Greta Thunberg

Toys for the Apocalypse

Are Generation Z our most important generation of all time?

A recent report from Crowd DNA, a global trend-spotting and research agency, described Generation Z as health obsessed, alcohol avoiders with a plan to save the planet; but they’re also everyday teenagers intent on breaking rules.

video courtesy of Crowd DNA

I would argue that this generation is the most exciting and important of all time -given the world they have inherited and what they need to fix so our species can thrive into the 22nd century.

Born after 1995, Generation Z are the post-millennial generation on the verge of adulthood with 2.5 billion of them worldwide. The youngest are 9 years old, the oldest 24 and they’ll make up the majority of the world’s consumers in just a few years time.

As a generation they are rightly questioning rampant consumerism and the existential impact that it is having on the world they have inherited.

The Television Will Not Revolutionise

One might argue, perhaps unfairly, that Millennials (born between 1981 and 1995) were a generation distracted and induced into a coma by smartphones, iPads, social media and reality TV to make them look away from what was happening around them.

The perfect gift for smartphone addicts?

After all this was a generation forced through an increasingly industrialised and standardised education system optimised for outputting passive consumers, less questioning of authority, with a promise that as compliant office or factory workers they could fund themselves and live happily ever after. That was until the gig economy kicked in where they suddenly lost their workers rights and became generation rent.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m absolutely not down on the Millennials, I’m a Gen X (1961–1980), I blame the Maturists (pre-1945) and Baby Boomers (1945–1960) who gave us the post-war global structural reform characterised by free-market economics and neoliberalism that eventually crashed the economy and gave rise to the precariat and the challenges we now face with populism.

I am however the father of a pair of Millennials and a pair of Gen Z’s. This doesn’t make me an expert but I do see the differences and I’m also a parent who is concerned about their futures.

Throughout history all generations have been uncertain about the future. The formative experiences from Maturists to Millennials range from the second world war to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

It could be however that Generation Z are the first generation who are uncertain about the present, as well as the future. Their formative experiences include the global economic downturn, live climate change phenomenon, population growth and migration at an unprecedented scale combined with a 24 hour news cycle which is “all dystopia, all of the time”.

No wonder we have an anxiety epidemic amongst teenagers and no wonder they might seek solace in the relentless distraction of Fortnite or Netflix until their brains atrophy.

To be honest though Generation Z make me optimistic about the future particularly when I see the new activism emerge led by Gen Z icons like Greta Thunberg.

What we need are more Thunbergs and less Instagram and YouTube influencers relentlessly holding a mirror to themselves as if they might spontaneously turn into a flower.

video courtesy of pi-top and directed by Eugene Riecansky, Rockstar Films

So how do we encourage our teenagers to become more engaged with their world, to use their agency and make real change possible?

As parents, nurturing autonomous individuals who can collaborate and thrive as global citizens to solve our planets existential challenges is our one and only real job.

How do we disrupt the cycle of passive consumerism and unsustainable production that has become the engine of economic growth in western society for the past 100 years producing planetary scale landfill?

Let’s be clear. There’s no planet B. Not for homo sapiens. Not for US.

We might visit Mars but we ain’t all going there and as Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, said,

“We’ve got to accept that dealing with climate change, though hard, is a doddle compared to terraforming Mars and it’s a dangerous delusion I think to believe that there can be mass emigration, a million people or so going to Mars.”

So is it possible to buy a product and save the planet?

No, but it is possible, I believe, to provide present and future generations with the knowledge and skills to help them thrive into the next century and beyond. This is something that by and large our global education systems, locked in a forced marriage to the standard model of education of the late 19th century, are also challenged by.

Which brings me to the title of this essay. What exactly do I mean by “Toys for the Apocalypse”?

Something I will say for Gen X and previous generations was that making and fixing rather than disposing and replacing wasn’t a thing, it was what we did.

Since Froebels Gifts many of the toys of old were designed to encourage creativity, exploration and making new things. We didn’t chuck them out when we got bored with them or completed a set of fixed instructions like the crap from a Kinder Egg then losing interest.

Because these toys were open-ended, leading to a variety of outcomes and discovery. From LEGO to chemistry sets, sewing machines to electronic kits. Pick up a vintage magazine from the 1950s and you’ll find guides to help you design and build a wireless radio set or a variety of other things as well as tips on fixing and repairing. This, I believe, kindled a spirit of “can do” invention, playful learning and joyful problem solving.

So where is that spirit today?

video courtesy of pi-top and directed by Eugene Riecansky, Rockstar Films

From Sept 2017- Sept 2019 I had the opportunity to work with a global team of some of the best industrial designers, engineers and learning theorists. Together we worked to create a new kind of toy or learning platform designed to rekindle the spirit of making, modding, hacking and fixing in a form that is relevant for today.

The result is pi-top [4], a programmable module for makers that can be used to create robots, rovers, drones, environmental sensors, gardens, light shows, music — in fact it can be used to create pretty much anything that you can think of and probably a bit more. Naturally, it’s designed to work with smartphones, tablets & laptops to dial up their capacity as creative tools.

It’s not a silver bullet for the future but it is something that I hope will give people the opportunity to look up from their screens. That screen time may then turn into creative time to have fun, learn new things and create fabulous projects that they can share with their friends and community. It might even help nurture the skills and competences that present and future generations need to thrive and make a better future.

In playing together and collaborating we learn and if we learn the right things and can apply them to the challenges of today and tomorrow then I think we can make it.

Because together, we make the future.

Greta Thunberg & George Monbiot make the case for protecting, restoring & using nature itself to tackle the Climate Emergency
The future has come to meet us — courtesy of The Financial Times
Greta Thunberg — TEDx Stockholm 2018

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If you would like to hear this talk at your summit or conference please contact Wendy Morris at The London Speakers Bureau



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