My father was born in 1897 and lived to be almost 90. I often marvel at the magnitude of change to which he and his generation had to adapt in a lifetime that started when Victoria was still on the throne, involved active service in two world wars, and spanned almost a century.
Many of the changes that they faced have become an accepted part of our lives, at least for us who are fortunate to live in the richer countries. As they grew up, it became increasingly normal to be able to live in a house with constant access to clean water; with electrification, first to provide light and then to power a widening range of gadgets; and with a telephone to be in touch with far-away people. Then came the growing individual ownership of cars and so a gradual expansion of the range over which it was easy to travel independently. Somewhat later, the aeroplane was invented and, within a few decades, became a hugely popular means of travel for businessmen and holiday-makers alike.
Such advances in technology had beneficial impacts on people’s lives, making them more comfortable, enabling them to travel more easily and further, and facilitating their contacts with each other. The novelties were quite easily absorbed by those who could afford to buy them.
I suggest that one of the many factors that prompted almost two thirds of Britain’s over 65’s to vote in the recent referendum to “leave” the EU could be that the pace of technology change, its increasing complexity for users and the related adjustments in behaviour are accentuating the communications gap between young and old.
The nature of technology advances in my parents’ heydays was generally quite simple and so they were easily accessible to both old and young. By this, I mean that none required any very specialised operating skills – for instance to switch on a light, to pull the plug in a lavatory, or even to drive a car.
It struck me this morning, after I had struggled for hours to get my computer back “on line”, that I was becoming increasingly hopeless in being able to keep up with the speed of change in “modern” technology. This is hardly surprising because Moore’s Law tells us that the pace of technology generation accelerates exponentially, while, in contrast, now that I am in my mid-70s, my mental capacity to cope with complex problems may be on a downward spiral!
The very rapid changes in communication technologies, especially those relating to mobile phones, are picked up with the greatest of ease by the young and are inducing fundamental adjustments in social relationships and values within their own age groups. But for many older people, like me, the idea of plunging into the world of Facebook and Twitter and of keeping up with a constant flow of text messages has little appeal.
It may, therefore, be that one of the reasons for the contrasting voting behaviour of young and old during the EU Referendum, is that many of us in the older generation are excluding ourselves from the electronic dialogues amongst the young that may have contributed to most of them voting “remain”.
Hopefully, the next wave of new communication technologies will come more slowly and be so simple to use that the digital divide between young and old will narrow and they will find themselves back in easy contact and hence more likely to be on the same wavelength when it comes to deciding our common future.
Young people hold the key to Britain’s future, but their elders have blocked the keyhole
There are 14 million grandparents in the UK. This means that around three quarters of the 18.7 million Britons who are over 54 years old are grandparents. Since the early 1940s, when we were both born, there has been a huge change in the role of grand-parents in the family. Now that most mothers go out to work, grandparents play a hugely important function in helping in grandchild care. One in four working families depends largely on grandparents for child care, a service valued at £17 billion per year.
Most grandparents, even if they don’t take on a carer’s role, sense a feeling of great joy when their first grandkid appears on the scene. Most of them eagerly look forward to spending time with their grandchildren. From our own experience as newish grandparents, we know what fun and how fascinating it is to watch them growing from crawling to walking and to uttering their first words; to read them bedtime stories, to play football together. It won’t be long before our grandson makes us feel like stone-agers as he quickly becomes a master of modern communications.
Some “grans” find their new role stressful and exhausting, especially if they feel that they are being “used” as baby-sitters by their children, mainly to save money.
The bonds of affection that develop between children and their grandparents are deep and usually last for life. It is natural for grandparents, who have escorted their charges to and from school, to remain interested in their education and in their unfolding careers. One in four mortgages in Britain is partially financed by the buyer’s grandparents. Not surprisingly, many grandchildren stay close to their grandparents as they age.
Given the depth of this relationship between old and young it is surprising that each group voted so differently in the EU referendum. Around two thirds of the grandparent generation – the over 65s – voted to “leave” the EU, while over 70% of their voting grandchildren (18 to 24 years old) signalled their wish to “remain”. More than half of those aged between 25 and 49 – the parent generation – also voted to “remain”, presumably thinking that this would be the best outcome for millions of their children.
The fact that the “leave” camp scored most votes means that, unless there is a change of heart before a Brexit deal is sealed, our children and grandchildren will have to lead their whole lives, locked into a future that they clearly did not want. When we look back on the close relationships we have enjoyed with our offspring, it is easy to grasp why they are now so perplexed that we who face just a few more years of life should have trapped them into a future outside the EU.
Neither protests nor incitements to violence by hot-headed young “remainers” will help to resolve the issue.
We are pretty sure that few grandparents deliberately intended to block the aspirations of their offspring to stay in the EU. Even if they wish to stick to their personal views on the issue, this should not stop grandparents from signalling their respect for the aspirations of the younger generations of their family and from admitting that greater weight should given to the expressed hopes of the young at a time when the referendum results are translated into proposed actions.
This gesture alone will go a very long way towards healing the deep inter-generational splits within families that are so disturbing to those of us who place a high value on family harmony and happiness.
Perhaps our fellow grandparents, when they reflect on how to assure their grandchildren a fairer deal, should bear in mind that already our children are the main contributors to our pensions and to the NHS. If we act sensibly, they may even care for us in our final days!
We owe them a lot.
A Legacy of Divisions and Uncertainties
For many of us the EU referendum vote and its follow-up have been deeply disturbing. We have had a lot of sleepless nights.
It has created huge tensions between people who voted in different directions, leaving a legacy of split families, strained friendships and divided communities. It has stirred up resentment and distrust in our normally tolerant society.
The Future of Britain Hangs on the Younger Generations
How the British government translates the verdict of the EU referendum of 23rd June into action will have a fundamental effect on the lives of British people, not just today or tomorrow, but for many years to come.
One of the striking things about the referendum is that most older people voted emphatically to “leave” and most younger voters made it very clear that they wished to “remain” in the EU.