Russell Marshall’s Column

Russell MarshallModern life is good, mostly…but not always

By Russell Marshall, former Labour Cabinet Minister

I spent the first seventeen years of my life in Nelson.  Five of these years included the Second World War, fourteen of them were under the Savage Labour government.

Our awareness of the rest of the country and the rest of the world came from the radio and the local newspaper.

The radio was the National Programme 2YA and the more commercial 2ZB, and later the local station 2XN.

We all bought the Nelson Evening Mail, mail was delivered six days a week, milk was delivered every morning  and even the butcher did home deliveries.

Only a few families had cars. As we grew up, in general we all received the same news and, for that matter, the same interpretations, not that it mattered much except at election times.

Changing media and means of communication

When television arrived in New Zealand, all that changed in the early years was that we now not only heard but saw the news and programmes on the one channel, and our evenings changed. Looking back, admittedly with a degree of nostalgia, there was much experience in common.

We all heard and thought about much the same elements of the world outside our immediate work and family.

As the 20th century came to its close, computers had appeared, and television and radio diversified, in the end massively.

Mobile phones and the internet then began to change the ways in which we communicate as individuals and as a society. Our life experiences became much more diversified and some of us became more self sufficient, less gregarious.

Few of the changes were brought about or facilitated by governments but many have been for the better. Though not all.

In today’s world governments are much less in charge of things than once they were. Big business is increasingly bigger and owned elsewhere, and the drive for profits and dividends squeezes out local  ownership and social responsibility.

Are we better off?

For most of my life I have believed that each generation was going to be better off than its predecessors.

In many respects that is still the case.  Medical understanding and advances mean that on average most of us will live longer and healthier. We can now communicate more easily and less expensively, most of us can travel around the country and many around the world. Wiser behaviour about tobacco and road traffic now mean significantly fewer deaths.

In some respects however, we have lost significant ground.   Half a century ago it was much easier for young couples to buy houses and pay off mortgages, albeit slowly.

The admittedly much smaller number of brighter and luckier students graduated without accumulating loans. Work was easier to find.  I have a sense that we were also a more coherent, even united, society.

Wars have not ended after all, and our democratic systems  seem to be losing their way.  It may be that my generation has been more fortunate than its successors will be!