Twenty-somethings may be the world’s first truly mobile generation, butt their prehistoric forefathers made more of a difference than them – or us
For as long as it can remember, this column has kept to hand a brimming bucket of scorn ready to pour over each new scare story that comes swaggering through the door. Over the years it has been refilled many times. Herpes, the millennium bug, AIDS, avian flu, obesity, alcohol, sunshine, tobacco, and the most pestilential of them all, climate change, have all merited a dousing. But I fear a comeuppance. I have a scare story of my own.
All those of you settling into middle age prepare to tremble now, for a terrible menace looms. No more glad tomorrow, only despair, sorrow and irritation. Whence this plague? Sprung, my friends, from your own loins. As with many a newly discovered bacillus, this is suffixed by a single letter. It is called Generation Y.
It was discovered by Emma Reynolds, 23, co-founder of research business Ask Gen Y, and is described as “a restless new generation of business leaders waiting impatiently in the wings and on a collision course with the old as it prepares to revolutionise the way companies are run”. And if that doesn’t make your blood freeze in your veins and cause such hairs as remain on your head to stand on end and quiver you are sanguine in the extreme.
I know nothing of Miss Reynolds (though I suspect she is in fact Ms) apart from that she arrived in Britain three years ago from her native Australia. Might she by chance be one of those sturdy, protein-fed daughters of the Outback, the kind who could quell a recalcitrant mule with a single glance and cause a funnel web spider to think again and retreat shamefacedly and apologetic to its lair?Her research into Generation Y reveals that they are ambitious, self-absorbed, gregarious, demanding, confident and believe they can change the world. They are the offspring of the baby-boomers, a generation now preparing for retirement. Gen Y was born between 1978 and 1998 and numbers some 8 million go-getting, solipsistic, impatient and hungry pains in the arse.
“Yes,” says Reynolds, “it may sound arrogant but there’s a revolution going on out there.” (As observers of current affairs know, “out there” is a place where everything happens that is not “in here”. Neither, however, has an actual locus.) “My generation,” she continues, “has absolutely no recollection of the Thatcher era. We don’t remember Pac Man, the Sinclair C5 or Morecambe and Wise. We’ve never had to memorise a phone number and we’ve never had to get off the sofa to change a channel on the TV. You won’t find many Gen Yers in the local library and it’s highly unlikely we would ever use a real dictionary to check a spelling.”
Her ability to list by name things she cannot remember is spooky, and it gets worse. She goes on: “We have grown up with internet, broadband, wi-fi, Google, CD, DVD, MP3, SMS and MMS. This multitude of choice, this freedom, this instant connectivity, this speed of globalisation is all we have ever known. We are the world’s first truly mobile and connected generation.”
But truly there is nothing new under the sun. Each new generation believes it has discovered the world afresh and is uniquely destined to change it for the better and leave a footprint in the sands of time.
My generation was no different. Of course, we were not truly mobile and connected. We got by with the telephone and the post office. God only knows how we managed. Our memories were poor, too. We had no recollection of Gladstone, the Peninsula War, the steam engine, or Harry Lauder. We grew up with ABC, IOU, DTT, GPO, PTO, RIP, TNT and (so I am told) VD.
We were the baby-boomers and we thought we would make a difference. But Nature will have none of such impudent challenge and asserts herself. Consider the career of Jack Straw, the current Minister of Justice. A firebrand student leader in his youth, a revolutionary, a tiger of the Left, a strident egalitarian and placard bearer. Look at him now. An ornament of a government that has outlawed protest outside the Palace of Westminster, and defines a protester as a single person in possession of a badge.
If you want to find a generation that really made a difference you have to delve into pre-history to the one that came down from the trees, or possibly before that to the one that crawled out of the sea onto the land. You can bet that early amphibian told his newt-like offspring as they sat wetly on his knee: “There’s a revolution going on out there.”