The century overboard How do I think history will record the 21st century? As we always record the past: in a tangled way, and with mistakes. It will be dictated by a dictator in one country; in another, it will not be recorded at all, since the people there will not know how to write. Elsewhere, the 21st century will be recorded in the language of smiley faces. Or fakes. Or likes. Or by a hypertextual labyrinth, where the 21st century scatters over 1200 months or 36,500 days. But this would be no one’s age. No one’s history. Faceless. Indifferent. Impartial. Fixed in facts, photos, and someone’s quotations. Fixed in a new TV commercial. In a new GPS maps. In new Wikipedia articles. In new political agreements. In new memorial anniversaries dedicated to future victims of terror. This would be a century filled with the names of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, soccer players, and YouTube stars.
So, it would be a general history and therefore would belong to no one. A century that will pass us by. As if it were a huge ocean liner that passes by a man fallen overboard. I want to see the 21st century – but not from above, or from the waves below; I want to let it pass through us. I myself will not be able to do this. But my daughter will. Thus it will be her age. The 21st will be the century of my daughter, Manya.
The intersection My Manya was born last year. So she has already missed 15 years of the current century. Not a big deal, for literary and political centuries do not often match flawlessly with calendar ones. I hope she has the longevity genes from her father’s family and will live at least 90 years: like her great-grandmother Ivanka, who is now 91. And although Ivanka has problems with her short-term memory, she is still able to reconstruct the century through which she has lived. I watch my child sitting on her lap. Two centuries – the past and the future – overlapping for a brief moment. Great grandmother will already forget Manya in several minutes. At a year old, Manya will not yet remember her great grandmother. The intersection of time – a prime meridian, from which both will move on in the opposite direction.
One touch-contemporaneity My Manya has been delivered into this century without epidural anesthesia, though it would have made birthing easier. For many, the 21st century is the age of effortlessness. Beginning with childbirth and ending with ordering a pizza – just by a simple touch on a screen. Bon appétit! Enjoy your pizza. Another touch, and you’ve bought a car. Touch again – you’ve added the president as a Facebook friend. Divorced your wife. Hacked a bank. One more touch – and you’re out of the game. Such hocus-pocus. A century of touch-omnipotence.
My little Manya already understands this trick: she knows how to load a game or a cartoon on a tablet, like pulling a rabbit from a hat. Once she saw a butterfly outside the window. She quickly poked her little finger on the glass trying to shift the butterfly to the side, as if she were playing on a tablet. But the butterfly didn’t move. At all. She tried again. Nothing. Disappointed, she looked at me. Hocus-pocus didn’t work.
Most likely, the 21st century will be the age of disappointment in reality, as virtual reality seems to be much better. It’s more understandable. More customary. And much easier-to-use. We live in a time of touch-modernity. I don’t want my Manya to become a prisoner of two-dimensional images. I don’t want her to choose tricks. I want her to focus on the real. So that live butterflies flutter around her and sit on her tiny outstretched finger.
The age of GODgets While Manya sleeps, our smart baby monitor securely watches her. It’s my irreplaceable Techno-Cyclops. He informs me when my child is moving and crying; he indicates the level of humidity and the temperature in our baby’s room. My Cyclops sees clearly in the darkness, though he is not yet able to rock my child. My smartphone and tablet have become inseparable friends with him: they all provide me with reliable baby monitoring, no matter where I am. So my Manya is surrounded by ubiquitous gadgets. Her age is one of gadget pollution. Right now, it’s less painful to lose a passport than a smartphone. You just need to restore a few facts for a passport. However, with a lost gadget, you may irreversibly lose a great deal of your life, including contacts, notes, and photos. A smartphone is the best plaything for Manya. Not toy-like, but real. No one can fool her. She doesn’t yet realize, but rather feels, that it can link her to the entire world. She has decisively thrown blocks, Barbie dolls, and other toys into the playpen of the past. The 21st century is definitely the age of gadgeted kids: their gadgets turn into GODgets. This is also true for us overgadgeted adults, in fact.
Second screen century When I feed my little one, she is usually watching YouTube cartoons. Our cat Pixel and I, carrying a plate with pablum, become her second screen. Our world today is a second screen. If you’re active in social networks, you are alive. If you don’t show up there, you don’t exist. The current century is the age of digital shadows cast by their owners who sit in front of their computers. The age of avatars that are more significant than their creators. Avatars are more mobile. More elegant. More powerful. More perfect. And you are not. They are more “alive” than you are. Created in your own (better!) image. By one click of a mouse. And you are the Creator. They are our golems of the 21st century.
My sister is Manya’s godmother. The Atlantic Ocean separates us, so she communicates with us via Skype. At first, Manya looked behind the tablet, searching for my sister. Every time she looked, was surprised not to find her there. “No?” In confusion she shrugged her little shoulders. When they say goodbye to each other, Manya leans her forehead forward to the screen, so my sister can kiss her. She does not yet realize that a flat screen, 4,509 miles, and a seven-hour time difference separates the two of them. As for me, I can’t imagine how we managed to live without Skype.
I am curious how my Manya will react to her godmother when she sees her in the flesh for the first time. Not on a tablet looking-glass. Not two-dimensional. Not reduced. For Manya, her godmother on a tablet here in Lviv is more realistic than the real one in Toronto. The screen compensates and constructs a new reality. Technically transferred across the Atlantic. Synchronized. Colorful. Mobile. Compact. Easy to manipulate. After all, Manya can easily turn her godmother off and turn her favorite cartoon on.
The age of techno-exhaustion The 21st century might become the age of techno-exhaustion. At that point, my Manya will log off Skype and go outside to watch the sky. She will go beyond the illuminated city to see the glow of the stars on a nocturnal horizon. Not so bright. Not so close. But real. With no switches or a dependence on current and coverage. Off-the-grid tourism might become the most popular attraction in the 21st century; people will crave vacations with no wires or wi-fi. I hope my Manya will travel to the remote Carpathian Mountains. There, she’ll walk barefoot on the knotgrass. Drink water from a spring. Her number will not be available at that moment. So, like every devoted mother, I’ll be worried.
There may also be exhaustion from the techno lie. From accounts without owners. From millions of Facebook friends with few real ones. From millions of likes, but few of them sincere. From an avalanche of messages with few essential ones. From love without hugs. From a hundred upcoming years of solitude – either on or off the Net. An age of fatigue from spam. From trolling. Verification of data. Revealing fakes. From an excess of backups. Even from data traffic speed. My Manya will have to deal with it. She’ll have to be able to choose. And I want her to prefer an apple to Apple. A word to Word. A window to Window(s). And an icon to icons.
The age of chemical agents From her very birth, Manya has been suffering from allergies. Her tender skin breaks out in red spots because of diapers, water, and food, though I buy the best for her. Most of my friends have the same problem. There was no such thing problem during our youth, my parents say. Probably, they were healthier in their century – at least before the Chernobyl disaster. The 21st century is packed with chemicals. This is the age of bread that does not go stale. Milk that does not go sour. Strawberries that do not spoil. Apples without worms. Watermelons without seeds. And a life without taste.
While we were on our vacation this summer, we bathed Manya in the Black Sea, but only in the morning. After an evening dip, she became completely covered in spots. First, I couldn’t understand why. Later I realized the evening sea had become a mixture of sunscreen, tanning lotions, sprays, and oils. Manya was swimming in chemical agents. Thus, the age of my Manya will resemble a seashore without a real sea.
Homo selfie I don’t trust this age because it is too self-admiring. Has there been any single century as narcissistic as the current one? If yes, not as massively. Not as absurd. I am curious as to which century the Me-Me-Me-Generationbelongs. Its head and body may have remained in the frame of the 20th century. But the selfie stick held in its hands has made its way into the next shot, that of the 21st century. The next frame crosses into Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting, “The Blind Leading the Blind.” With just one difference: there are smartphones on each of their sticks. The most interesting selfie should be captured by a person who is already falling into a precipice. He will probably manage to post it on Instagram or on Facebook, and will even manage to catch a few dozen likes. I want to cut the last shot out of the film tape of the 21st century. I want to draw those blind men’s eyes in Photoshop so they can see the precipice and turn back. But the inertia of their inner blindness and self-infatuation is incurable. It leads them directly to their precipice. Homo Selfie has no eyes to see ahead. His/her eyes are turned around only to look at himself/herself and fail to see the abyss under his/her very nose.
My Manya is now in her mirror stage. Her selfie stage will come later on. I hope she will not become infected by selfie-mania. I hope she will look around with fascination at the world outside herself. I hope she will seek her reflection in the eyes of her future beloved. Or will play with it on the mirror of a mountain lake while looking into the water from a fishing boat. She’ll carry not a selfie stick but a simple fishing rod in her hands, and if good luck holds, a mirrored carp will take the bait.
To go, or not to go? I wonder what kind of generation Manya’s will be. Presumably, it will be a time of anchortechs: it will be possible to live your entire life without leaving your room-cell. You will get your education via the Net. Work at home. Turn your home into an office. A museum. A library. A cinema. A restaurant. There will be no need to go out. Never be late. Never lose your keys. Never forget your umbrella while it’s raining. Never be crunched by a crowd in the metro at rush hour. Never be stuck in a traffic jam. Never be stuck in the elevator. Never be robbed on the street. Never wait for a taxi. Never iron an office suit. Never break your high heels. Never be a passive smoker. Never be a person-on-the-go. So, would one remain human at all? What would happen to bees if they stopped flying out of their cells to collect honey? The worst thing I suppose – their wings would atrophy.
I don’t want my Manya to lose her wings. Wings are what make us human beings. I don’t want her to become a prisoner of her cell. I want her to forget her umbrella while it’s raining. To lose her keys. To be late. To take coffee-to-go. To break her high-heels. I also want her to ride a horse. To fly on a hot-air balloon. To hold her beloved’s hand. While watching the night sky she’ll argue with him over which constellation corresponds most to its particular strange name.
The “Battefly” Effect I want to believe that my Manya’s century will be an age of love that will lead to mutual understanding. An age of knowledge that will lead to wisdom. An age of belief that will lead to hope. Whatever inventions it would be characterized by, whatever cataclysms, wars, TV commercials, or GPS maps, the soul of the next century depends on us.
When my Manya saw a butterfly outside the window for the second time, she put her tablet away and approached the window, and cheerfully exclaiming to me: “Battefly-Battefly!” (she wasn’t able to pronounce the word “butterfly” correctly yet). The battefly quivered its golden filigree wings with black veins in the sun. This time Manya didn’t try to move it aside like on a touch screen – she examined it with an admiration from inside of our room-cell on the fifth floor. I want this butterfly to remain in Manya’s memory for her entire life, as if preserved in a piece of amber. So that a recollection of this very emotion will remain eternally powerful; will remind her to choose the real instead of the artificial. And so that the “Battefly” effect, from this very moment on, will initiate a chain of positive events in Manya’s life.
Our 91-year-old great grandmother Ivanka resists letting the 21st century into her memory – she stubbornly intends to live out her days in her own past. Manya grows bored on her lap. She carefully climbs down, says “bye-bye” to her great grandmother, and runs up to me. She grabs me by the hand and pulls me behind her. Toward her own century, the 21st century.