“Oh, I’ve got another follower on Instagram, and I’m not sure who he is,” said the teenage girl with a voice like she’d just won the lottery. I looked on with a mixture of disbelief and confusion. The generation gap had never been wider.
If you were born after the beginning of the millennium then your smart phone is basically an extension of your body, the 101st organ. Take a smart phone from a teenager and they are lost in space and time. They date, play, flirt, watch video and TV and interact on this new organ. It also acts as their brain’s external memory and Google as their God to ask questions. Smart phone (although dumb phones might be a better name) have slowly but surely robbed children and teenagers of a huge part of growing up. Creativity, action and exercise. In the era when I grew up it was a problem for my parents to keep me at home. Now it seems that it is a problem to get children to go outside.
These recent games in the Old City, where street played against street in games that they used to play as children started me thinking. What will these games look like in thirty years’ time? Will today’s generation all sit around on the stone steps and reminisce when they used to play Pokémon Go?
The summer holidays used to be an open-air dream for children. I would basically leave my house with sandwiches when the sun rose and arrive home as the sun set. Of course I’d come back with a graze or two on my knees, a bruise on my elbow and a few insect bites (even a sheep bite once) but also with a smile on my face, a hole in my stomach and a need to hit my pillow and sleep until the next day’s adventures. We’d build camps, cook over fires (yes, sometimes they went wrong), play sports and games and make-up loads of new games. We’d “borrow” some fruit picked directly off the trees for a snack. It was an active childhood. And don’t forget we could never phone home as we didn’t have a mobile. Or come to think of it a computer, PlayStation or any other gaming device.
We’d be together, interacting together, playing together and later (much later) falling in (first) love. And this social interaction and indeed need to play games brought with it creation. Active creation, creative and logical minds. There is a reason why Lego was the most popular toy for decades, children used their minds and parents saw the benefits. Lego has been replaced by an app on a phone. Of course, it wasn’t perfect but compared with playtime today it was utopia. This seems to have turned a full circle. Now you have the situation where children are actually wasting their time watching other people play video games on their smart phones.
The generations have gone from being outside and creating new games from what they found around them to sitting on the couch watching other people play! From incredibly active to unbelievably passive, with a capital P! And what will the children of the future do then? What is the next step of passivity? Will smart phone watch other people play and then bring the “highlights” to the children?
Likes and followers are the new badges of merit. What we used to call the “star of the class” because he or she was the fittest, the strongest or indeed the tallest, is now called an influencer. And these so called influencers are worshipped like Gods. Whilst at the same time making money from their disciples, or sheep. And sheep don’t ask questions. They don’t ask why. Future minds are being taught to follow and not to lead.
Who will then ask the tough questions of the leaders of tomorrow? Who will ask why? Who will dare to question the influencers or the wolves? A sheep can’t question a wolf. Nelson Mandela rightly said “the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.”