Tuesday, September 23, 2008


My granddaughter Stella can’t talk yet (although I’m convinced she can understand every word I say) but she got me to thinking about the huge information gap there is between generations. As impossible as it seems, I can now talk to young people who look blank if I mention The Beatles. They’ve heard the name but only in the same way I knew about someone like Bing Crosby when I was their age. A little nugget of information but no connection, and of course it’s connections and emotions that make meanings and memories. This gap can deeply affect how we do business – and I’m not just talking about ageism and everyone in advertising being under 35.

The experience of Kate Roberts (above left, no relation, but a member of the Saatchi & Saatchi family from the 1990s when she worked for our Russian and Romanian agencies) has some useful insight into this generation gap. One of Kate's many exploits was being kidnapped in Moscow, but today her life is a little more sedate. She is the driving force of the AIDS organization YouthAIDS and works to increase understanding and awareness of AIDS and its continuing impact. This is making the world a better place in a big way.

Kate Roberts once made a point that made me sit up. She was talking about how difficult it is to keep the AIDS message fresh with brand new audiences year after year. As she notes, young people today didn’t see “the shocking images of Freddie Mercury or Rock Hudson dying, or those really scary in-your-face, aggressive public service announcements”. Her job? To make AIDS personal and relevant again, and to make that message sustainable. How does she do it? She goes beyond repetition and connects with emotion. Each kid needs to hear messages of both hope and warning that older folk have heard time and time again. Kate’s been at it since 1999 when she experienced first hand the terrible cost of AIDS in South Africa. Funeral after funeral. Families destroyed. These were the stories that inspired her to take action.

Let’s hope there are other teenage Kates out there prepared to take on the challenge, connect across generations and help create a better world for all of us to live in.


Anonymous said...

It's hardly even a "generation" any more. More like a 1/2 or even 1/3. I'm 37 and was watching a music video of Kurt Cobain & I commented to a 25 year old "another brilliant artist gone too soon". I got a "who is that?" He seriously didn't know him. Focus gp of one, but a wake up call to all who think they're in touch with the younger generation.

Piotr Jakubowski said...

Do you think that people have become too desensitized, or that culture itself has dictated that people are too sensitive for those images?

I think the disconnect between generations has grown with the influence of technology. The act of storytelling in the family has almost disappeared, as there are other forms of entertainment.

Nora said...

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity. ~Christopher Morley

We have always had generation gaps what we haven’t had before was 30 year old music and 55 year old musicians being played by our teens. This is an opportunity!

For me It begins with talking to teenagers, and five year old nieces and the girls across the street... driving long distances together listening as one person dj’s the music and everyone comments... And then one person begins to sing something about cutting my hair changing my name and becoming a rock star...which is funny and (kind of) endearing and that song will forever be the song of the cottage drive...Or yelling Hey! that’s song’s going to blow my speakers when my son chooses: Love Lockdown by Kanye West, which begins a discussion on base and bands, ear plugs and hearing loss... Moving right along to why so many rockers use drugs... Kris Kristofferson said in an interview that it was because facing the massive crowds and being ON and at the TOP of your game – required some help...

Technology, TV and Video games divide us...because they exclude real life interaction.
Playing Rock Band together and/or good old fashion drives in the country provide the opportunity to tell stories, ask questions and establish trajectories for personal experience sharing. A recent trip to Italy prompted a story which became an inside joke with my daughter, which is now a story written down for posterity.

Make the Time and Take the Trouble to get to talk with as many generations as possible. A lunch out with small children is so worthwhile it can be written of as focus group testing or research and development.

Stay with your own sort, your own generation and grow narrow and long toothed.

Stubborness does have its helpful features. You always know what you are going to be thinking tomorrow. ~ Glen Beaman

Sophee McPhee said...

The generation divide is something I am very passionate and concerned about. Sure, the continual birth of new demographic communities (and, therefore, new ideas, mentalities, behaviours and approaches to life) is a necessary part of evolution and human development; but it is also resulting in a number of harmful repercussions for society.

My concern rests primarily with the decline in mental health amongst younger generations, and lack of understanding and response on the part of Baby Boomers and the global community at large.

I went to an all-girls high school and formed a strong bond with eight other young women. On the surface, these girls seem capable of ‘ruling the world’ and have so much going for them. They are intelligent, compassionate, hard-working and aware. However, behind closed doors, these women have a much darker story to tell...

Two have had anorexia nervosa
Six have had bulimia
One was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder & schizophrenia
Three suffer severe cases of anxiety & panic attacks
Four have ‘self-harmed’

Hello! This is a serious issue, and it doesn’t seem like much is being done about it. I understand why activists, consumers, business people and governments are calling for global recognition of critical environmental, political and economic issues. I also think it is great testament to our time that most people seem to be jumping on the band wagon and trying to make a positive contribution (well, at least in my neck of the woods they are). But, please, let us not forget the silent epidemic, which has the potential to be just as deadly....

For, what would be the point of having a healthy, sustainable planet if there is no one to enjoy it?

The buck on mental health needs to stop here and now! I’m only 21, so my understanding of this issue isn’t particularly comprehensive; and I admit, I could blowing things out of proportion. However, I do believe that - as with climate change - the solution to the mental health crisis has something to do with getting back to basics. However, if this is asking too much and we ‘can’t’ turn things down notch (e.g. our increasing infatuation with/reliance upon technology and material ‘success’), perhaps we can at least try to re-introduce certain traditional paradigms, which will provide youth with the stability and security they sorely need?

The dialogue between parents and children also needs to be addressed, as the disconnect between these groups continues to grow. After listening to my ramblings about mental health and the youth demographic, my mum replied, “it seems ridiculous and bazaar...there was none of that back in my day.” The problem is, we have doctors and counsellors with the same generational perspective and lack of understanding attempting to ‘fix’ this issue. So, my point is, if we (young people) can help parents and doctors better understand the reasons behind mental issues, perhaps we can have a better shot at stopping this epidemic in its tracks.

I have recently started developing a magazine, called “Queensland Calendar Girls”, which will provide a platform for Lady Boomers and young women to come together, ask questions, provide answers, discover key insights and develop resolutions. I implore other young people to try and bridge the age divide as soon as they can. Or else, we might as well start investing in mental health clinics before they start making serious money. And it won’t be long until they do.

Kevin Roberts said...

Sophee, great step towards improving dialogue between generations. Technology plays into the divide, and can bridge the gap, as Piotr mentions above.