I had a really interesting conversation with my friend’s daughter the other day. Lucy’s eleven, and like most of her friends, seems to spend as much time as her parents will allow glued to electronic devices.
Trying not to sound too much like a dinosaur, I asked Lucy what games she enjoyed playing. With a look that suggested I had just asked a VERY dinosaur-like question, Lucy told me that actually she rarely played games on her devices, actually. Most of the time she was watching videos, reading books or listening to music – most often a combination of all three. And that she also uses technology for the majority of her schoolwork – most of her work is done on an iPad, the teachers set her homework in the cloud, and she and her classmates work on projects together by chatting on a dedicated area of the school’s website. Which all, like, totally makes her parents really mean for not letting her use it all the time, right?
When I stopped feeling like I’d stepped off the ark, our conversation set me off thinking about my schooldays and how different things were, even those very few (ahem) years ago.
One really big difference is the sheer amount of stuff I used to own that Lucy and her friends now don’t seem to feel the need for. Vinyl records, cassette tapes, radios… I can still remember pleading with my parents for a TV in my room, Lucy watches all of hers online, in the palm of her hand. And its not just the electricals that have changed – I’m talking about real books made of paper, and the excitement of a pack of new felt tip pens. The craze for fluffy pencil cases and pencils with weird rubbery things stuck on to the end. Stickers. Smelly rubbers. And Saturdays spent shopping with my friends buying posters. Oops, my dinosaur’s showing again, isn’t it?
Are Lucy and her friends missing out by not owning ‘real’ stuff, or am I just being nostalgic? And what’s next? Will start to see everything vanish from peoples’ houses over the next couple of decades, in the way that vinyl collections were replaced by CD collections and are now being replaced by MP3 players in our pockets? Will technology eventually take away peoples’ need to own ‘real’ things completely?
As MD of Utilise It, I spend most of my time helping people make the most of their stuff. We’re essentially a stuff matching service – helping some people find things that they need and helping other people make money out of the things they own. Sometimes this is simple – a big magazine company from London wanted to hire some white steps for a few days to display some handbags for a photoshoot. Their budget was £400, a local shop had some steps in their store room with they were happy to rent out for £300 – boom, job done. Sometimes it’s more complicated – we’ve had a requests recently for a 30 foot transportable oak tree, 12 headless manakins, an aviator jacket and an 80’s style ‘boy racer’ car (to be used as TV props, so not quite as random as it sounds.)
So I know first hand that people do need stuff – and a weird and wonderful range of it – and also that there’s a value attached to everything, (even those hideous airbrushed posters that me and my friends were so taken by). It makes my day when I can find somebody exactly the item they’re looking for, and even more when I can hand over a payment to someone who’s managed to raise themselves some cash from renting out possessions that might otherwise have ended up at the tip.
I do rely hugely on my website, my laptop and my smartphone, so I’m not completely anti technology – but I won’t be getting rid of my stuff any time soon, even if that is what the future has in store for us. I’m keeping my books, and my record collection’s safe. And if all of that makes me a dinosaur, then so be it. Actually.