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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Another Showery Thursday

Now that virtually all the school holidays are under way, in the whole of the United Kingdom, the weather is - at best - indifferent, and in some parts of the country today will be unpleasantly cool and rainy. Nobody can claim to be surprised by this: it is the recurrent weather pattern for the time of year, over many decades. Sometimes the weather is exceptionally warm and sunny, sometimes colder than this year: but this is pretty well in the middle of the experience of the normal adult. For children, it can be disappointing; and this used to knock-back on the parents who had to turn their disappointment into constructive activity.

But here we can note the great societal change of the past decade. Thirty years ago, before the internet was accessible to households, children played; indoors if cold or wet weather was prevalent, out of doors much of the time when the weather was reasonable or good. Now it is difficult to get many children to go out to play [even in 'safe' places] because of their preoccupation with chat-rooms, on-line games and other experiences that they get on their phones, tablets and laptops. Virtual reality and instant communication with other sedentary communicants have replaced the interaction that really used to take place in meadows and hedgerows. But with this change there has developed a deeply unhealthy intensification of the downside that always existed in children's play.

In previous generations it was common for a child to run home to complain that she or he had been excluded from a game, or that the owner of the cricket bat had taken it home [thus ending the game] because they refused to accept that they were 'out', or that some fight had become too serious so that someone was hurt, or that the group had descended to name-calling and abuse that had become hurtful. These were all incidents in a session of play between people in who were in direct physical contact with their peer group; and usually the same afternoon the same groups of neighbourhood children would start play again with the relationships between them reset.

In the new generation, abuse, bullying and other offensive behaviour can build up over days, weeks and even months. Suicides are not unique, though mercifully they remain rare: but many thousands of children abuse each other, and receive abuse, online. Though most of this negative behaviour is at the intellectual level of the children; an increasing proportion of it is not. Children can access adult sites [even if their parents think they are barred, the means of getting around censorship are transmitted between open-minded young people] and discover ranges of abuse that extend far beyond pornography.

Just as their behaviour towards other real children whom they do not meet in the holidays [or ever] can become abusive, conducted from the privacy of their own rooms and their private devices; so their understanding of the world they live in - both the world of children and the world of adults - is shaped for them individually by what they discover for themselves in the infinite collective memory to which they are able to gain exposure. It is increasingly difficult for any child to be innocent of the dark side of human nature, including their own instincts and interests; but it is easy to conceal what they have learned on the net when parents try to assess their development. Most children are adept actors, especially with the audience that they best understand: their parents; and most children resort to untruth, at least occasionally, which is not always recognised by adult interlocutors. Thus children's world has changed, and is changing ever more quickly. Immature minds can access worlds that could be kept from their parents' generation, and [despite a increasing media coverage of the phenomena] there is very little guidance for teachers, parents and other carers - not least, grandparents - in coping with stubborn silences that mask shameful knowledge.

Thus is growing up a generation of economic decision-takers whose base in knowledge and in on-line experience is utterly different from that of adults who emerged into society in the nineteen-seventies. There are many good signs: smoking and drinking heavily are taboo - except for the minorities who descend into dangerous substance abuse. Young people are polite and helpful, in general: but does this mask their real attitude to society and to their elders, as formulated in the privacy that lies behind their passwords? These questions will be of fundamental importance to the economy, as a new pattern of consumer preferences comes to predominate. I am prepared to bet that they will take the reality of economic life ever further away from the simplistic supply-and-demand models on which the Econocracy have built their elaborate superstructure.

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