It has been a lovely Christmas holiday, with both my children in the house. One still lives here all the time and the one is more usually away at university.
What makes this most apparent when they are both here is they play music very loudly, and when one of them likes the latest rap records and the other prefers Wagner, you can imagine what our house sounds like.
It occurs to me that – in fact, to give credit in the right place that it occurred first to Sarah – that we know very little about our children’s online lives.
They both use Spotify, which explains the access to that particular combination of musical tastes.
But – and this is where it gets interesting. The older one uses Snapchat and Instagram to keep in touch with friends. The younger one – who appears to be even more Gen Z in his attitudes – used Snapchat and Tiktok (until today, when he deleted them – or so he says).
They neither of them use Facebook at all, and they tell me they wouldn’t do. Neither do their friends. Because Facebook takes ownership of their pictures and thoughts, and they do so for ever.
They also use Whatsapp, rather than any more conventional email and they never use Twitter or X, as we must now call it.
Conventional opinion imagines that the new rising generation is completely obsessive about social media, but they aren’t – and neither are their friends.
That isn’t that being young at this point in history is somehow problem-free. The girls seem to go to pieces at 14 or 15 and prefer never to go out. The boys get involved with ‘county lines’ – which seem to be absolutely ubiquitous in Sussex – and spend their school years off their heads.
I exaggerate of course. But that is the tendency. And for some, sadly, it is wholly true.
Writing this blog makes me feel like an old fogie. But the truth is that the generally accepted picture of young people today isn’t that accurate. It certainly doesn’t apply down here.
When they finally get their act together, Generation Z won’t have their youthful indiscretions recorded on Facebook for ever – because they would then be ‘owned’ by Facebook.
And until Facebook and Google start sharing some of the proceeds from its data with the people it has been recorded from, they won’t get the commitment of the next generation.
I am also horribly aware that it is my children’s generation who will have to deal with the toxic tickbox version of IT – which leads inexorably to the phenomenon of the ‘empty’ or ‘absent’ corporation.
The best example I can think of at the moment is the phone company O2.
I am currently locked in mortal combat with this company over an incident in August when, away from home, I made the mistake of negotiating over the phone with their call centre – somewhere in the world – over my younger son’s phone contract.
The result was that, without our knowledge, our address was changed and we were ‘sent’ an advanced model phone – which, needless to say, never arrived with us…
They then loaded the debt onto my son’s account. This isn’t really the place to go into the ins and outs of this business. The key point was that nobody in the company could help me. Certainly nobody in their high street branches, where staff are bizarrely forbidden from intervening when someone has been in touch with the call centre.
I wrote to the managing director, aware that the handful of executives in the company are investigators who handle complaints from his office. I exchanged endless tweets with them and their bots, begging for some kind of reply.
Yet it wasn’t until November – three months later – when anyone got back to me from the company, and he knew nothing about the case.
It transpires that Virgin, a well-known empty corporation – also just a call centre in search of work – bought O2 in 2022. It is clear now that the call centre IS the company.
I also discovered at the weekend that Sarah’s account had also had our address changed to one in Glasgow, and she has also been paying for a state of the art mobile phone which she has never received.
I would like to think that the reason that nobody has been in touch is that they are all so busy investigating their call centre about these frauds – when even the supervisors assured us that the contracts we had received were ‘just marketing’.
But somehow I fear that isn’t the case, and there are just too few middle managers to do anything more than to make sure their automated systems run a little more smoothly for the call centre.
I don’t know how many other people may have been caught in the same scam. If you have an O2 account and you are paying out more money into it than you should – I recommend that you check (and if they did the same to you, please get in touch with me!).
In other words, I am ashamed of the useless, disempowering tickbox systems that my children and their Generation Z friends will have to deal with when they inherit the world. They will not find it easy either – because they employ so few people, it will be cheaper to run these shiny, heavily marketed tickbox systems where everything seems fine – until, suddenly, it isn’t.