Death and Children

Adopting his first child at 40, Lee Goldberg wonders what sort of a world she will be inheriting from him.

There's nothing like the prospect of your first child to make you think about death!

At 40, I have been able to pretty much ignore the warning signs of my own mortality as I continue to do most of the same stuff I did when I was 20. It just hurts a lot more and takes longer to recover.

Even when I married Catherine last year, I was able to mumble through the tilldeathdouspart stuff without really acknowledging that this was a closed-term contract.

It is only now that I'm facing the release of Goldberg 2.0 that the concept of having a limited product life cycle is really dawning upon me. Uncomfortable as staring old Mr. Bones in the face is, it does make me think hard about what kind of legacy I want to give to the little girl who is waiting for us under the mountain of paperwork that surrounds an adoption.

I hope to leave her a better, more peaceful, and interesting world than the one I was born into. This puts me into a completely schizophrenic state as I'm seized with the urge to join every crusade to clean up our planet while I try to heed Catherine's wise advice to make more time at home for our family-to-be.

I'm also having to face the painful fact that most of the things I've worked on during the past 20 years had little or no lasting value, other than giving a paycheck to the folks who made it. I don't get a warm fuzzy feeling when I realise that so many of the products that I devoted my blood, sweat, and tears to ended up as next year's landfill.

I guess it's time I took some responsibility about not wasting the next couple of decades. For me, being responsible breaks down into two separate issues: What we do and how we do it. Both are equally important. I understand somebody's got to do the unglamorous chores - we can't all be finding the cure for cancer, inventing Spandex, or sending people to Mars. Somebody's got to be making the paper clips, the toasters, and the electronic widgets that are the underpinnings of our "civilization."

We all can, however, as I have, make the difficult choices to not participate in projects that undermine human rights, the environment, or other things we hold close to our hearts. Although we all can't play starring roles in the slow, painful evolution of our species, we can all contribute in some way toward a gentler, funnier, and happier future.

Should our professional duties extend beyond delivering designs on time and under budget? Should we be worrying about a product's energy efficiency? And whether it poses an environmental hazard in its manufacture, use, or disposal? Should we care whether it contributes to, or erodes, the social fabric?

I think so.

As I look into trading my DeLorean in for a nice Saturn station wagon and installing a safety parachute on my Ultralight, the idea of making the world better for all our children begins to look like one of the few things I can do that has any value past the day the Grim Reaper comes calling.

*Lee Goldberg is the communications editor of Electronic Design Magazine. This article is adapted from his editorial in the August 5 1996 edition.

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