I met up with a friend recently and as is usually the case with Mums, our conversation turned to our children. Our eldest children are both studying for A levels so we had an enjoyable time comparing experiences with exam stress, sixth form colleges and subject choices.
My friend’s son has chosen a maths and science route, much to the pleasure of my friend’s husband as he works in that field and is keen for the tradition to be continued. However, along with the maths and science, computer technology is also being studied, and there is a growing conflict between “traditional” and “modern” ways to get the same results. My friend is worried that she is going to be caught in the middle of a dispute between a teenager intent on moving with the times and a husband who believes that there is still much to value in the “old” methods.
In the end, it will of course work out, but it does give pause for thought. Are the old ways better? Should we abandon the traditional for the modern? No farmer would choose to go back to a horse and plough when a tractor can do the work in much less time – but are we losing our sense of purpose and history if we concentrate on how technology can do things faster and more efficiently and leave the old ways behind?
My view is that in many cases, the one can help the other. I’m a hand-knitter (you may have noticed! J) and have no desire to swap my needles for a machine – but I do like modern circular needles with their smooth joints, flexible cables and variety of needle tips for any knitting circumstances. The needles that I inherited from my Mum and my Nan seem quite old-fashioned now in terms of their construction and although I do still use them from time to time, I much prefer my modern ones, and I think my Mum and Nan would too. For me, traditional hand-knitting combined with modern needles works perfectly, and if it wasn’t for the progress in technology and machinery then these needles couldn’t be made.
I suspect that in my friend’s case, the traditional skills that her husband learnt will be built upon by her son and the result will be something the same but different. Traditional and modern – a bridge is a bridge, after all, but the style and construction changes and improves over time. Without the opportunity to do this, perhaps we would never have seen any tractors in our fields. Would we be the poorer for this? Maybe – or maybe not. It’s one of those unanswerable questions, but I think what we can say is that combining both old and new can often bring forth something better, which abandoning one for the other could never do. Progress isn’t all bad.