This article was written for the News & Star.
There are some significant events in people’s lives that can end up being as much about reflection as celebration.
I think one of them is turning 60 years old, as I did this week. Of course, I took the opportunity to celebrate it with family and friends. However, it also gave me the opportunity to look back over the last 60 years and reflect upon the many changes that we have seen in our own individual lives as well as the changes that have happened in our wider society, and indeed the world as a whole.
Probably the most significant change since 1963 has been the huge advance in technology – in particular, its impact in the workplace and how we communicate with each other. When I was a teenager, you would arrange to meet a friend with a time and a place, and once you had left the house there was no way to get in contact. Today it is so different with the use of mobile phones.
Indeed, the arrival of the smartphone has been quite an astonishing advancement in technology. Most of us now have with us at all times a gadget that is not just a phone; but it is also a high-quality camera, computer, internet browser, music player, GPS device – and probably many other things that I am simply unaware of (and never will be!). The power of these devices will only increase over time.
Economic change has also been significant. We are actually a considerably wealthier country than we were 60 years ago. The amount and the diversity of produce available in the shops has increased substantially – and our standard of living has improved a huge amount.
Our type of employment has changed also in the UK. There are fewer mass-production factories and more service-oriented jobs. There is a debate to be had about whether this is a good or a bad thing, but it is just a fact about how our economic structures have changed.
Then, just as significantly, there is the changing of social attitudes and outlooks. On the positive, we have become a more tolerant and open-minded society. But we have also become a more fluid society – with more people moving away from their hometowns and changing jobs more regularly.
Finally, there has been changes to our political culture. There are many more women involved in politics now, as well as ethnic minorities – all making different and new contributions to our political environment, much more reflective of the country we are.
The arrival of the internet and social media has positively democratised politics to a large extent – but I don’t think it can be denied that it has also meant that debate and dialogue has become more fractious and tribal. In the long run this is probably not good for our political discourse.
So, what have I really learned by reflecting on the changing world on my 60th birthday? Only that we should take such times to celebrate and enjoy the company of our family and friends. At the end of the day, it is the one thing that really matters. And that will never change.