Before I became one, teenagers were so cool. They played in bands, rode motorcycles, and had adventurous love lives. I’d love to say my teenage years were the same but after what seemed an eternity of being too young to do the interesting stuff, the good bit ended before I could say “Wow, this is fun!” because I entered the employment market.
Getting a job at a young age was like going straight back to school, only worse. You were still subservient to bitter old men with comb overs (who resented in equal measure your youth, your long hair, and the abolition of National Service) but you had to show up in the morning even if you had a hangover. And your qualifications counted for nothing on the factory floor, where cruel initiation rituals were widespread.
Despite this, I feel a bit sorry for today’s teenagers, the Little Computer People* generation. Many of them work on computers, play on computers, socialise on computers and even their love lives are based around computers.
True, they are rarely thrown into hostile grown-up environments when they leave school, and political correctness gone mad has outlawed practices like greasing the genitals of new workers with old sump oil, but progress has its price.
Hanging around street corners up to no good appears to be far less popular among the early teens these days. But instead of insulting each other in their Xbox Live virtual reality, they could be learning valuable lessons from leisure activities in actual reality; such as how climbing over the wall of the corner shop yard and liberating a crate of empty pop bottles can improve mental arithmetic: “These are worth 3p apiece if we take them back into the store, which is almost enough to buy a comic each!”
And while today’s mid-teens won’t have to squirm though those awkward occasions when a mate is despatched to the object of their affection with a ‘Will you go out with my friend?’ message, if they try something similar on Facebook they can expect everyone in the world to know if they get rejected. Everyone.
With Tubes on tap, today’s teenagers are unlikely to ever experience the unexpected joy of discovering a half-hidden carrier bag full of pornographic magazines. There was no magical porn elf that lived wild in the hedgerows though; these stacks of well-used magazines were probably dumped by long distance lorry drivers on their way back to their depot for cab inspection. But they sure beat the underwear sections of Kay’s catalogues. Or so I’m told.
Then there’s the obesity epidemic among young people. A report published in The Lancet last year by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation stated that 26% of boys and 29% of girls in the UK were now overweight or obese, a significant increase on past decades. Of course, previous generations didn’t have fast food outlets on every corner, tempting them with sexy fatty fries and Cokes, but computers and smartphones have also played a part in the move to a more sedentary lifestyle. As an example, hardly anyone walks anywhere anymore: they can summon a taxi from their phone or find out exactly which bus or train is due, and where it goes. And if they do walk, they don’t take a single step more than necessary thanks to satnav guidance. Go to the shops? Why bother, when the shops will come to you and bring you what you want when you want it?
These computer driven social shifts don’t just impact on teenagers, of course – for instance, this week the BBC reported that 24 drivers faced prosecution for filming a motorway crash on their phones, which is a worrying trend, and I’m not even going to mention the darker side of the net – but while us oldies could function without all this wonderful technology, it’s all today’s teenagers have ever known. Which suggests that their kids are just going to be amorphous, helpless blobs by the time they reach adolescence, should a major solar flare or something similar melt the internet.
I wonder what Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the genius credited with inventing the World Wide Web, thinks of what we’ve done with his creation? Apart from a cameo appearance in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, have you noticed that he tends to keep a pretty low profile? I reckon that someone as clever as him is secretly developing a time machine so he can go back and stop his younger self from unleashing the web on society.
Because that’s what I’d do.
* Little Computer People [pictured] was a 1985 game for the Commodore 64, in which the player interacted with a computer generated character who lived inside their machine. Designed by David Crane and published by Activision, it was the predecessor of Tamagotchi and titles like The Sims.