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Generation Games05 Sep 11

For the first Fold Studios non-music related blog; a little music related link to kick things off:

I’m always astonished at the amount of genres, sub-genres and sub-sub-genres that seem to exist within popular music. It makes sense that popular music will spread out stylistically over time. Think of it like a family tree in which every generation spawns ever more offspring – the growth rate is exponential. So it comes as no surprise that all of a sudden there seems to be almost as many genres as there are bands and artists. It was whilst leisurely perusing through a genealogy of popular music I stumbled (through dream pop, neo-pysychedelia, noise pop, post punk and space rock) upon shoegaze. This caught my interest as one of the more (though by far not the most) bizarre names so I had a little nose around. It turns out to be a small sub-genre of alternative rock, so-called because the artists’ static and sullen disposition on stage, often staring at their own shoes or the stage as they performed. It was then when I had my sudden sociological epiphany.

Over recent years, social historians have noticed that people growing up in the same time periods tend broadly to share cultural and historical experiences, resulting in distinct generations types across the years. It leads one to ponder the defining characteristics of our generation. We’ve had the “Silent Generation”, the “Baby Boom Generation” and of course “Generation X”. But what of the current crop of young adults born since 1982 (apparently the end of Generation X)?

The “Fat Generation” perhaps? the “Cyber generation” if we wanted to be a bit less self-deprecating. According to William Strauss and Neil Howe (authors of the book “Generations”) we are the “Millennial Generation”. This is a surely a massive copout. I demand a name for our generation that tells us more about ourselves than simply the rough time period in which we were born. So I have come up with an alternative.

It’s been building slowly since the 90’s thanks to SMS but has exploded with the advent of true smartphones with Email and 3G access near enough anywhere in the country and the effect has been noticeably devastating on our collective social skills. It’s somehow come to the point where it seems to be acceptable to break off a conversation with a real life human being, only to make them wait around twiddling their thumbs while you tap away at a tiny keyboard or touchscreen for 5 minutes before returning to the conversation without so much as an apology. I’ve been sat around a pub table with friends and noticed more than one of them who spent at least half the evening heads down, tapping away. If it had been anything other than a phone in their hands it would have been considered either plainly rude or extremely odd behaviour, possibly bordering on autistic.

With more and more of our lives being manifested as bytes invisibly shooting in and out of these tiny plastic handsets, one can only imagine it getting worse. Handsets will soon have to be fitted with cleverly angles mirrors or forward facing cameras that project into a section of the screen to allow people to see where they’re going without averting their gaze from their screens. Skype and Facetime will inevitably encroach on the necessity for real face-to-face socialisation. I don’t know what passes for family evening social time these days but I imagine the days of collectively screaming at the TV while a panic-crazed woman with a perm and a jumpsuit tries futilely to fit a square block through a round hole while Richard O’Brien gleefully pipes away at his harmonica are long past. As more and more advanced phones are becoming available for younger and younger children one can envisage the classic family scene of the not-so-distant future. So, without further prelude, I give you…

The Phonegaze Generation

It’s 8:30 in the evening. The TV is droning away inconsequentially in the background. Mother is stressed. She has been doing the weekly shop for two and a half hours. After half an hour fiddling around on the comparethepricecomparisonmarket.com, she managed to discover which price comparison site offered the best services this week for online grocery shopping. After logging onto the site in question it didn’t take too long to discover that Asda represented the best value for money for her weekly shop. However, Tesco had recently put out a nationwide twitter campaign (only double-glazing firms and used car showrooms bothered advertising on TV these days) promising customers double the difference if they could find their weekly shop cheaply elsewhere. Just as she was about to pay she read the small print on the offer:

This offer is not applicable anyone who’s registered handset has visited any price comparison site within the last 96 hrs.

Offer does not apply to online purchases

She sank back down in her chair. She knew that the Central Consumer Information Network instantly logged all consumer information. Data on Everything that people buy, sell, look at, search for is instantly assimilated by the systems of every company registered for internet-based trading. The Tesco mainframe would automatically disqualify her basket from the offer. She went back to the Asda website, did her shopping again and paid. Or rather, she tried to pay. After she’d entered her card details the Visa EAGLE BULLDOG PREMIUM PROTECTION SCHEME! website flashed up demanding the 4th and 9th letter of her primary password, the 7th and 10th character of her secondary password and the 7th and 19th letter of her tertiary password. She went back to the main menu of her handset and opened up her “Password Reminder” app, which stored password hints for the hundreds of passwords needed for day to day life to function. She found the hints for the relevant passwords and jotted them down on the notepad app so she could figure out the required characters. After entering them in and finishing the shop she was still seething about the Tesco offer. They had nationally advertised the offer knowing full well hardly anyone would take advantage of it. Nobody shops in store these days. It just takes too damn long!

Next to her, Father was also stressed. He had gone to bed at 3 in the morning after a long day’s work and was woken at 5AM by a UAR (Urgent Attention Requied) tone emitting from his handset.

UAR was an app built into almost all business handsets. It was not possible to deactivate the app and he was contractually obliged to keep the handset with him at all times – Not responding to a UAR was a disciplinable offence.

He was good at his job. In fact, he was great. He knew it and his boss knew it. 10 years ago he had been promoted to section manager in the Logistical Investigation department of a large global firm which made, sold and hired out robotics for the manufacture of cars, planes and ships, as well as increasingly for household machinery such as washing machines and dishwashers.

His team had been responsible for locating and cataloguing missing equipment. It never ceased to amaze him how month after month, year after year, millions of pounds worth of equipment ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time or simply went missing altogether. His team were charged with locating the equipment and getting it back to where it should be ASAP. The workload had been heavy but he had excelled and saved the company millions. Then 3 years ago he had been informed that his office would be closed down, his team would be cut back from 11 to 3 (including himself) and everyone would work from home. The fact that the work was now done on a handset or laptop rendered the office an “unnecessary departmental overhead” and improvements in efficiency of the company’s proprietary apps and software combined with his proven track record under pressure meant that a large team was also unnecessary. They had supplied him with a new handset (UAR app preinstalled, of course) and packed him on his way home.

He sighed to himself and took 2 minutes out to start up his BP app. He held the touchscreen to his wrist until it beeped 3 times. 170 over 105. He took another aspirin from the jar on the coffee table and swallowed it down without water. He sighed again before bringing up one of his current projects on the handset. He know he would not be finished until at least 2AM.

On the sofa across the room the 3 children were not stressed. Three boys, 13, 11 and seven hadn’t made a noise all evening. In fact they hadn’t taken their eyes off their respective screens. Each wearing in-ear headphones, each independently whiling away with a bewildering digital dance of social networking, online gaming, offline gaming, on demand TV and homework. They would each have at least two chat windows open connected to friends they rarely saw in real life. It would take between 4 and 7 seconds to assimilate the last part of the conversation and reply to it, then a swish of the fingers would open up an online strategy game. Recently turn-based strategy games had come back into fashion as it perfectly suited this kind of application juggling. They would take maybe 20 seconds to assess their opponent move, decide on their own counter and make the move. They might then move onto an offline game. Action games and shoot ‘em ups were more popular offline these days as they could be played in 20 or 30 second burst and paused in between. Finally if they had any homework to do, they would spend maybe a minute on googleplus+ getting to the heart of the matter and either copying various paragraphs from different sites or reformatting and rewording previously copied entries. Within 3 minutes they were back to their social networking chat windows before the other person (often their brothers sitting next to them) got bored and ended the chat. Throughout this whole process there would almost certainly have been a small window in the corner of the screen set to “float on top” showing some on demand TV program or another.

Their parents had long since given up trying to understand how they did it. They were not technophobes by any stretch of the imagination, but these kids had been born into this technology and had trained their brains from an early age to work in synch with it. It was cognitive evolution on an alarming scale. Darwin would certainly be fidgeting in his grave if not completely turning as he pondered how much one species could change and adapt within the space of 2 generations.
At 9:00PM Mother, from 10 feet away across the room, communicated with her children in the only way she knew how, sending out a UAR message to her 3 children (For children up to the age of 16, parents and legal guardians were legally allowed to have UAR installed on their children’s handsets. The license would expire on the child’s 16th birthday):

HI KIDS. HLF AN HR TIL BT OK? I DN WAN ANY ARGUEMENTS. MAKE SUR U FINISH WT U R DOING AND R IN BED BY 9:30. PLS REMEBER 2 CHARGE UR HANDSETS OVERNIGHT. UR TEACHER APP WILL WAKE YOU AT 8:00. LOVE U LOADS. MUM XX

In the first sign of life all evening from the sofa other than the pattering of fingers and thumbs, all three children digested the news with a perfectly synchronised groan.



x5 Comments to “Generation Games”

  1. Claire McAlpine says:

    Ace! You’re a great writer. Hope this vision of the future doesn’t give you the heebie geebies:

    http://clairemca.tumblr.com/post/7860758575/a-world-of-interactive-glass-from-instant

  2. Carole Stroud says:

    Genius

  3. Ali Campbell says:

    Great read Garth! So dam true too. i know at least 5 close friends that drift off into iphoneland mid conversation. Annoys the hell out of me.

  4. Russ says:

    Great bit of writing guys. It is interesting how with all our new tech we’ve gained the ability to communicate with a far greater number of people from all corners of the world but in return are neglecting the opportunity to have deeper communication with the people sat next to us.

    I look forward to your next blog.

  5. URL says:

    … [Trackback]…

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