As Timo Peach is selected to support TEDx Southampton 2020, in a first little introduction to his talk he asks: How will the pandemic generation interpret – and be remembered for – it’s human to human contact?
A crisis will sort the grown-ups from the kids. It’s a generalism always intimated when you’re learning about yourself – you don’t know who you are until adversity finds you.
Will you turn out to be the sort who panics, or keeps a cool head in the crucial moment? Will you be someone to speak up or keep your head down? In the ledgers of history, will you show up?
Well, in an era of converging crises, only highlighted by the COVID19 pandemic, every day is a back to school day and we all have a lot of homework to wake up to at once. A continuous bad Monday, for which there isn’t enough coffee in the world.
At the moment, that world is looking less and less like it knows how to make human connections. Whatever motivating sense of history we choose to steer a course by, everyone of us is living at a busy intersection of car crashes. But in crisis, I’m not sure there is a “sort”. I think it’s terrifying dumb luck whether your wits are about you in a split second moment of decision or not. The difference, where one can make it, is likely found in something as boring as preparation. Knowing yourself, knowing your context, and doing a little personal prep work. Heroes have simply already packed their lunchbox.
In November, there is an event that’s going to try to help you with that a little bit.
As TEDx Southampton put out its call for speakers to represent the city’s place at the heart of South Central, I found myself thinking about that word Generations. The historic figures that loom largest in our imaginations tend to be those that had a very conscious sense of story about themselves and built around it intentionally. Collective ages that had a knack for theatre as much as engineering, and for the British the generation to loom largest over them may be the Victorians. We are still living with their plumbing and transport infrastructure, after all. To say nothing of many other structurally determined legacies. And fancy latin labels.
Two generations after both world wars, my own generation’s enlightened reaction to a dawning realisation about the failings of modernist promises, as well as imperial ones, was to ever so bravely adopt a wan enui about it all and quietly get on the property market hoping something more meaningful would just turn up for us. Except it didn’t. Our kids did. And they’re pissed off.
But are any of us alive now so different from each other?
The label my class seem happy to have adopted is Generation X. Named after Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book, I think people my age imagined we were being cute, supposing we were embracing reality by not so much consciously dropping out of the system as letting our eyes slip out of focus behind the MacJobs counter.
Who built the world we’re all dining out in? And who is building the one beyond us? I think, in a sense, we are all Generation X – Y Millenials, Zedders and Alphas alike, all continuing the indefinition of homogenous robot life in neo-liberal consumerism. Searching for the true definition of ourselves.Because re-reading my copy of the book, thirty years later, chilled me: It felt like so little has changed that I barely noticed it was a story written just before the internet existed.
But. Times are a-changing now. Can you not feel it? Something is in the wind. A storm is whipping up. Climates are shifting everywhere. We’re searching for genuinely new stories of us. Perhaps ones rooted in more ancient scales of futures. Wondering what we can build that will last half as long as some generations before us.
Which has prompted the centrepiece of my talk. A question that has me staring at the long scale of history from a sudden new perspective.
Is Generation X about to discover what its name stands for?
“While I myself am selected as an alternative speaker to the twelve scheduled for the day, I’m happy to walk through the process with them and let the theme challenge my own sense of purpose in making human connections.”
The maginficent Mayflower theatre TEDx Southampton 2020 is being carefully Covidly staged in couldn’t be a more inspiring setting of precenium oppulence for the arts, back when funding such things seemed vital, and they weren’t being lit red in an emergency of potential loss. While I myself am selected as an alternative speaker to the twelve scheduled for the day, I’m happy to walk through the process with them and let the theme challenge my own sense of purpose in making human connections. For it is stories that help us notice the details and make those connections across the generations, as my dear friend Michele O’Brien, storyteller and actor, put it to me.
As I look at the convergence of crises on us all today, I think we will all need to be practicing so many of the personal resiliences and character homework being explored across our speakers on November 11, if we are to respond to the complexity of our unique times with health and purpose. In the swirl of our lives in events, we will have to demonstrate our own constancy. And courage.
It can be done. I think we live in oddly possible, formative times… if we don’t panic, but prepare. And there are always certainties in our histories and never in our futures – that’s how it works. That’s what every generation is called to face. But we will need firm human connections to make lasting choices.
Generation X is being called to wake up. But what call will we each answer?
Answering the call and having a go and plunging into the woods is the only way to write any new stories of us. But it may also help us make much more deliberate marks on the world. Ones we’d rather be remembered for.