There are various points in one's life, where we perhaps think, 'I'm living through a specific point in history here...something that people in 100 years will be assessing and criticising as part of their social history degree'. I'm sure this is something people living through the two world wars and various occasions since the 1950's and 60's have pondered. The historical stuff also...walking on the Moon...key assassinations of public figures...various political highs and lows...natural disasters.
I guess the current, global Covid-19 outbreak puts us in a similar 'historical' pocket. How will we be judged by future societies and university professors? How will the choices of our world leaders be assessed by commentators, blessed with the 'wisdom' of hindsight that the onset of time affords them? How will our media be judged for their roles in how people think, act and express themselves during these uncertain times? Did they portray the mere facts alone, or was there a hidden agenda to scare the living shit out of their viewing audience by offering truckloads of speculation based on nothing more than fanciful whims?
Let's move forward to 2120. We're still here and have just about refused to blow ourselves into individual molecules due to various racial, religious & political indifference. Technology has improved massively, but it's still 113 years until the birth of James Tiberius Kirk in Riverside, Iowa, so there's still a way to go yet.
OK, we have flying cars now, although they are banned from public use, because a minority of people still believe that rules are for sissies and they can do what the hell they like. Hence, since the infamous 'Moron Pile-Up' of 2114, when 563 dumb people were mashed into one large, nightmare, metal sculpture whilst all trying to overtake a hover bus full of nuns on a tight bend in the Rocky Mountains, flying cars are restricted to government use, utilising a trained, sensible person as the sole pilot. A sensible policy, adopted by sensible people in sensible nations.
Yes, of course, less sensible folk from every country protested! Dammit, it was their right to do what the hell they wanted and how dare officialdom take away their precious liberties?!! Whose right was it to let people take the chance of an early, painful, agonising death from them anyway???
What kind of fascist Nazi allows this madness to occur???
What kind of country is this and where the hell did we go wrong???
Teenage martyrs shall berate their parents for existing in this ridiculous age of the 22nd Century and write meaningful (if delusional) poetry about being born back in the golden days of the early 21st century, when society was free, world leaders were wise beyond words and people knew everything there was to know.
So, it's 2120. We're somewhere in California, at the 'Robin William Memorial University For The Development Of People Who Shine Their Light Into The World' (the 'RWMUFTDOPWSTLITW' for short) and Professor Schwarzenegger is standing before 300 eager students in a social history class. He turns to his class and smiles.
'In our previous lesson, we looked at the Victorians from 1839 to 1901 and discussed how they loved to portray themselves as the archetypes of dignity, morality and ethics, whilst also being the most perverted group of humans since the glory days of Nero and Caligula. Today, we're going to explore a little closer to home and discuss the world in 2020'.
Several eyes shall roll toward the ceiling. Oh God, not this again...haven't we covered this already, sir? This stupid time period comes up in every damn test paper!
But Professor Schwarzenegger's facial expression shall remain adamant.
'I vant...sorry, I mean I want to explore this from a psychological perspective'.
Further rumblings, but the stocky professor digs in his chic army boot heels and continues.
'Why was this period of time so different to...let's say...someone born in 1963? A 'boomer' was the term used for such a person a century ago. So, what was different to someone born in...say...1999...known as a 'millennial'?'
A few hands raise up; more from a resigned urge to get this over and done with so that they could get back to those fruity Victorians and all the creative ways that they hid their perversions away from mainstream, respectable society.
'Yo...it was technology, sir!' The professor shall nod.
'Yessss! Technology! Exactly this! Well done, Stallone Junior! Let us imagine a scenario. It is 1974. We are in merry, olde England'. The class groans.
'But sir...since the Populist Uprising of 2024, aren't they're all communists over there?'
The professor shall wave his hands dismissively and continue.
'In some murky pub of East London, in the United of Kingdoms, a man is seated at a table. He wears what is known as a flat cap upon his head and he speaks not unlike our beloved entertainer, and former President, Dick Van Dyke, who recently celebrated his 195th birthday. Let us call him...Bert. Bert has had many ales and is feeling merry, if not a tad mischievous, because this is highly typical of your average British cockney dude.'
The class shall begin to guffaw.
'Did he have bad teeth, sir? I bet he did!'
'Did he look like a horse, sir?'
'Did he drink warm beer, sir?
'Did he wear a monocle and have a butler, sir?'
'Did he say "ain't" a lot, sir? I bet he did!'
Professor Schwarzenegger continues.
'Thus, Bert raises from his cheaply fashioned pub chair and decides to air his views on life, the universe and everything. There are maybe 20 people in the pub and each can hear Bert as he begins his tirade. He shouts out into the air about the matters which concern him the most...his job security...immigration policies...the state of the National Health System...why his local football team, the 'Western Hammers', are a 'useless bunch of one-legged, dopey wannabes' and why no woman has deigned to be physically within 6 inches of his erogenous zones since that wild, 1968, Tuesday evening in the back of the Ford Cortina, with Mabel from accounts, who had consumed 15 bottles of Babycham with three double vodkas and probably would have 'done it' with Quasimodo if he'd bought her a drink at the bar'.
The class closes its eyes and, for a fleeting moment, or ten, are transported back to 'The Swan and Bucket' in 1974. As one student begins to nod, the psychological act of entrainment sets in and soon all students are mechanically nodding along.
'How many people hear this man's voice?' Hands slowly raise into the air.
'About 20, sir!' The professors nods.
'Yes. Now, imagine Bert leaves the pub and is immediately intercepted by an alien transport beam from a passing saucer'. The class nod knowingly, as one.
'You mean like the one that transported President Trump from the White House lawn in 2022 back to circa 300 AD, where he ruled Rome as the Emperor Constantine, sir...and then created the 'Really Great Holy Roman Empire' in 325 A.D.???'
'Yes...exactly like that...by those pesky Alpha Centaurians! May God damn their 14 eyes and cause them to have fleas for a decade!' The class shall nod in agreement.
'Except our Bert is taken forward in time to the year 2018. After a period of 'adjusting', Bert learns to master the 'internet' and finds incredulity at his potential target audience. In 1974, 20 poor souls were forced to listen to Bert's inane rantings, focusing solely upon his personal thoughts...quick test class, what word in that last sentence is the most important?'
A flurry of hands.
'Personal, sir...the important word is 'personal!'' More nodding.
'Yet now, Bert finds that he can communicate far and wide. In 1974, someone called Bruce, living in Wagga Wagga, in New South Wales, Australia would likely never know of the existence of our Bert. Bert could set light to his hair, hold lit fireworks in the waistband of his spandex underpants and loudly recite the contents of every page of the 'Kama Sutra' through a megaphone, yet still Bruce has no Earthly knowledge of him, nor his personal views upon politics, religion or the practical advantages and disadvantages of the 'Reverse Cowgirl' sexual position...'
The more mature and worldly-wise members of the class shall nod and allow their eyes to temporarily glaze over.
'...Yet, in 2017, Bruce is passing a quiet day in the Australian summer...on Xmas Eve to be exact...where's it's just reached 40 degrees Celsius in the shade. He has a calming herbal tea and is glancing on what was known back then as 'social media'...essentially places to meet folk from all over the globe and share ideas, sharing juvenile laughter and heated arguments, while exchanging photographs of cats doing weird things'.
Hands raise in the air.
'You mean like our former, feline President Tiddles Ten Toes of Tennessee, sir?' The professor shall nod.
'So...Bruce is about to switch off his personal computing device when he spots a comment from a friend of a friend of a friend's sister's friend. In the comment, a man called Bert is ranting about his personal views and why he believes them so strongly. Let us imagine that 5,000 people have read the personal comments of Bert. 3,573 have 'liked' his words. Another 1,007 people have loved his words, because they tally exactly with their own personal viewpoints and don't contradict them in absolutely any way. However, around 37 people, who maintain a different, opposing perspective, have passed comment that Bert is perhaps not taking his medication as he should. When Bert challenges these personal views with his own personal views, he is met by further outraged humans, who accuse him of being 'deranged', 'delusional' and 'biased' toward political extremities that definitely do not match their own viewpoints. Some blunter UK people are accusing Bert of being a vigorous masturbator, although they used different words from the language of that time period. Bruce reads all of the personal comments-made-public from Bert thirteen times over, ultimately becoming so incensed that he has to bang the table a few times with his herbal tea cup and utter gross profanities toward the cat...which is very unfair, as the cat, 'Captain Bongo' actually shares political views very close to Bruce's mindset but hasn't ever shared them because Bruce has selfishlessly yet to ask Captain Bongo for his opinions...'
More hands in the air.
'You mean unlike President Tiddles Ten Toes from 2087, sir...who sprayed and hissed his words to anyone who would listen and crapped in the shoes of anyone who disagreed with his political policies and devised the devastating fur ball missiles, used in our brief argument and conflict with France over tax duties on catnip imports, sir?' The professor shall nod.
'So...our discussion today is...who is right? Should Bert relay his personal viewpoints, knowing that they go global and may offend someone seated on the toilet in Singapore, who until that point had been having a positive, nurturing day? Or, should Bert realise that this is not 1974 any longer and refrain from spreading his views outside of his local environment? Furthermore, is it entirely down to what is being said by Bert? If he is discussing the failings of his 'Western Hammers' soccer team, then is that preferable to him talking about more sensitive subjects...politics...religion...sexual preference?'
The class shall look thoughtful, amid much chewing of pens.
'Or...should Bert be free to say what he wishes? Regardless of who it may, or not, offend, because he exists in a democracy (of a fashion) and therefore it is his inalienable right to say what he likes, when he likes and to whom he likes?'
The sound of pen chewing shall hereby increase in amplitude.
'Do we focus on the speaker...or what is said? Do we look at the context of the oratory, or shout down anyone who disagrees with us and tell them to go home if they do not like hearing our wise, blessed opinion...or to question their sexuality maybe...or even their parentage? Or is the question much simpler...do we care what people think anyway? Or do we like to 'stir the pot' because it creates a sense of joy within us to see others become distressed by our actions? If so, what does that say about us and are we the problem...or maybe...just maybe...might we be the cure?'
The class shall look contemplative. One young lady, whose name shall be 'Villanelle' will raise her hand.
'Is there a right answer, Professor Schwarzenegger? Or are you tricking us?' The professor shall smile.
'We shall find out when you hand your homework papers onto my desk, in three days time. 5,000 words maximum. No doodling, or drawing penises in the margins...'
A boy named Justin shall go red and pretend to be very interested in the floor.
'...also, let us add Villanelle's query in as part of the essay...is there a right answer?'
A hand shall raise and the professor shall nod.
'I wish we could go back to 2020 and ask people on the media socialism thing!'
'Social Media, Clinton...social media. And yes, wouldn't it be good to hear the views of people from 100 years ago...' A boy shall blurt something out, then quickly remember himself and raise his hand, before blurting something out again.
'If only Professor Sagan's time travel experiments had not ended so...so...badly...' The class shall sigh and engage in head-shaking.
'Indeed, Jones Junior...if only. But if we have learned anything from the late Professor's time experiments, it is not to tempt fate by being very overconfident and not grounding ourselves with patience and restraint...unless, as the poor professor, we wish our heads to be lodged somewhere in Ancient Greece, while our arms and legs reside in Plantagenet England, our torso is buried somewhere under Stonehenge in the Bronze Age and our sexual organs freely orbit the planet Mercury in the 26th century.'
The female students shall look tearful and the male students wince.
'But yes...it is an excellent question, Clinton. One that people from 2020 would likely have many strong views upon. So...as an additional homework extra...your task is to pretend you are living in 2020. The oceans are full of plastic...there are many animals on the endangered list and people are coming toward the end of that odd, overlong period where celebrities and sports people had infinitely more attraction and appeal than those who devote their time and effort to humanity and the world around them...how would you feel about social media? How would you choose to express yourselves to a global audience and what global issues would you say were the most important? Would you care what was said and how it was said? Or would you sneer and say it anyway? What would ultimately persuade you to change your viewpoint(s)...or is it simply a question of once you believe something that is how it has to be, despite having convincing evidence to the contrary shoved in our faces? How important is it...to believe we are right?'
The class shall nod.
'I shall be intrigued to read your thoughts and opinions. Class dismissed!'