The Problem with Cross-Generation Communication

Stacked Letters

No, I don’t mean talking to your Grandma, and no, not time travel either. Let me explain. Last week I was asked a question. If I were to write a letter to the people of the future, what would it be about?

Well, actually, it was homework. So I had to figure out how to write a letter for the future. But as I started working, I realised how difficult that would be. Especially if I took into consideration how fast things change these days. Even if I did write a letter, could it be understood? There were more barriers than just time and mould preventing my letter from being read in the future. So I began to list them out. And there were a few.

There’s the problem of language. Who knows what language the world will speak by the time it gets read? Not me. So I used trusty Google Translate and translated the short message, “This is English” into all the major languages (Including Latin. They’ll probably still be teaching that.) and stuck it at the top of the letter. Problem one was solved. As long as one of those languages remained in use by then, the reader could then find an English expert to translate it.

And then there’s Shakespeare. Or the King James Bible. Or, since the reading of my letter would take place in the future, there’s George Orwell‘s Newspeak. It’s doubleplusungood (Newspeak for very bad) if that happened. Meaning, they certainly will not understand what I was saying if language progressed like that. I can’t really control that one, but I refer to the above, where this time, an ancient English expert will do the translation.

But when you write letters, you usually include a date and a location of writing. So now there are more problems.

Will they even be using the same calendar? Probably. But then, if other planets became colonised, they’d need a different system of time there. With no standard year or hour, you’d have to go back to the base unit of time: seconds. So to erase all doubt when it was written, I put the dates as usual, but then I marked them in the Gregorian Calendar. That should alert readers when it was written and which planet. Problem three solved.

But then, would the town I live in even exist in the future? Maybe, maybe not. More likely was the possibility that a town on Mars would have the same name. So I decided to clarify my location in two ways. First I wrote something like Town, Province, Country, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy. Then I put the latitude and longitude as well, just to make sure people knew where it was from if the town was a heap of rubble by then. And as if that was not careful enough, I mentioned that those numbers I put with a W and N meant latitude and longitude. Problem four and five solved.

Whew! I finished all the prep work for my letter. I should write it now.

When you take the speed the world changes into account, cross-generation communication is painful. The possibility of different languages, the change in vocabulary, different time systems, and places all come into play to ensure the content of the letter is communicated clearly. And if you wanted to know what I had to say that was so important that I had to have five safeguards on it (excluding the cast iron time capsule and rubber seals), you’ll have to wait at least a century to find out. Or you can ask my English teacher in a week.

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