Sometimes you have to look back. Take stock of the changes that you have seen. Analyse what has happened in order to get an idea of where things are headed in the future. I feel like this when I look back on the mid-1990’s and early 2000’s, during my formative teenage years and early 20’s, and then attempt to gaze forward, all the way to space age 2017 and beyond.
In the span of fifteen years, I have already witnessed historical shifts in politics, culture and economics, which would have amazed and shocked previous generations.
I have already lived through the ‘Great Recession’ of 2007 – 2009, as it’s currently being called by pundits and politicians (I suppose by giving it a historical moniker, it gives the impression that it’s all over). This was the largest loss of global wealth since 1929. Although the deprivation was not in the same league as the 1930’s, with the welfare state, the NHS and family connections helping to ameliorate the worst of the negative consequences, it’s still left an indent on earnings and job prospects for many people my age.
I don’t consider myself to be a member of a ‘lost generation’, but certainly a slightly aimless, hopeless one, without much prospect of joining the ‘adult’ world of home ownership and career development that was promised to us. I remember the massive spate of high-street chains closing at the time, Woolworths being the highest profile one. This combined with a minor outbreak of avian flu during the same time frame, gave the world a slightly dystopic miasma. The world started to resemble a scene from a film where a happy middle-class family are obliviously watching the back end of a news report in their home, head out to a restaurant/theatre/parents evening/social gathering, totally unaware that their nation is on the verge of societal collapse.
Although the ‘Great Recession’ was more of an economic tornado, rather than a storm, it still resulted in large numbers of people being underemployed, unable to get on the property ladder and postponing potential plans for the future. Of course, the longer you stay in one job the less experience you have to move up a notch. The longer you rent, the less money you have to put on a deposit and the less time you actually have to pay for your house as well. Some mortgage lenders won’t lend to people over 40.
I used to talk to directors of companies in a previous job role. One of them informed me that he left school on Friday, was employed by the Monday and remained with the same firm for 45 years. Another told me that he had worked for the same company for 35 years. Another told me that she went to a jobs fair in the late 1960s, after leaving university and was actually head-hunted. I’m sure we all have examples of people retiring by their late 40’s and early 50’s on moderate or generous pensions. I wish these people well, but I won’t pretend that I’m not jealous considering my retirement age is hovering around the late 60s.
Politically, we also seem to be in a totally different era from 15 years ago. The Cold War, for better or worse, seemed to ossify such issues as nationalism, separatism and terrorism and accentuated the traditional left-right dichotomy in politics. The nations of the West also had to present a mostly unified front to the Warsaw Pact. The election of the most left-wing leader in the recent history of the Labour Party doesn’t seem likely to reverse this political trend. The SNP in Scotland seem to be all things, to all people and don’t rely on left-right politics. Apart from the atrocities committed on the periphery of Europe the period from 1991 – 2001, looked like one of economic boom, prosperity and peace. Even the events of September 11th, 2001 didn’t significantly dent the economy at the time.
In the last 10 years, particularity in Scotland we have already been inflicted with an unnecessary and extraordinarily divisive referendum in 2014, with a build-up that lasted years. Of course, this solved nothing, with Alec Salmond claiming that the ‘people of Scotland have rejected independence at this time’. This was the same morning the results were in. The demands for indyref2 started before indyref1 was even concluded properly. This attitude was taken to social media where the demands for a rerun have never gone away. With Scotland voting to remain in the EU, in contrast with the English and Welsh vote to leave, these demands look likely to increase, with another half-decade of political uncertainty being the result.
Then less that two years later, the Conservatives, this time, took the United Kingdom to the polls for a referendum on if we should remain or leave the Europe Union. As soon as the leave side looked like they had a narrow victory, the markets crashed and then rebounded later. Many people predict a golden era for Great Britain. Many predict a second recession. It will probably be something in between. Regardless, there will certainly be an increased period of instability no matter what.
Until about eight years ago, these great political structures; the Union with England and the European Union seemed immutable and constant. For centuries in the case of the former and decades in the case of the latter. Eight years later, one narrowly avoided being dissolved and the UK will be exiting the other in due course.
Social media has revolutionised how we communicate and respond to others. People can now share every aspect of their lives. If I had shown you a picture of my dinner in 2003, it would have had to have been printed, or I would have had to have shown you a relatively low-resolution JPEG file on my phone. You would have thought I was losing my mind. Now it’s routine to share an image of your home-made vegetable pakora or cocktail before enjoying it. I can now share the tedious minutia of life. Every. Single. Day. A celebrities opinion is given more credence and time than that of an expert. Perhaps it was ever thus, with social media taking up the vacuum left by the decline of the tabloid press.
In the cultural field, most major Hollywood blockbusters feature China in a prominent role now. In its own way, this demonstrates the current economic power of China and it reflects its inexorable rise to superpower, even hyperpower status. In Independence Day in 1996, China wasn’t even mentioned. In Independence Day: Resurgence in 2016, A Chinese commander was responsible for planet earth’s first line of defence and his niece was one of a new generation of hot shot pilots.
So, to recap: One, once in a generation recession and financial collapse, two divisive referendums, one potential recession, another referendum on the horizon and most of us are still in our late 20’s and early 30’s. On top of this, the rise of social media is changing the way we communicate and the increasing power of China is also beginning to be felt on the periphery of our culture.
What we are experiencing is a total break with the past. The world might be more fluid and dynamic now, but it is also more economically, socially and politically unstable than it has been for decades. Many of us are struggling to make sense of these changes and are just living life as best we can in whatever jobs and accommodation we can find.
Every generation has its cross to bear. Ours certainly isn’t any heavier than those that came before us. In many, many regards, it’s far lighter. However, it would still be nice to have a clear ten years of economic stability without the threat of more referendums, the dissolution of unions and parts of the British state seceding to form separate nations. Is that too much to ask for?