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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

British youth isolated by more than the Channel?

The post below and one of the comments made me think about some recent conversations I've been having with my parents one of whom is a maths professor at King's College in London.

King's is still a fairly respectable place to get a degree and so you'd assume it would get its share of high quality students. However, that doesn't seem to be the case. The students they see aren't terribly interesting, rounded or driven by anything greater than a desire to get a job in an accountancy in the City.

This contrasts dramatically with what we see here. Over the past few years, I've been tremendously impressed with the young people I meet. Most of them are far more together and far more interesting than I was at their age. Data around the millenials in the US would seem to confirm that this isn't an isolated phenomenon. Overall, teens and young adults here (and in many countries around the world) are more conected, ambitious, driven, diverse and creative than my generation ever was.

And this is true amost everywhere, except Britain.

In the US, teen drinking and smoking have declined steadily since 1996. In the UK teen drinking has risen steadily since 1990 and British youth are now the heaviest drinkers in Europe.

Teen violence here has also declined dramatically since the early 90s, while again UK youths are found to be among the worst in Europe. In fact ASBOs - anti social behaviour orders - introduced in 1998 as a way to stop the random violence and unruly behaviour of British youth have now, in some circles, become a badge of honour.

Even more troubling is the dramatic rise in binge drinking and violence among British girls. Some studies even say that British girls drink more than their male counterparts.

As someone who grew up in London, it feels all too familiar. I am often amazed when I talk with Americans about their experiences growing up. Most got through their entire childhoods without ever fighting anyone. I rarely got through a week at some points.

I was reminded again of the differences when doing global research last year. British youth used alcohol as a way to let their hair down, drop the facade and let go of the stifling peer pressure to conform. American youth we talked with couldn't relate at all. They actively work at being individuals not part of the pack. They choose friends often by how different they are from one another not how alike.

To me these differences are troubling because they lead to a possible conclusion that Britain will become increasingly out of step with the rest of the world. The millenials are poised to define this country and reshape it to fit their values. What impact will the youth of Britain have on it future?


Mnels said...

No, Adrian, I did not make the previous post just to needle you (but I did expect a reaction). You observations about the UK is really interesting. I could attribute some of the youth problems there to the political structure, where there is essentially a single party government. That arrangement didn't work too well here either, did it?

At the risk of being branded as Dr. Doom, I actually have some concerns about American youth as well.

I am consistently amazed by the social skills of young people today. Their ability to adapt to diverse social conditions, and to adapt technology to serve these skills is simply breathtaking. When I entered the professional world, few had the maturity or flexibility to function socially at a high level. There was a reason we were kept miles from clients for the first few years.

American Millenials are bright, yes, but test scores over time would seem to indicate no huge advancement in base intelligence or knowlege. If anything, there has been some erosion in the knowledge arenas (math, sciences) compared to the rest of the developed world. The elevation of the economic value of social skills is not really a bad thing, as it signals we are becoming more of an idea culture. Many believe that ideas are really the economic engine of the future. My concern is that young people today are so atuned to playing with ideas, they show little interest in aquiring base knowledge. I worry we will develop the opposite issue that China faces. China has developed a remarkable base of technological capital, but at the expense of innovation skills. We are becoming the inverse. Is that a good thing?

Adrian said...

I think it's more due to lingering effects of the class structure. We never ran the monarchy out as they did elsewhere so the social structures remained fairly intact. There's a hopelessness that poor working class have in the UK that isn't the same elsewhere, definitely not here. It's tough to be poor anywhere but at least there's a promise of improvement in many places.

In terms of innovation, I think it's a great thing. Even the most complex tasks eventually become systematized to the point where they can be made into an appliance. I did some work on EDS and proposed to them that they should work to create business appliances to replace their outsourcing armies. In the middle ages, thousands of people were required to make copies, we now relegate that function to a machine that sits in the corner of the office. Given enough time, the difficult engineering and technical skills that are highly valued today will become cheap to reproduce tomorrow. Innovation will always command a premium.

Mnels said...

Yea, but this Lindsay Lohan letter to the Altman family makes my point (OK, it's a cheap shot).

"I would like to send my condolences out to Catherine Altman, Robert Altmans wife, as well as all of his immediate family, close friends, co-workers, and all of his inner circle.

"I feel as if I've just had the wind knocked out of me and my heart aches.

"If not only my heart but the heart of Mr. Altman's wife and family and many fellow actors/artists that admire him for his work and love him for making people laugh whenever and however he could..

"Robert altman made dreams possible for many independent aspiring filmmakers, as well as creating roles for countless actors.

"I am lucky enough to of been able to work with Robert Altman amongst the other greats on a film that I can genuinely say created a turning point in my career.

"I learned so much from Altman and he was the closest thing to my father and grandfather that I really do believe I've had in several years.

"The point is, he made a difference.

"He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do.

"So every day when you wake up.

"Look in the mirror and thank god for every second you have and cherish all moments.

"The fighting, the anger, the drama is tedious.

"Please just take each moment day by day and consider yourself lucky to breathe and feel at all and smile. Be thankful.

"Life comes once, doesn't 'keep coming back' and we all take such advantage of what we have.

"When we shouldn't..... '

"Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourselves' (12st book) -everytime there's a triumph in the world a million souls hafta be trampled on.-altman Its true. But treasure each triumph as they come.

"If I can do anything for those who are in a very hard time right now, as I'm one of them with hearing this news, please take advantage of the fact that I'm just a phone call away.

God Bless, peace and love always.

Thank You,


Lindsay Lohan

AKI SYSTEMS 2600 said...

Wow...that is, indeed, some very poor writing. And this, from the star of "Herbie: Fully Loaded"? Who would have thunk that?

America's decline in basic communications skills flows from our embrace of technologies which stress speed rather than clarity or even eloquence.

Lindsay's lame letter is the result of a life driven by SMS texting and Powerpoint slides. All our communications skills have declined because we have little use (or respect) for thorough communications anymore.

When is the last time any of us wrote a coherent paragraph, even for business presentations?

In fact, I venture to say that we adults actually punish all forms of thorough communication, today. If you dare talk for too long, it is assumed you ain't getting to a worthy point and are, in fact, communicating poorly. If you write in paragraphs you're chastised for being indulgent.

We treat our heads of state and captains of industry with kid gloves and insist they never actually analyze any topic (just the highlights, sir), and we spoon feed them heady topics in headlines and catchphrases (even Presidents of the country are deemed highly qualified despite short-attention spans and retarded communications abilities). We design whole social and business plans in Powerpoint formats reminiscent of children's storybooks - sing-songy text and big ol' pictures to make it "clear and easy".

Should we assume that we're going home and actually talking to our kids and family? Or are we just as clipped and superficial in our communications?

Lives lived in bullet-point will have it's revenge on us. Youth will be our first casualties.

Lindsay Lohan is merely the roadkill of Powerpoint!

AKI SYSTEMS 2600 said...