Young people never have a dull moment

31st May 2013 at 01:00
An endless source of entertainment is stifling the creativity that stems from boredom

Here are some things you will never hear in the UK again that were commonplace just 15 years ago: "Would you like to sit in the smoking or non-smoking section of the restaurant?"; "Do you have one of those email address things?" And, from parents to their children: "If you're bored, go out and play."

As the summer holidays approach - and it would be nice, this year, if in England we had a summer to go with the holidays - it is the last one that makes me think just how different summer looks to children and teenagers now compared with how it appeared just a generation ago.

For starters - and I don't think I am being overly romantic or nostalgic - we had summers. I was a child in the 1990s and I remember weeks on end of it being properly warm, not wearing socks and the paddling pool in the back garden staying out for the whole holiday.

Post-millennium, summer seems to have been displaced by freakish hot spells in April and September bookending a grey, amorphous blob of nothingness spanning June, July and August. This affects children and adults alike. As the heaving parks and pubs during those glorious weeks of April and September testify, people do stuff when the weather is nice. They don't when it's dreary.

The downside of this, as parents will no doubt point out, is that "stuff" costs money. In the current economic climate, a vanishingly small number of families can be described as "comfortable", or even "solvent", meaning cancelled holidays, limiting trips or excursions to one a summer and - I think in a lot of cases genuinely reluctantly - plonking children in front of Wii games so that they can take vicarious thrill rides in Super Mario Land rather than an actual ride to the seaside or a foreign country.

At the risk of sounding like a 21st- century addition to the cast of Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen sketch, in which the characters compete over their humble childhoods, when I was young, although we did have a crappy Nintendo console, we did not have a Wii. Or Facebook. Or smartphones. Or hundreds of television channels. Or the internet. Or BlackBerry Messenger, and so on.

So if you were bored, you really did have to go out and make your own entertainment. Play something, do something, learn something, build something. Anything. In the current economic and actual climate, it is understandable that so many are content to slump into the distraction provided by electronic devices. But I think the provision of almost endless free entertainment has caused us to forget how valuable boredom is.

Boredom is a stimulus. It forces creativity and imagination and play. Great swathes of creative achievement - albums, paintings, science experiments, books - came to be not because the creator was a brimming genius wanting to get their thoughts out but because they had nothing else to do. Mike Skinner, anti-hero of The Streets, once commented that he made his first album - 2002's much-lauded Original Pirate Material - because he was "bored and skint".

This generation cannot help the weather, and they cannot make their parents' money go further. But they can control what they are remembered for. And I would be much more afraid of being remembered as the generation who "liked" things on Facebook or could complete Call of Duty than I would be of a little boredom.

Chloe Combi is a former teacher who writes about teachers and teaching.

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