So I came across a news article the other day that gave me room for hopeful optimism for the future of mankind! Oh, you are thinking, a cure for cancer, an announcement promising world peace, or Mr Martin is going to publish the next Game of Thrones book before the end of the next decade? Sorry to disappoint, but the article I read concerned a study carried out amongst 2,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 21, or Generation K as the article claimed to call them (after Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games fame). Whilst it seems that each generation gradually learns to write off the younger end of the population as almost completely incomprehensible, it seems that not everything is as it seems.
“When I came to recently from surgery,” says Sarah, “the first words I’ve been told I uttered were not ‘mum’, or ‘nurse’, but ‘iPhone, iPhone’.” This quote from one of the participants in the above mentioned study sums up for me what is perceived to be most important to the youngsters of today. Those of us who are a little older and have lived in a world with no mobile phones can be forgiven, I think, for some nostalgic yearnings for a lost past. These times of selfie-sticks and seemingly narcissistic reliance on Facebook likes and twitter opinions have caused me pause for thought on many occasions. I have spent a year abandoning any involvement with social media only to relent and accept that for many younger than I, this has become the favored means of keeping in touch. Heck, even my own father, in his eighties, keeps an eye on our goings on through Facebook!
We could be forgiven for imagining that these trends herald a shallow world with little regard for what is happening outside the constant barrage of texts and tweets emanating from the Apple or Android communicator of choice. However, I was both surprised and encouraged by the findings of the study. Apparently, our young generation, like Katniss, perceive the world as a constant struggle and a majority believe that life is considerably harder than it was for their parents and grandparents. 79% of those in the study were anxious about getting a job and 72% worry about debt and not only student loans. They are growing up amongst a much greater perceived existential threat. Terrorism is a reality for those who have little remembrance of life before 9/11.
In the midst of these concerns is a deep distrust for the establishment, including political institutions and especially corporations. A mere 6% of this young group trust big corporations as opposed to 60% of adults. When asked what comes to mind when they think of global corporations they volunteer words such as exploitative, selfish, arrogant, greedy, cheating and untrustworthy. Only one in ten of this Generation K trust the government to do the right thing.
What really surprised me about this study was the strong leaning towards those who were perceived to offer authenticity and who seem to be serious about tackling these issues of inequality. When asked to proffer the name of a politician they trusted, Bernie Sanders was the sole name mentioned, and this was even true amongst the predominantly UK based respondents. The perception, real or imagined, is that he seeks to take on special interests in government and business and has a strong commitment to social justice. Whatever your views on Mr Sanders, it would seem that the ‘selfie generation’ is perhaps not so selfish after all. There is a yearning for connection with others that is typified by the somewhat obsessive attachment to all things cell phone. There is a much loneliness expressed in the study’s findings, anxiety for the future, distrust towards those of us in older generations, though their politician of choice is, ironically, the oldest candidate in the US presidential race! This is not so much about age as it is about those who are honestly addressing their fears and concerns about the future.
I, for one, took a step back and allowed some of my pre-conceptions to be modified by these findings. Admittedly, there is an element of self-interest in their concern for their own futures. However, there is equally a strong desire to see an end to injustice, and support for authenticity that we might all benefit from adopting. Perhaps the future is in good hands after all. Perhaps, in the end, the Kids are indeed ‘Alright’!