More on writing to the 7th generation

While I was at Camp Unistar this summer, I wrote a letter to my first grandchild to reach the age of 18. It’s an introduction to this project. Next summer I plan to write the next letter in the series, to the other grandchildren. (It’s on the computer, so each grandchild will get a copy.) After that I’ll write one every year to a subsequent generation.

When I’m done writing the letters, I’ll make printouts and stuff them in envelopes within envelopes within boxes, so that my grandchildren will each get a box of letters for his or her descendants. Then my great grandchildren will open their boxes (given by their parents) to find letters for their children, and so on. With each letter there will be some knickknack or photo from the 20th century (or early 21st); each one will be different, so there should be some excitement to see what is enclosed.

I targeted my first letter for the mid-21st century, assuming my children (4 and 6 years old) will start to have children in about 25 years (2035) who will open the letters on their 18th birthday (2053, give or take 10 years.) It’s hard to figure out how to address people 40 years from now; it’s as if I’d gotten a letter from 1950 on my 18th birthday. Fortunately we can still understand letters from the 1950s pretty easily. People still watch Laurel and Hardy from the 1920s and 30s. Once you go a few more generations, things start to get weird.

At what point will people still be using web browsers as we know them? Will this blog entry still be accessible in 2200? Will there be another world war? What words will have gone out of fashion? Will the language have become more formal, or less? Will we still need to brush our teeth? And most important, what advice can I give to an 18 year old which will still be relevant? (Studying advice for college, perhaps? Will they have college? Will my best advice be outdated by scientific discoveries?)

I think about things differently now. I wonder how long things will last in terms of generations. Since one of the goals of this project has been to alter my perspective, it’s a success so far.

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One thought on “More on writing to the 7th generation

  1. Maybe you should skip the advice entirely. I’m having a hard time imagining ANY life advice written in the year 1800 which might be relevant today, other than really bland stuff like “treat people well.” It’s hard enough getting our own kids to listen to our advice, so what’s the point in trying to give advice to people 200 years in the future?

    On the other hand, it’s fun to contemplate our perspectives in the context of the grand sweep of history–in 50 years, World War II will seem as remote as the Cvil War seems to us, and your grandkids might enjoy hearing about it from the perspective of our own parents’ experience. In 200 years’ time, the invention of the Internet will be as far in the past as the invention of the steam engine is to us.

    Another interesting question is which of our accomplishments today will seem remarkable even in 200 years? There’s pretty much nobody alive who knows how to fabricate by hand the tiny and intricate clockwork mechanisms from the 1700’s (why bother when you can use a laser cutter?). Similarly, apparently a significant amount of technology from the Apollo and Gemini missions is considered “lost” even today, since the engineers who built it are dying and they didn’t take the time to document a lot of the work in the rush to beat the Russians.

    As for this blog entry….it’s perhaps true that the Internet never forgets, but it does seem to develop Alzheimer’s at an alarming rate. If you want this to last 200 years, my advice would be to carve it on a stone tablet.

    (Speaking of laser cutters….)

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