The Young Ones
All posts from: February 2010
The recession’s over (apparently) and now life can get ‘back on track’? This belies a certain amount of infinite opportunity and potential. We can learn from the folly of those irresponsible bankers and start being uber-responsible citizens, wresting control back over our own destinies.
And, if you’re young, the chances are you didn’t have much to lose anyway. Few investments and a fat chance of getting onto the property ladder meant that all most of us had to worry about during the recession was fleecing 2 for 1 deals courtesy of the ever generous Martin Lewis.
At Voodoo, we’ve spent a lot of time speaking with those who have proverbially (and somewhat forebodingly) been dubbed ‘The Lost Generation’. But what now for those pre-family and pre-mortgage in the post recession landscape? What are the implications (both positive and negative) for their outlook, lifestyle and spending?
For starters, I contend that it’s not really a ‘whole new world’ but a world we’re looking at in a whole new way. In spite of the continuing smugness to be gleaned from ‘voucher-coding’, life isn’t looking that rosy for the post-school, pre-career crowd. A generation has had to start actively thinking and evaluating the future.
The record 952,000 16-24 year olds out of work in the third quarter of 2009 would indicate that pursuing higher education is a smart (and necessary) way to see out the aftermath of the recession. However, given the record number of cuts in higher education funding, university is looking a less secure prospect. In fact, gaining any sense of ‘control’ in the current climate is becoming increasingly out of reach.
But it’s not all gloomy. This challenge in shaping our destinies on a macro level (no job, no uni course, no ‘certain’ future) could well have a positive impact, perhaps even sparking a more profound reorientation of life priorities. Before, life’s trajectory was pretty much ‘deserved’ and ‘expected’ for a majority of middle-class young people; instant gratification ruled. Facing the prospect of short term insecurity means the concept of longer-term wins (and investments) is suddenly not only more relevant but increasingly necessary.
Anecdotally, I know a number of ‘early career-switchers’; each one of them spurning the ‘get rich quick culture’ of the post-university careerists in favour of more tangible, fulfilling and ‘human’ pursuits with less attractive salary packages. An estimated 51% increase in graduate applications to the public sector in 2009 may merely be the sign of a greater desire for job security. But, wearing my optimistic hat, I’d like to think it’s less of a symptom and more of a cure to the previous conspicuous consumption that dominated the pre-recession landscape for the majority of credit card wielding young adults.
Considered purchasing and the value of a debt-free lifestyle may yet become aspirational in a way never anticipated before. The poor performance of the high street stores earlier in the year was largely attributed to the snow but VAT’s return to 17.5% is bound to have contributed, too. Price comparison sites and cost-saving apps are likely to become more and more popular as ‘savvy spending’ becomes the new micro route to ‘control’ for a generation of young people.
It’s not only spending and career choices that have been impacted by viewing life through this new lens. The decline of ‘I deserve, I expect’ culture means we have found a renewed sense of self-reliance and creativity. Growing our own food, crafting our own clothes and making our own entertainment are just some of the notable examples (you don’t have to look too far to witness the ironic re-embrace of the cheese and wine/fondue evening/dinner party dating amongst this audience).
Well in short, no. In fact, on balance, it’s a really good thing. Of course there’s hand wringing from the usual quarters about the death of grammar, the loss of standards and the inevitable slide towards anarchy and the end of civilisation as we know it. But this is the first generation ever that needs to be able to write in order to have a proper social life. And for disposable, conversational writing, speed is just way more important than accuracy, end of story.
A great by-product of this seeming ‘sloppiness’ is that it makes socialising via, Facebook, MSN, texting, etc, very democratic. It doesn’t matter if you can’t spell or if your grammar is rubbish, you can still take part. And that in itself is a great reason to celebrate it; the less literate aren’t being excluded by technology when they so easily could have been.
But when you look closer, it’s not just sloppiness. There’s a lot more that’s interesting going on. First of all, it’s no good being fast if you’re not ‘got’ – and there’s often a quite sophisticated understanding of what other people will get. Including a widespread (though probably subconscious) recognition that if the first and last letter of a word are correct, the eye quickly understands, even if the rest of the word is in the wrong order or has bits missing. So wehn i wirte tihs snetnece yu cn stll esialy udenrtasnd waht’s on teh pgae. And the interesting thing about that is you actually have to be reasonably literate to make it work properly.
Then there are the learnt shortcuts and other bits of creativity, many of which are a joy. ‘m@r’ for matter and ‘l%k’ for look are two of my current favourites. Of course, l%k doesn’t save you any keystrokes but it looks cool and that, too, is part of the point.
There are satiric misspellings, too, like the use of £ for L to indicate the perceived immoral or unethical accumulation of money. As in, just for example, Tony B£air.
And there are the words that always go wrong when you try to type them fast. ‘The’ comes out as ‘teh’ and ‘own’ as ‘pwn’. So, instead of struggling against the tide, people started deliberately writing them that way – which, you have to admit, is a neat solution. It’s a trend that really took off when the gaming community started using them in online games and they became part of Leet (short for elite speak).
Of course, it’s not all about clarity. Some of what is going on is a deliberate creation of language and spellings that are impenetrable to adults, other outsiders and profanity filters. So, nothing new there, then; just the usual teenage bonding. If you don’t understand it, you’re probably not meant to.
Will this all lead to broader and more permanent changes in the way we write though? I’d predict that it almost certainly will. So get used to it. Resistance is futile. Anyway I bloody well hopw so, its a reel shag gtting it rite all the time. And if you’re really having problems, there are a number of places you can get English translated into lingo or backagain.
We stick with the prediction theme this week: here are three more youth movements to monitor.
Empowered youth: Following on from last week’s ‘Rise of the Teens’, it seems it’s not just teenagers who are becoming more empowered. As the National Curriculum introduces more topics and children have almost limitless access to technology, school kids now know more than grown-ups about certain topics. They are teaching their parents how to cut their carbon footprint, set up Facebook profiles and send picture messages. Whilst this more reciprocal exchange of information between parents and children is not exactly new, it’s only recently that publishers have recognised the opportunity to tap into this knowledge and consult kids for content. How to Turn Your Parents Green and Teach Your Granny to Text are recently published books that kids have contributed to. Beyond this, green initiatives in schools are being fronted by pupils themselves: via the Eco Schools initiative, school children are responsible for setting up and implementing green policies and running eco-committees. Expect youth empowerment to evolve in 2010 as increasingly confident kids and teens take the lead.
Going out is the new staying in: Social networking and mobile phones have enabled and encouraged a shift towards remote social interaction over the past few years. The popular image is of teens barricading themselves in their bedrooms, spending hours chatting to friends on Facebook, MySpace and MSN. However, there is evidence to suggest that as this lifestyle proliferates, there is growing unease among youth participants. A recent study suggests that depression levels are higher amongst those who spend more time online and qualitatively, we have heard teens admit that they are less enthusiastic about aspects of online interaction than we may have assumed. Whilst we’re by no means predicting an end to online social interaction, we are seeing a shift towards technology that enables the face-to-face. Google Latitude, Foursquare and Loopt are examples of online services that allow users to physically locate other people, thus encouraging spontaneous meetings – not just with friends but with other likeminded souls. It’s not just specifically developed location services that enable this kind of real world impromptu meet-ups. The growing accessibility of Twitter and Facebook via mobile phones also points in this direction. It’s not just technology platforms that could reap the benefits: local services, venues and events are also well placed to capitalise.
From bloodsuckers to moon howlers? 2009 was the year of the vampire. But what can we expect for 2010? With Twilight, True Blood, Daybreakers and a glut of other bloodsucking movies and TV series hitting our screens and bookshelves in 2009, our taste for blood has never been thirstier. But fickle audiences will doubtless tire of fangs and brooding teenage angst, so what next to satisfy our bloodlust? Well, we seem to be returning once again to the world of ancient folklore, this time the werewolf. Wolf Man will be released in the UK in a couple of weeks and the 1973 film The Boy Who Cried Werewolf has been re-made and will be released later this year. Surely the ‘80s classic Teenwolf is due another TV outing? But it doesn’t stop there. On a less menacing note, some are tipping angels as the new vampires. Whilst, at the moment, this is largely a literary rather than screen phenomenon, with Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush and Elizabeth Chandler’s Kissed by an Angel recently hitting the bookshops, January’s release of Legion indicates that the celestial theme is likely to escalate.
You can’t move for trend predictions at this time of year. In January 2009 journalists and other cultural commentators almost came to blows in an effort to be first to tell us we would all be using Twitter. So, while not an original concept, we at least make an effort to distinguish ourselves below with predictions for the year ahead that have a specific youth focus.
Ok, here goes:
Rise of the teens: Messrs Page, Brin and Zuckerberg may have founded Google and Facebook while still at university, but they look positively ancient compared to the new kids on the block. Fourteen year-old fashion blogger Tari Gevinson is perhaps the foremost example of the increasingly influential teen critic movement. And 15-year-old Matthew Robson caused shockwaves during a work experience placement at Morgan Stanley when he casually explained that “teens don’t Twitter” and “video game consoles… [are] a more attractive vehicle for chatting with friends than the phone” as part of his teen media usage report for the financial services provider. Increasingly, it seems, the go-to guys for youth expertise are youths themselves. And they’re getting younger. As Facebook and other social networks ease off on privacy settings to allow for ‘real-time search’ researchers may be able to learn just as much about young consumers by poring over the material they publish themselves (online, and for free) as from more traditional research settings.
It’s what’s close by that counts: It appears contradictory at first, but as we spend more of our lives online - on an internet that, as it continues to grow, supposedly brings us all closer together – ‘local’ is a commodity that’s increasingly valued by young people. The wider world may be an exciting place. But it’s also where the ‘bad stuff’ happens. As in 2004/2005, the new year has begun with a devastating natural disaster that puts the man-made monetary mess of the last few years firmly in perspective. As a result, what ‘local’ may lack in terms of excitement it compensates for in terms of comfort and reassurance. The programmers behind TwitterLocal were quick to capitalise on this trend and both Google and The Guardian are rumoured to be working on technology with similar capabilities. But with pubs closing at a rate of 52 a week where is there left to hang out? Perhaps in “stealth Starbucks”: after years of rolling out identikit stores, the American company is developing bespoke businesses with a “community personality”. If one of the world’s most successful consumer brands recognises the importance of ‘local’, others are sure to follow.
Vote with your Tweet: We expect that, as they have been hit hardest by the recession, and due to the perceived rise in prominence of the BNP, the turnout of young voters will be higher than in 2005. In order to engage with them, all three main political parties are apparently seeking to ape the new media strategy that was credited as a significant factor in Barack Obama’s election success. But which of them is best placed to succeed? Given Gordon Brown’s disastrous flirtation with YouTube and David “too many twits might make a twat” Cameron unwittingly sparking a viral craze, the Liberal Democrats look a shoo-in. But not as a result of any real innovation: they are the only major party that haven’t cocked it up already.