What time is it? It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and my day begins.

I live alone and I enjoy my mornings with a cup of coffee, looking at the sunrise above the hills and breathing the natural fresh air.

My name is Alexandra and next month I will be 120 years old. Now, in 2050, this age is not considered very old, as the younger generations are predicted to live much longer. However, for me, it’s different. I lived in times when cancer and cardio-vascular diseases still existed, and because of that reason, not many people of my age are still alive.

So, here is my great cup of coffee, accompanied by a healthy, balanced breakfast of proteins, fibre and healthy fats, measured exactly to 335 calories, garnished with my vitamins and minerals.

What’s next? Ah, my sport, light, oxygen and cognitive therapy. This is extremely important to me, as I am about to embark on a new project, which is significant for so many people, and that’s why my physical and mental health must be at a high standard.

Now I am settling down on my training meta-platform and activating it with my voice command. My body is immersed in the freshest air from the Alps, cooled exactly to 16 degrees, while my eyes are filled with soft sunlight. My physical training is calculated by AI to deliver the maximum benefit to my heart, joints, and muscles, strengthening and stretching my body. It feels like an hour of pure heaven. Once the physical workout is complete, I will move on to cognitive training, following a series of activities generated by AI to stimulate and train my brain.

After that – my charity work. I am meeting another old woman, who struggles to operate the newest devices in our metaverse. I need to help her learn new functions in order for her to better look after herself and live independently. Yes, the ability to live alone, and live independently has become very important in our times, as the older population is growing exponentially, and there are simply not enough younger people to assist. And I am lucky enough to help others to learn how to do it…

OK, now all my chores for today are complete, I can finally move to the task that I have been looking forward to so much. The fact is that a few months ago, a young man from the “Heritage Preservation Institute”, approached me with a request for help. The scientists had discovered some forgotten folk fairy tales and urgently needed someone to share their living knowledge of oral storytelling. I promptly responded and expressed my eagerness to volunteer for this project. Moreover, I still have a rare physical paper book of fairy tales that once belonged to my grandmother.

Books, such as poetry, fiction, biographies, and fairy tales used to play a significant tole in lifelong learning until the end of the 20thcentury. However, from the first quarter of the 21st century, the landscape of communication underwent a transformation. Streaming services, short-form video platforms like Tik Tok, and the influence of other social networks introduced an abundance of virtual content, often delivered in an addictive format. This shift has gradually replaced traditional mediums, including fairy tales. Consequently, the oral tradition, deeply rooted in ancient cultures, has started to fade, overshadowed by modern virtual experiences.

Now, after almost 50 years, the scientists and governments are increasingly concerned, realising that both children and adults are losing their ability to concentrate for more than a couple of seconds due to the effect of an increasingly digitalised lifestyle on the brain. The governments are urging us to regain our ability to focus for longer durations. This is super important for our learning ability and is backed by evidence from live brain monitoring. Scientists have also observed the positive effect of an increased attention span in reducing the brain’s predisposition to dementia-like conditions.

All in all, the policymakers have decided that to preserve human brain function and its cognitive abilities, a return to longer-span activities is necessary. This is why the Fairy Tales project has entered the realm of their interest. Furthermore, they suggested that oral fairy tales telling must be added to their favourite list of “21st Century Skills”.

Oh yes, these “skills” … Sometimes I wonder – everyone in our times is busy learning new skills, but forgetting why they are doing it…  Learning became a new fetish for people. The “skills” became a commodity in our society, supported by a human capital theory, in which the purpose of education is to supply labour for the labour market. People should not diminish the role of skills and education only to supply our economy! Education has its own distinctive purpose and benefit for an individual.  But since the early 2000s, human capital theory has become dominating in our lives, restricting the post-secondary education to the programs that have economic benefits. Our society is obsessed with obtaining new skills, but these skilled are very often disconnected from humans. And when we talk about lifelong learning, I think we have to focus on learning that can help a person flourish, develop their talents and pursue their dreams.

However, I have gone off topic since this problem always gets me going! Let’s go back to our fairy tales. I must say that in recent decades, the AI-generated entertainment led to a rapid disappearance of many traditional arts, such as reading poetry and telling fairy tales. They became disconnected from people. They no longer evoke emotions or interest in people, and thus have become unnecessary for them.

And this made me think: “oh, I can help you with fairy tales!” I am one of the oldest people in our community, and, thanks to my genes and my love of keeping my brain busy, I have the highest index of brain activity for my age group. (My monthly brain activity downloads and general health parameters confirm this).

I ask myself very often, why did parents stop telling their children fairy tales? In these days, they know how to measure the attention level of their child’s brain using a headset and an app; they know how to increase their cognitive abilities using electrical simulation run by AI; they know how to travel the world using full immersion VR experience.  However, they forgot how to tell a story with their own voice and their own words to a child! … As a result, one of the most humane skill is on the verge of disappearance. How dreadful!

But I will not let it die. That’s why, exactly two months ago, I offered to share my knowledge and to give my account of fairy tales and oral tradition. I will help save this nearly lost heritage. Together with the “Heritage Preservation Institute” we will build a full immersion environment and keep this tradition alive for future generations.

I remember very well the excitement of listening to a fairy tale as a child, when my grandmother was telling it, holding my hand, during our daily walk to a shop on the other end of the village. Every time her story was slightly different, as she was adding a new detail, changing the character voices or outfits. Years passed, and I recalled these fairy tales to myself, also redecorating and amending them according to the changes in our lives, thinking of how I am going to tell them to my own children…

But the world has changed so much and so fast since those times. These people from “Heritage Preservation Institute” told me that I was one of the few people in Europe who still has live memories and cognitive abilities to reproduce the art of storytelling, and I will be happy to help them.

In tomorrow’s interview I will be using this book – “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”. It’s my grandmother’s book from the early 20th century, a heritage that we pass from generation to generation in our family. The choice of the book is very significant, as Grimm brothers themselves, at the beginning of 19th century, gathered the traditional German tales and, by doing that, protected them from extinction in their own time. In the 20th century, UNESCO included Grimms’ fairy tales in the “Memory of the World Registry.”

Immediately after its publication in 1812, folklorists in Europe, Great Britain, and the Russian Empire were inspired to collect tales from their own countries. They were very surprised to discover that many of the tales from Grimm’s collection also existed in their own cultures. Now, I feel that I am continuing the work of Grimm brothers to preserve our cultural heritage of oral storytelling, and it fills me with pride.

Tomorrow, when I meet people from “Heritage Preservation Institute”, I plan to start my interview with the Grimms’ own words from the preface to their book, where they explain their interest in recording these tales: “It was perhaps just the right time to record these tales since those people who should be preserving them are becoming more and more scarce. Wherever the tales still exist, they continue to live in such a way that nobody ponders whether they are good or bad, poetic or crude. People know them and love them because they have simply absorbed them in a habitual way. And they take pleasure in them without having any reason. This is exactly why the custom of storytelling is so marvellous.”

I will start tomorrow with my favourite fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel”. It tells the story of the times of the Great Famine in Europe, using blood-freezing narratives describing brutal living conditions of life in the nineteenth century:

Hard by a great forest dwelt a poor woodcutter with his wife and two children of his former marriage. Once when a great famine fell on the land, he could no longer procure even daily bread. 

“How are we to feed our poor children when we no longer have anything even for ourselves?” he asked his wife.  

“I’ll tell you what, husband,” answered the woman, “early tomorrow morning we will take them to the forest and leave them there. They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them…”

The unique language and storyline of the Grimm’s fairy tales give us a new and full picture of ancient times – richer and more tangible than history lessons at school. It fills history with texture, feelings, smells, and sounds, all thanks to the unique storytelling genre. And I have a question: Can future generations continue this tradition and create their own heritage?

While I was thinking about the coming meeting and reflecting about the past and future, the entire day passed. Time for my tea before going to bed… I’ll probably have trouble falling asleep for a while. I’ll be tossing and turning in my AI-Powered Deep Sleep bed, excited for tomorrow. Should I play a recorded meditation to relax, or… should I read one of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm?

cover of Grimm's fairy tales