I was asked to share my thoughts on the future of family as part of the terrific new show Continuum, which debuted this spring on the Showcase channel in Canada. The lead character of the show, Kiera Cameron, is transported from 2077 back to 2012 by accident and is currently left in 2012 with no immediate means to get back to 'her time'. The most devastating part for Kiera is that she has a family in 2077 that she cannot get ‘back’ to and she desperately misses them as evidenced by flashbacks of her life with her husband and son that leave her in tears and in obvious pain & longing.
I cannot venture to think that the emotional ties and love we share for our families will change in the future. Although many aspects of our lives will change due to technological, medical, environmental, global and political factors…I think that the basic human emotion of attachment and deep, soulful love for those we share our lives with will remain unchanged. However, the ways in which we have a family or connect with family will change.
The future should hold amazing advances for the ways in which we may create a family unit. Strides in medical treatments and technology that support it will surely bring increased relief to infertile couples who will have more options than ever to achieve their dreams of having a family. In-vitro fertilization will become such a medically precise procedure that the possibility of having a child using this method will greatly increase. Or better yet, new methods, not even conceived of today, will be available to prospective parents as an option.
The future will bring more debate about how we protect our families as we move toward an era where technology will often outpace ethics. Already there are conversations initiated about whether or not we should micro-chip our children. The reasoning behind this idea is that the young and vulnerable could easily be found, if micro-chipped, in times of crisis, or protected from an estranged parent or a dangerous stranger. The argument that we already microchip our cars, cell phones, cameras and pets, brings about the question of whether or not we should take the next step and microchip our most precious thing...our children. This could also be taken a step further to the notion that we could, as a society, decide to microchip our entire families as a means of security and protection. We could, for instance, use micro-chipping to find an elderly or sick family member who has wondered off. Or locate a lost hiker or traveller in another country. Any family who has experienced having a family member missing can tell you that the suffering is unbearable. However, this brings about the question of privacy and personal rights vs. safety and security. In the interests of safety, it would be hard to argue that any parent who has lost sight of a young child in a shopping mall or playground for several minutes, would not feel instantly comforted by a micro-chipped child being located instantly by the tap of a button on a cell phone or micro-computer device.
It is also a hope of mine that the suffering that families endure from diseases such as ALS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and depression, to name a few, will be greatly reduced as we benefit from new research and increasingly sophisticated medical testing and treatments that will tackle these diseases more effectively than ever. No more will we see families missing moms, dads or children because of a lack of available treatments options for a disease that has taken over a life with a swift, and often cruel, ending.
Certainly, the future of families being able to bond and stay connected will be strengthened by advanced technology that will allow the physical miles between family members to almost disappear. Today, we enjoy things like Skype calls, where we can see and hear our loved ones from afar. Did we even think this would be possible 30 years ago when my teenage self was hiding in a closet and on the phone chatting with my girlfriends for hours on end? I often think of our pioneering ancestors who, more than a century ago, would travel far away from their families by horse and wagon or ship to new frontiers, with only an occasional letter, received months after mailing, from family left behind. Fast forward to today where I live more than 3000 miles from my parents and we 'Skype' 3 to 4 times a week...not only sharing face-to-face conversations, but new haircuts, the latest scrapes and bruises on little knees, baking failures, new outfits, new puppies and house tours! We always end our calls with ‘blown kisses’ and smiles! I think the future will hold wonderful possibilities for face-to face contact with family by cell phones that are increasingly taking on the characteristics of mini-computers. Imagine a world where a family member could call you at any time from a place thousands of miles away and love could be shared immediately with the visual and audio connection of any phone/computer? We are almost there now.
There will always be the traditional family unit of one or two parents living in a home and raising children. However, I believe that with increasing divorce rates, blended families and adoptions, that the future will include a more expanded definition of families to include any group of adults and children living together who care for, nuture and love one another, who may or may not be related by blood. I absolutely think our future would benefit from a world with less ‘labels’ and more love and understanding. I can only believe that this will serve to strengthen the bonds of families in the future.
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”
― George Eliot