Malleable Minds:

What we choose to do in our spare time and with our own money can tell us more about a generation than any other factor. The plasticity of our minds alters these choices throughout the generations according to what is prominent in our world at that time, influencing who and what we become.

Older generations may seek pleasure in nature programmes, as well as shows which focus on gardening, cookery and homemaking skills, all subject matters which offer nostalgic memories of what gave them feelings of pleasure and security in the past and which divide them from some of the younger digital natives who are surrounded by anonymous technology pervading every aspect of their lives from their very first year.

The voluntary leisure choices made by each generation show a great deal about what makes us tick. It was in the 1960’s when studies first showed a clear correlation between young males who watched violence on television and aggressive behaviour in real life. At that time, the same correlation wasn’t revealed in girls. However, since the 1980’s, and the rise of powerful, combative female protagonists in films, there has been a corresponding rise in female violence and aggressive behaviour as girls seek to emulate their bullish heroines. The younger generations who seek out violence and combat in computer games and films may be addicted to Challenge and their minds may becoming trained to see problems and conflict where there are none in reality.

After the last world war as the country was re-building itself, people chose to watch comedy and light-hearted entertainment as an antidote to the very real direct misery surrounding them. There were strict controls over content and language on all television programmes. Conversely, today, young people with more material goods at their disposal are seeking dark and sometimes disturbing content in which to immerse themselves even in the midst of worldwide health and economic crises. So, what has changed to cause this Great Generational Divide? Perhaps the answer is to be found in the proverb: Each generation will reap what the former generation has sown. From an era of relative innocence on tv and magazines, in the last two decades, we have leaped into a world where we have multiple ways of accessing the darkest corners of the human psyche and sharing these findings with each other. Perhaps this is the source of the anger which drives young minds to entertain such dark material in spite of most of them never experiencing the basic stripped-back poverty of their great grandparents’ generation where survival was the main focus of life.

One of the most direct and compelling examples of just how impressionable our minds are, was demonstrated by Karen V. the owner of a rose plantation in Kenya in the 1980’s. The plantation had been in Karen’s family for generations, and she felt proud of the peace and harmony which had existed throughout the villages for so many years. As a gift of gratitude, she gave each village their very first television set and within just two weeks of their installation, the first serious crime on the plantation took place in the form of child rape. As the usually law-abiding locals became mesmerised by the imagery of western films for the first time, they absorbed actions which they felt compelled to replicate among their own people. By beaming violence and crime out into their world on a daily basis, it appeared TV was sanctioning such behaviours, and the stigma which usually surrounded such violent impulses was quickly dismantled. If it was OK for the sophisticates of western cultures to do these things, then it must be how life should be. From then on, disorder reigned throughout the plantation and criminal activity, including child abuse, increased until Karen was forced to sleep with a gun under her pillow, armed guards at her door and iron bars at her windows. Realising too late that what had been seen cannot be unseen, her greatest regret was that she had, in just two short weeks, destroyed the harmony that had existed on the plantation her family had built up over generations.

The power of imagery cannot be underestimated, and we have a responsibility to understand that children, like these plantation workers, will absorb and replicate what they are regularly exposed to. We can create utopia or dystopia just by where we choose to direct our attention and the isolation which the use of technology offers means our children are less able to be supervised and guided in the modern world. This fact alone suggests the dangers our children face today are greater than ever before.

‘We become what we think about all day long’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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