We took some of our Powering Up group to a talk last night at the House of St Barnabas. It was on Generation Y and the 1/4 life crises, organised by Bug London @bug_london. There was a great panel line up included Owen Jones, (the chap who wrote Chavs among other things), Laurie Penny and Celeste Houlker and was chaired by Miranda Sawyer, (formally of Smash Hits- and I mention that because when I really remembered who she was, I got a great rush of nostalgia for the early 90s and that set the tone of sympathy for the rest of the Generation Y panel.

There were loads of valid points made by the speakers. Issues suffered by GenY are; include old fashioned class warfare in disguise, the desire for a full consumer life is felt entirely aspirational with no actual chance of achieving it, no jobs, no homes, zero hour contract, life under the social media lens 24/7, pseudo american dreaming against the cold light of British reality- the list goes on. Life for our GenY it appears, is tough.

The fact that this was pretty similar for Generation X, seemed to have passed the panel by. Teenage years are always tough, no matter which decade you were born in. It is hard to buy a house at aged 23, it is hard to get a job, create a business and know how to build a life, a family or whatever we think we ought to be doing at that age. The one thing that really struck me however, and something that I do think its true, was a comment by Celeste who said that her generation had forgotten how to play.

I find this really sad.

As adults, we need to play. Play helps us to imagine things, and when we imagine things, we can create change. If GenY has forgotten how to play then there is no hope for them in the future.

Miranda commented last night, that the big difference between the generations was that GenX had rave culture. And she is absolutely right. We created our own narrative when we found we didn’t like the one in front of us. Music, partying in a field, and glow sticks, helped create a counter narrative to the consumer driven yuppie culture. We played and dreamed differently, and created a new discourse (and a generation of people who had taken too much acid, or was that the 70s?).

At the Social Change Agency, play is really important to us – we love playing. Our events such as HouseParty Up and POPse! are about creating spaces that enable people to experience new environments, meet different people, and think differently about stuff whilst having fun. We are helping to shape a new narrative about how we can be in the world. It’s really disruptive and it’s really fun. We’ve basically created Policy Raves (without the stopping off at the phone box at a service station to find out the address).

With the lack of the imagination shown by GenY last night, I think that leaving play to old ‘uns is no bad thing- after all we have way more practise. I just wish more Generation Y had the energy to join in.

Esther Foreman
Founder Director of the Social Change Agency
@socialchangeag