Shortly after I started school, the head teacher called in my mother to inform her I was hyperactive and therefore required special measures to stop me bouncing off the ceiling if I was asked to sit still and shut up for more than three and a half minutes. Drugs were mentioned and, given this was the early 1970s, we’re probably talking horse tranquilisers as an hors d’oeuvre.
‘Nonsense,’ my mother replied, ‘he’s just very annoying.’
And that was that.
Actually, the blunt prognosis was not only accurate (I was annoying), but effective: I had to learn to calm down without the use of Ketamine or any special attention. Even now.
I don’t miss the 1970s: not one bit. It was really crap growing up in Reading amongst the strikes, the queues for petrol, piles of rubbish and parents constantly arguing about money (mortgage rates hit nearly 30%).
Being posh in a decidedly not posh area presented its own problems. Nowadays it’s almost seen as OK to be a toff: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is and so is the Queen and we like them: you can be posh unashamedly and even ironically. In 1973, being posh meant you were a bit of an effete dickhead.
I do think the 1970s were the last time life was really tough as a matter of course for most people in the UK, regardless of their social class. Having a moderately tricky childhood was the norm and depression, dyslexia, dyspraxia etc. were pretty much ignored.
For us X Generationers (people born between about 1965 and 1979), we then loafed about in our teens and early 20s then suddenly became the most successfully entrepreneurial group in the history of the world. Behind all the early sloth there was a fire in our belly born of being the last kids en masse in the UK who knew what it was like to be a bit cold most of the time between October and March and sometimes quite hungry between meals; and an independence of being ‘latchkey kids’ because both our parents worked.
This generation founded more companies than any before, mainly legions of successful small businesses but some breakouts like Google, SPANX, Paypal and Dell. Like being posh, calling yourself an entrepreneur in the 1990s singled you out for being a self-regarding twat; now it’s an acceptable job description (annoyingly, sometimes, before you’ve even made a penny).
Then Generation Y (the Peter Pans, who were cosseted and loved) came along, and scotched that theory. For they also proved to be quite entrepreneurial in their own way.
This group (aka Millennials) born between 1980 and 1999 have taken a lot of flak recently: apparently they are entitled, a bit spoiled and impatient. And it’s easy to see why that might seem a fair assessment for a ‘right swipe’ generation.
However their roster of successful start-ups have made people realise that having it easy makes for a kinder form of entrepreneurship. They start companies that at least try to be good (or at least harmless), like Facebook, Snapchat, or Quora, or make money at sport or pop or having a cool haircut and a moderately entertaining YouTube space. And that is the key difference (for me) between the two: X generation companies still tend to be broadly traditional and obviously practical: computers, payments, internet search tools and stretchy pants.
But I see the X and Y ‘divide’ as a progression not at loggerheads. Y-ers take an easier route because it’s smarter and they don’t see the need to self-flagellate.
I think what is really interesting is where that progression takes us in Generation Z, who have been schooled on ethical business from the Millennials but know that the world is not a universally happy place: religious and/or oil wars loom, the ‘wrong’ people get voted in, very small children drown on beaches far from home…
But at the same time we are slowly improving and the Z Generation should feel empowered by that to continue the drive: global population growth is slowing; the divide between rich and poor is blurring; life expectancy is rising; more young women than ever are receiving an education; and the number of people in extreme poverty has fallen by a billion since 1980.
I am really hopeful that they will have the perfect mix of realism and kindness to do something that will eclipse us all.