Come in, Generation X

It is curious how, in times of pressure, we can sometimes reflect really deeply on things. I have been doing just that this week, as we come to the end of a six week period of remote learning, using the plethora of technology which is now available to us. I wonder how we would have coped had the Lockdown been imposed when I was a young boy, growing up in the seaside town of Hastings.

I was born into Generation X (born between the mid-1960s and the early-1980s) and grew up in the 80s. Much of my life centred around playing football, building camps and riding my bike over ramps. My world seemed to be more focused on my senses, with so much around me that I could hear, see, touch, taste and smell.

Back then we talked in person, face to face, and it was easy to pick up on how the other person really felt. Most experts believe that between 70 and 93% of all communication is non-verbal. Seeing somebody in person allows us to decipher these messages more accurately.

Deliveries were so much different back then too. The sound of the letterbox opening brought great excitement in the hope that a letter from my pen friend in Norway had arrived. Magazine deliveries were a real treat too, with the latest images that had never been seen before. I miss the days of the Beano and Smash Hits. It does not feel the same viewing magazines through a screen and I certainly do not get the same feeling of excitement as the page loads.

I had the most amazing camera in my teens. It was black (they all were) and you placed the film in through the back door, being careful to wind it on before snapping the first memory. The number of times I took some incredible photographs, only to find that the film had not caught on the winder and none of them had been saved for posterity. When it did work I would take a walk into town, slip the film inside a plastic cylinder and await my prints, usually within a week or so. The anticipation was part of the fun. Nowadays the only use of the millions of plastic canisters still in circulation appears to be for Geocaching, which is a tremendous way to get us out in the fresh air, albeit still fixed to our screens.

In the 80s, if we had a problem we would find somebody to talk to. I would not have dreamt of making a poster describing my current challenges and leaving it outside Debenhams for all to see, in case they felt sorry for me and wanted to help with some words of advice. Yet opening up to an unknown audience seems to be the norm through FaceBook these days.

We had more time back then – time to read, time to walk with family and time to play outside. I wonder how the amount of time teenagers spend playing outside now compares to the time I spent as I grew up. Endless hours would be spent making a den or playing football on the school field at the back of our house. Disappointment would be hard to handle when my mum called us home from over the fence because it was pitch black. Not that the darkness bothered us. We really valued relationships because we had the time to invest in people – our friends and family.

Life was mysterious. Nobody but my family and maybe my close friend knew that I had a new bike for my birthday. My Raleigh “The Winner” ‘racing’ bike was my pride and joy, with its foam handlebar grip and gear shifters on the down tube. Yet I had no way of sharing my adventures with the masses, no way to show that I had a personal best heading up Gally Hill or that my heart rate peaked at 150bpm by the top. I wonder if anybody would have been interested…..

We learnt patience, we had to. If we wanted something we had to wait. Even television programmes were a luxury. Grange Hill was a favourite of mine, although I often watched the appalling behaviour of some of the pupils with horror! The programme usually aired towards the end of the two hour window in the afternoon for children’s television. That was it. We did not have the myriad choices on offer, on demand, as children do nowadays.

Push notifications did not wake me in the early hours of the morning, letting me know that the economy was again in trouble. We did not even have round-the-clock access to experts with opinions on the economy.

We were in charge of our futures, completely. There were no algorithms determining what I should be interested in purchasing based on previous trips to a shop. This led us to be more curious, I think. We decided upon a course of research or enquiry and used encyclopaedias in paper form to find out the answers, rather than stumbling upon information which we were not really looking for as a result of “surfing” the web. Such a far cry from the image I conjure up when I think of surfing, with the waves lapping at my feet and the fresh sea air on my face.

There was no pressure of envy in my 1980s world. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) did not cross my mind because I did not know that Ben was on the Norfolk Broads or Gavin was off to the Wimpy Bar in town with his sister. We were satisfied with what we had. We had no desire to envelope ourselves in the photographic world of others on Instagram. We valued time rather than materialism.

Life was real back then, raw almost. I was real and I met real people. It was intriguing and captivating and I wish I had realised it at the time. Growing up I would listen to stories from other generations of the “good old days” I always vowed never to hark back to my early days with rose-tinted glasses. Yet you could argue that is what I have done here.

However, I balance this with the knowledge that the children at Yateley Manor are fortunate. The current global pandemic was not something that most of us expected, certainly not the impact it has had on our lives. Six weeks of learning at home would not have happened when I was young. Not being able to see my teachers, friends and family (albeit on screen only) would have been unthinkable back then. None of us have found the past year easy, but our lives have certainly been improved with the technology available. All things happen for a reason.

Thank you for your incredible support over the past six weeks. Together we are strong. Enjoy a restful week away from screens if you can. Go and play football, ride a bike or make a den. Enjoy being with one another.