I’m not a grown-up. I don’t have a house, or a full-time 9-5. I don’t even drink tea of coffee. In my driving lesson this morning, on my fourth attempt to perform a passable parallel park, I distinctly heard myself whine ‘I’m BORED!’, whilst clumsily ramming the vehicle into reverse and speeding it inaccurately towards the curb. It was the exact tone I used when I was fifteen, faced with a page of algebraic equations and a very slow-ticking clock. Six years on, and it still doesn’t take much to metaphorically sit me right back down in one of those red plastic chairs at the back of my GCSE maths classroom.
While it may only take a man talking about angles, or someone playing My Chemical Romance to make me feel young and stupid, it jars my brain when I am reminded of my actual age. When I’m asked to show my ID in a pub, I still get that immediate frission of fear, and the feeling of having been rumbled seeps through me, before I remember that I am actually there legally. When another report comes on TV about the numbers of 18-25 year olds living at home, or the employment rates in people under 30, a little voice in my head whispers ‘ooer, that’s you …’ And I feel a little bit dizzy. I find myself catching glances of other people in the vicinity, wondering if they’ve noticed that those people being interviewed on screen about jobs and benefits and education, are MY AGE GROUP. Except they’re wearing suits, and using words like ‘mortgage’…
I strongly suspect that even in 2022, when I will be 30, I will still find myself reverting to that teenage schoolgirl, driven mad by numbers and silence and tedium. I’ll just be sitting over a tax return rather than Pythagoras’ theorem. Catching up with our age and feeling like an ‘adult’ is problematic for most people. But I think people my age have less to get excited about in the ‘outside world’ than others might have done.
Leering over my peers and I since the year we sat our GCSEs, has been the global credit crash and the subsequent recessions and austerity measures. I therefore suspect that my schooling – perhaps slightly more-so than for those five or ten years older than me – has been geared solely towards employment and the creation of capital. The media has taught us to be grateful for any job we can get. The government has told us to accept unpaid work to heighten our employment prospects and help business. We’ve been fed bleak economic statistics every day since 2008, and we’re entering the world of work terrified; unwilling to be saddled with more debt, or make a living from professions deemed risky. I can’t help but feel like I’m one of a generation of lab-rats, bred for working only in the sectors lucrative for business: Finance and Retail.
And our attitudes compared to those of older generations reflect this. Generation Y, those born between 1980 and 2000, the children of Thatcher, have been shown in multiple polls to be more socially conservative and economically liberal than any other living generation. Since the market crash, 18-25 year olds are the only social group in which support for the Conservatives has continued to rise. Fewer of us are studying creative subjects at university and A-Level. Our support for the welfare state has been shown to be increasingly low, and this extends to a lot of state funding in general.
Our hardline political views have been explained by many commentators as a sign that people my age feel a bigger disconnect from society than our parents and grandparents do. The phrase ‘Lost Generation’ has been repeatedly mentioned in the media. Inspiration and confidence is thin on the ground. And that’s why I’m excited about the benefits the new library will bring, not just as a place of knowledge, but as a cultural centre. During the Discovery Season, while people come in to use the computers to browse the Job Centre, they might also be treated to a musical performance, an interactive exhibition, or a craft workshop. Having accessible arts and culture instills confidence in people, and gives the public something to think about other than money and unemployment.
As a group, my generation (the sons and daughters of the notorious Generation X) are thought of as less adventurous; less liberal; less radical. But what about the generation behind us? Those who I can only assume that the great imaginations of social analysts will name Generation Z – which to me sounds a little bit apocalyptic. End of the line. Or like they’re zombies… But I digress. With the advent of academies and free schools, much of their education may not be mediated by government. Creative subjects like Music, Drama and Art, may not even be compulsory. If all Michael Gove’s suggested reforms go through, many of them may have gone through school memorizing by rote. They may leave school having never made a piece of coursework. The 16-18 year olds emerging in Birmingham in 2022, might not see creative careers as viable, or even have considered them at all.
The residencies programmed for the New Library are an opportunity to make arts and culture widely accessible in Birmingham, in a multi-functional building. I hope that similar programmes carry on there, and seriously think that if they continue, they could be one of the Library’s most exciting legacies. In 2022, they may not just be an added extra for arts education. They could be the necessary replacement.