Last night I was in a Shanghai club, drinking with some young friends. We were discussing how the world might change in their lifetime. I remembered having a similar conversation with my late grandfather.
His generation saw more change than any in history. He remembered seeing the first car in our home village (little did he know as I found later, that Mrs P's grandfather was its chauffeur). As he put it to me, "I grew up in a world of horses and carts and lived to see Man walk on the moon." He also saw much political change; most of it bad. He and his brothers built a business worth £1 million in the 1930s from a single steam powered "Sentinel " truck they bought with money borrowed from their father. When he was invalided out of the Army with a broken back which disabled him for life, his grateful government rewarded him by taking his business from him by force. His was the era of Socialism - a word he once had to explain to his mother who had never heard of it. Yet he also lived to see the end of that era, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. If only he had lived to see the British "intelligentsia" acknowedge the stupidity of what they did to him in 1946.
The technological advances in my life have been less radical. The personal computer has changed my life, but it hardly touches many. It's important, but if I had to choose between car and computer, it would be back to Filofax and "farewell blogging". The mobile phone is handy, but it's a mere evolution. It's Mr. Bell's original work combined with that of Marconi. I crossed the Atlantic on Concorde, but there is no passenger plane so fast now. I have basked in the presence of (but never, sadly, driven) the awesome Bugatti Veyron. It may well prove to be the high-water mark of automotive power, given the daily outpouring of crazy Gaian hostility to Mankind's greatest creation. Besides, onboard computers and better ergonomics apart, there is not really that much to distinguish my Maserati Granturismo from the 1940s original.
Few of my technological dreams, as an excited 13 year old boy hero-worshipping Neil Armstrong, have come true. I have walked the ramp Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin used to board Apollo 11. I have never been more excited than I was (pictured here) in the presence of a Saturn V rocket, the most powerful vehicle built by Man. Yet that was designed and built more than 40 years ago. For all we have done in space since, Apollo 11 might as well have been the faked stunt many moonbats now claim.We reached the moon, but we have still not reached further. Ultimately it seems that, for the politicians who control the public purse, the moon landing (despite all their contemporary claims for collateral benefits on Earth, some of which came true) really was - for them - just Cold War propaganda. How sad, especially for the heroes who risked and died for it.
Technological progress has slowed and the New Luddites of the Green movement will reverse it if they can. They are the deadly threat to human civilisation that now-laughable Socialism once was.
So the greatest changes in my lifetime have been political. As a student politician I wore a badge (among many, including my beloved "Ramon Mercader fan club" badge) which called for "Free elections in the East." It was a sort of idealistic joke, but I lived to see it happen. I am delighted to have been present for free elections in both Poland and Russia. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of "the evil empire" is the greatest historical event of my lifetime. The student politician covered in idealistic badges never hoped for it. Without superb Western leaders like Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, it would never have happened. The French and the Germans (and Gordon Brown had he been born earlier) would have been sucking up to the Kremlin gerontocracy yet.
A life with such unexpected good fortune cannot, for all its other woes, be considered a bad one. At least not on beautiful sunny Sunday in Shanghai, a city I never expected to walk freely at my leisure, still less to have young friends in to make me think about the future. I hope the changes in their lifetimes are as great on the technical side as they were for my grandfather. If they are politically as dramatic as they have been in mine, they can reasonably hope (and work) for marvellous things. My grandfather's generation defeated Nazism and (more slowly) the Soviet Union. Our generation has been less effective. Maybe we have just rested on their laurels. More probably our collective drive has been sapped by their massively (if honourably) misguided Welfare State. My young friends' (and my daughters') generation doesn't have to be limited by ours. To have great hopes, they just need to zoom out the historical lens.