I’m Sending My Daughter To The 22nd Century
A few weeks ago, my dad told us a story about his first words. In 1948, when he was three, he’s just learned how to say the word “truck”. But he was also three, so it didn’t always come out right — instead sputtering out as “fuck.”
This had a very different set of stakes in 1948, as one can imagine.
My dad likes to joke about how, when Hitler heard he’d been born in spring 1945, he’d opted suicide rather than live in a world with him in it.
Time, and lifetimes, are odd things; our culture tends to draw stark lines between eras, our memories often have clear lines between one decade and the next.
The war — not just any war, the war — could not be further from me, in feeling or in time. If no one had told me about it, I’d never have known it happened, and the lessons of that war seem to be wearing away beneath the march of experience. Yet my dad has a real link to it, if fleeting, as he has a link, and real memories, of a time in which swear words in public were risky.
My daughter, Evie, will be one at the end of the month, and as her first birthday comes up I think about the century she’s been cast towards. Lifetimes cross and pass through so much: someone born in 1880, for example, could well have gone all the way to 1960 or 1970. Imagine being old during the 1960s. For that matter, imagine being a Civil War veteran as the Great Depression raged and Nazism took control of Europe — as these vets, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Gettysburg, were in 1938.
For Evie, I’m optimistic; I’m giving her until 90. That’ll put her just across the threshold of the next century, to 2107 or so, and the concept that she might get there blows my mind.
I’m a lot less deterministic in what I want for her. There isn’t a 21st-century archetype that I’m hoping she’ll fulfill. But there are opportunities I hope she has as time wears on. She can take them or ignore them; that’s up to her.
Borders mattered a great deal to much of my father’s life; an Iron Curtain divided Europe, colonial empires siphoned wealth within clean boundaries. A passport was almost exotic for much of his life, until intercontinental travel tech and shifting world geopolitics made once off-limits lands open to exploration. They have mattered less to me; Evie is half Kiwi by citizenship, and so she has the chance to simply pick a flight and ditch America for New Zealand if she likes. I don’t quite have that option; for her, a border will not matter.
I hope that borders weaken further for her — both because of tech and politics. I know we’re going through this nationalist-isolationist phase right now, but I can’t see that lasting. Maybe I don’t want to. Should the world bring back its Iron Curtains, it would be cheating Evie of choice.
I hope, too, that identity matters less to her — that her overall humanity is valued more than the cultural boxes we assign to one another. I don’t want her to have to spend endless hours in high school and college explaining her position on race — we’ll probably teach her she doesn’t have one — as lines of people ask the question of “What are you?” or, perhaps worse, say “No, you’re __________ because you look like one.” I hope she doesn’t have a bunch of amateur phrenologists looking her over and assigning her a category behind her back.
I hope that her generation rediscovers, even embraces, the value of community. My generation was one of cliques, of social atomization, retreat into quiet suburbs where neighbors rarely talk to one another. I don’t expect her to wade into this trend; she can atomize if she likes. But I had less of an opportunity to withdraw from the greater whole; when I was growing up, it barely existed.
I also hope she’s freed from much of the economic slavery we’ve self-imposed on us. We have conquered much of scarcity, and so to keep ourselves busy we have invented tasks, digging up and then filling in metaphorical holes, to propel an economy that still predicates itself on products. I hope she finds work as a means towards fulfillment, and I certainly hope she finds a work-life balance that means she age healthfully to the next century. I really hope her generation doesn’t become one of fanatic workaholics, chasing career and advancement and corner offices.
But most of all, I hope she’s spoiled for choice; I hope she gets to turn down wonderful things that I’d rush at. She might demur at a weekend on the moon; not, she might say, worth it compared to an orbital jaunt, which she might find more exhilarating. She might have a job offer in Siberia, and be told she can commute from New York, thanks to some space elevator or orbital daily shuttle. Perhaps she might even gain some kind of extra-national citizenship that gives her rights and opportunities in more countries than just New Zealand and the U.S.; perhaps she only visits a handful of the places she could simply because, she might say in the face of globalization, “all that’s different is the weather.” For that matter, perhaps she becomes part of some community’s beating cultural heart: perhaps, in the likely next Great Awakening that cycles through American history, she is part of the reformation of society, whatever that might be, in a deeply meaningful way. Or maybe she resists it, calls them lunatics, and votes against them in the 2050s.
Time is odd. If I’m lucky, this piece will last until one day Evie can read it and appreciate the sentiment. That almost certainly means waiting until her mid to late 20s, when her teenaged contrarianism will be cleared up and she’s already made real choices for herself. We’ll see.