anaglypta, bi-generational living, broadband providers, collectivism, enduring aspirations, innovation, millennials, old people's homes, resilience, resilient societies and communities, skype wisdom, telecoms, Wisdom Of Age, within our means, youth
If we had to choose two lead stakeholders in building a more resilient society, my money’s on the under 20s and the over 60s: and here’s for why.
Allow yourself the luxury of the observer for a short while at least and there’s one thing you may notice: teenagers and oldies are very, very similar in many ways – especially when they are grumpy. They re in fact made for each other.
Both sleep at weird times of the day. Both are prone to radical mood swings. Both err on the side of the heavily medicated (prescription or non prescription). Both sport injuries and conditions as a form of life signature: some inflicted by challenging the nature of their own mortality and existence (the irresponsibility of youth): others purely by having existed for so long (the immutability of age). Both enjoy wheeled modes of transport other than cars. Both tend to suffer either a crisis of or a surfeit of identity.
Both view the wheezing middle (those of us between 20 and 60) as an uptight, over wound self obsessed lost tribe. We are trapped in the lost years, having left the age of wonder, explore and create behind, we are trapped in the secure protect and defend stage – fiercely ring fencing the things we have accrued and are accruing – and as yet far short of the time when we are finally confident and secure enough in ourselves that we can begin to discard and disassemble stuff and liberate our crippling concepts of a thriving life and just be.
Unlike the Lost Middle, they have ‘nothing to lose’ in spiritual or material terms. At one end the young, prior to being owned or owning, are still free to explore possibilities randomly, inspiring themselves and each other as they flow. They are at the least compromised stage of their lives. No strings have been attached: no mortgage overlord; no food and energy bills to speak of (even if they have got as far as renting); no fixed pathway measured in decades from which they cannot deviate; and little in the way of allegiance to the sensitivities of others, speaking out loudly and relentlessly at those things they find unfair, irresponsible or destructive. They both have a penchant for saying inappropriate things in public.
Equally, many of the elderly are also in the position of liberty and regeneration, being reasonably capitalised without the stricture of a working day or people to answer to. Both also enjoy a strong sense of community that seems bleakly lacking in the striving grinding scratching generations that separate them (unless of course you think the togetherness of mutual Lexii ownership or collective apple upgrades represent communities of any real worth.)
It is these similarities in nature and self that lead me to believe that they are the two primary stakeholders in building a more resilient model of humanity and the architects of a more enduring aspirational life.
And I believe wholeheartedly that it will take both of them. There is too much pressure being put on the shoulders of the excited young to use their seamlessly connected collectivism to compel companies to act more responsibly, to shape a kinder less tyrannical form of consumption, and ultimately to be more capable of finding meaning within their own means. They simply lack one thing: the kind of resilience and adaptability that is only ever learnt through multiple sustained and not always pleasant experiences being endured over time; and a clear sense of the inevitability of consequence come what may.
Young people need the easy, reflex and second nature wisdoms of thrift and financial integrity of the older generations. They need mentors to help them build a more integrated, inclusive and supportive society; the benefit of which they will come to reap eventually.
Oldies need to be brought in from the cold for a number of reasons not only just to supplement and compliment the young in the shaping of a more enduring model aspiration. Their return to a central role in society would be a salve to the fractured communities and families we increasingly exist within, with parents and grandparents increasingly isolated as younger families move further afield.
There is a dreadful lack of economy, efficiency and foresight in the speed with which we dispense those slightly worn generations into some inert anaglypta hell with a name drawn from the lexicon of calming rolling rural pastures or idyllic flora & fauna. (Even the best of God’s waiting rooms still suffer a dreadful absence of young people in their halls as reminders of the living.)
Thankfully, the brittle brutal truths of austerity, the death of cheap money and the comedy of house prices are making people reconsider bi and tri generational living again. Not to say that will be rose scented from the off. It will reignite some of the old issues of proximity certainly amongst generations with radically different perceptions of what is good right and fair.
Part of the original dislocation was due to the fact that the oldies of yore remained quite attached to some of their more suspect beliefs even as the world turned. Their casually voiced views and derogatory referencing to foreigners broadly and specifically people of a different ethnicity marked out by colour and homosexuality to name the two biggies didn’t roll too well with the newly liberal uber-youth. This only served to exacerbate the social and familial ruptures.
The unacceptable nature of these traits rightly needed rebalancing but it became a reasonable much cited excuse for us to condone abandonment and simply eject them from the framework of what constituted a decent functioning liberal society.
In doing so we threw the wrinkly baby out with the bathwater. Because with them went all of the old wisdoms of making ends meet, make do and mend, waste not want not, the economies of leftovers, smart buying and existing and still finding meaning within ones means. And it is the nature of those wisdoms that will secure young people’s futures.
For all of the old jokes – Quick, Get teenagers to run the world while they still know it all – the immutable emphatic heart, energy and passion of youth is fragile. They need the irrepressible mettle of oldies and the life wisdoms that come with them. The combination would be amazing.
Brands, especially ones that have been around a while, could find amazing ways to harness this power duo – starting from the inside out and the ground up. Formally connecting the young graduates, interns and apprentices with the retirees and wise owls would recalibrate how a company develops its service propositions and extant purpose in a far more holistic manner.
Telecoms and Broadband providers with an interest in building cohesive societies could fill the gaps that tech progress leaves behind. They could allow fractured or distant families to utilise skype culture to reconnect old and young as part of a Family Broadband Offering.
Educational groups could help children on the verge of dropping out of school by giving them access to the perspectives of a generation of old people who can speak from a lifetime of knowing about the decisions we all make in haste – some with regret some with joy – but all without the hectoring proximity and intensity of a parent made fractious and intransigent because they are both scratching out the bills as well as steering their brood.
But where it really gets exciting is through the introduction of the question ‘Why?’ When we sit around and hack new technologies, create new products, most looking a pale shade of difference to the ones we’ve already got. To raise the question Why? Why spend the money on a tiny upgrade? Why make a 5 bladed version of a 4 bladed razor? Why triple pack food you’ll waste some or all of? Why burn money you don’t have? Why?
The energy and passion of youth with the calm caution and questioning nature of age would create the killer innovations department in most any business.
So here’s to the hard-core stakeholders and architects of better, the oldies and the youngies: old wisdoms and young hearts reshaping a more measured and enduring future.