more, later. Her parents helped her choose her husband, and she would have had no financial security if she hadn't married.

I have access to reliable, reasonably safe birth control. I am married, but if I had not chosen to, noone would have even raised an eyebrow.

She doesn't know how to use a computer, and even if she were well enough, probably wouldn't try.

I'm writing a book that neither she nor any of her children will understand. Some of her other grandchildren will, though.

She's proud of me.

I'm proud of her.

I'm also grateful to her and her generation, and to my parents' generation.

Nan supported Grandad, in an era without takeaway food or washing machines. In an era when drying the clothes in winter meant putting them in front of the fireplace even if everyone was cold.

Grandad helped develop the towns and cities that I have lived in. His generation built irrigation systems, road networks, rail networks, and housing that I rely on now.
My parents' generation built electrical infrastructure, and improved on the systems Grandad and his contemporaries put in place.

Now its our turn. We're relying on our parents and grandparents' work. We're building communications, and turning it into infrastructure.

And thanks to our parents and grandparents, we can do it without tying half the population to copper washbasins and wood stoves. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd rather be coding!

Thanks, Nan.

I love you.

Die peacefully, and know you are loved and will be missed.

I am interested in discussion of the legacy our parents and grandparents provided us, and on building on that legacy.


2002-12-05 09:58:59
Reflections on change, mortality, and technology
I am reticent to view the legacy of the previous generations through such rose colored glasses.
(and I am not so sure about my own generation either) Racism, colonialism, Slavery, cultural imperalism, and an ecology in disarray are also part of the legacy.

I think what is to be learned is that many of the decisions of the past were self-serving, venal, and capricious. These decisions have led to much bloodshed and hatred. The issues I mentioned above have given us a world of haves and have-nots who often see each other as enemies. The current terrorist campaign is most likely an outgrowth of this legacy.

What is probably most apparent today is the need to accomodate others who may not have the ability or desire to change at the current required rate. Forcing others to change because one believes it is "right" does not work. We need to remember that there are winners and losers in every game. Mitigating the disadvantage to the loser is a very effective strategy to lessen conflict, especially when the game is about economic survival. This is a lesson of the past, that I would hope we are learning.

2002-12-09 18:42:36
Reflections on change, mortality, and technology
Trust me, if this had been about my grandfather or my grandparents on the other side, the rose-coloured glasses would have been off.

I just happen to love my Nan, and she was responsible for raising four daughters during the transition from a society with strong gender roles to a society where the social ideal is gender-equality (and race-equality, and various etceteras). I think she did a good job, overall.

That said, she was also the wife of a man who would 'develop' natural areas and put housing on them. In that era, they had no appreciation for mangrove swamp or ti-tree (leptospermum) scrub. We're paying for that now.

We - particularly the intelligentsia of our generation - tend to spend a lot of time bemoaning the legacy we have. I just wanted, needed, to spend a moment thanking them for the things they did do right. And thanking them for the cultural change they created and accepted, that has given me the chance to be a tech.

2002-12-18 07:40:06
Reflections on change, mortality, and technology
I apologize if my comments were in any way an afront. I did not wish nor intend to suggest that your loss is any less painful. Nor is it my place to judge others.
2002-12-19 07:30:22
Reflections on change, mortality, and technology
No, you're fine. You made a perfectly valid criticism of my article. It was biased, and unapologetically so. I just didn't state the bias, and should have.

Jenn V.

2002-12-21 07:58:54
Nan died yesterday
Nan died yesterday (Dec 20), peacefully and quickly and in her sleep.

Just for those who might want to know.