As you possibly already know, I’m the proud owner of two almost-grown children. My daughter is twenty and my son is seventeen. Although when I say “own” I mean this in a more figurative than literal sense. No one owns children, or at least they shouldn’t. I am also a tutor for high school English and have eight students between the ages of twelve and seventeen in and out of my house each week. And, it’s fair to say that I love teenagers.
Why do I mention this? Well, mostly because I’ve taken pause lately to think about the creation versus consumption conundrum. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate. For a start, it’s virtually impossible to create at the same time as it is to consume. And yet the latter can’t take place without the former. And story, a concept that is at least as old as the hills, is still in as much demand as ever. Thank goodness.
My exposure to teenagers also means I have a very good idea about what is taking up the time of many of them these day – and, for the most part, it doesn’t involve creation. Most of them are avid consumers of content, and most of that is online: gaming, binge-watching series after series through platforms such as Netflix and Lightbox, following YouTubers, a bit more gaming, maybe the odd e-book or two in between. Countless hours are devoted to these pursuits – and every hour that is devoted in this direction is an hour less that could be used to create things of their own.
I’m hoping this post won’t make me sound too much like a relic from the last century (although I technically am) but I have to say that I think this is a shame. After all, who knows where the creativity of youth will lead? To illustrate this, my husband and I attended an interview with Ian Rankin, bestselling Scottish crime novelist, at the recent Auckland Writers Festival – and a great interview it was too. He was asked about his origins as a writer and he talked about how, as a young man, he would write his own cartoons and that he made up his own rock band, complete with plans for fictional world tours and song lyrics. I love that. In fact I did a similar thing myself by writing a magazine – although I confess that I never went quite as far as inventing a rock band. Perhaps I missed a great opportunity there.
Such basic creation seems to me to be an apprenticeship of sorts. Nobody outside of maybe Mum or Dad is likely to see these creations without sniggering (and thus are most unlikely to ever be shown them) but they give the creative muscles a work-out and teach rudimentary skills about what it takes to produce something new and unique. Technology, for all its wondrousness, may be occupying our children’s time and giving them things to talk about with each other, but it may also be stealing away valuable time that could be employed in the pursuit of creation.
Of course this generation could be destined for things that relics like me can’t necessarily picture, but here’s hoping that future is as filled with creation as it can be. Like I say, I love teenagers, and know they have a lot to give – or at least they would do, if only they made the time. My only hope this that technology doesn’t turn out to be some sort of sinister Pied Piper, solving some problems only to cause a whole lot of others. Here’s hoping…