December 31, 2034
Not having it all: journal of a fortysomething's juggling act
Phoebe has been writing since she was a teenager. Now 44, she is a single mother of nine-year-old Willa and lives in a gated community in Pembrokeshire, where she is a post-technology stress counsellor. She abandoned her job as a software support worker after witnessing a stress-induced suicide online.
In her search for a more peaceful life, she rekindled her relationship with her father, Max, now 66 and working as a consultant for the Iron John movement, promoting the importance of masculine strength. Her mother, Anna, lives in London, from where she maintains electronic contact with her many friends.
Phoebe's best friend, Naïma, is a member of the government think-tank on the future of the Global Federation. Her brother, Tacitus, 33, after 10 years working in China with his wife, Zen, and a bout of anorexia linked to his gender-role crisis, moved to the northeast of England. Despite government incentives - lower taxes and sponsorships - they have decided not to have children.
Just the tiniest nod in the direction of New Year resolve...
Really try harder to be loving, patient, earth-motherly type I always planned to be (but without the big bottom and associated dress sense), instead of shrieking, harassed harridan with horrible glittery eyes from staring too long at plasma flexi-screen.
It's a mystery to me why none of us has any time, except possibly Naïma, because a) she has no children and b) she has full-time human - not cyber - assistants to run round after her.
My mother swears she never had any time either (and that was in an age when buses still ambled slowly through the countryside and people got on and off them and even said hello to each other). We zip here and there faster almost than light, we have every kind of voice-activated appliance so that we can barely hear ourselves think in own kitchens and yet still there's no time. It's all been vacuumed up and is kicking its heels in another dimension.
The only other explanation is that although we thought we wanted all this advance 20 years ago, none of it is working. None of us can handle the download of information, the vast choice, the instant communication. Dad said that when he was growing up it took two weeks for a letter to get to South America. Imagine!
Well, no, I can't imagine, and Willa looks at him as if a few lights have gone out upstairs. She finds the concept of a letter hugely amusing. At nine years old she has her own mobile terminal which puts her in instant face-to-face contact with her father and friends all over the world; also all manner of terrestrial and extraterrestrial broadcasting, not all of it suitable.
The point of being here is that life is simpler. But in practice it's been hard to set up. It is actually very hard nowadays to find a domestic appliance which doesn't shriek its own demands as you cross its path. My cooler has turned into a metal monster, constantly reminding me it is too cold in here because I've disengaged from the communal heating system. The computer terminals are alive day and night, giving off all kinds of lethal rays, no matter what the experts claim.
Dad, who has some kind of ideological block, says a commune, by definition, must involve one or more of the following: mud, dogs on ropes, lentil bakes and inadequate sanitation. He finds our clean, reductionist living spaces amusing. If he really wants to annoy, he brings up the Cambridge Peeceeniks.
I mean, really: if anyone here grew a beard they'd be voted out of the community. The main thing is that the regime we've developed is working. People suffering from overstimulation mend much quicker if they're taken back to an almost primitive state.
Dad has been very helpful in sourcing comfy Dralon sofas from the 1980s for the treatment areas and he has even come up with an old Bush radio which can be tuned to only six stations out of the 30,962 on air. What we've tried to do is to reduce choice. For people suffering from sensory overload, it's like being in heaven.
Dad's got really excited about it, actually. It's made me realise how much I'd forgotten of my own childhood. Most of my own generation have ended up dispossessed and I worry for Willa. Case in point. As I dictate diary, I am monitoring Islam OnLine on the flexi-screen, running my eyes over last month's income and expenditure panel (now pulled out in blue, to make me feel calmer - some chance) while simultaneously mopping up nasty fluorescent crumbs left by Willa. Is it any wonder I'm exhausted?
Willa and her friend Tabby are hooked, like all children, on Hydramax - a disgusting tasteless mush to which they add colours and flavours (of course, artificial: these are children of the Organic Generation; how else would they torture their parents?) then they mould the nasty stuff into gross approximations of the worst junk food. Tonight it's... oh my God... Willa, HOW CAN YOU EAT THAT???
Well, it looks like a Big Mac. I'll say no more. It's so disgusting.
Fortunately, Willa is reorienting well to the change in her schedule. Taking her out of mainstream school has been a good move. It was the DNA testing that did it. It's fascistic to stream children so early on. And it's so linear, which of course is the way of all government directives. It ignores the fact that children are human beings with all kinds of skills to offer. Nobody's getting their hands on my child's DNA; nor mine for that matter.
Mother was apoplectic, of course. Told me I'd become unhinged (she only says this because she knows I'm working with Dad) and that Willa will end up a strange and lonely little girl. Where does she get her ideas? The concept of school is almost invalid. Willa has tons of friends and she gets everything she needs from her interactive computer program. Tass and Zen are coming next week, Tass for a bit of R&R. I know it's disloyal of me to say, but it's obvious that Tass is genetically arranged; despite his IQ, he has absolutely zilch in the leadership skills department and is frankly psychologically unsound.
When Willa asks me why she hasn't got designer DNA, I intend to tell her that it was a decision taken as a result of her mother's extraordinary vision and foresight. It sounds rather better than "Darling, you were the result of rampant lust and contraceptive breakdown."
Over that I think we'll draw a veil...
Next week: More worrying about Willa ... and ditching Mother Nature
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