BVEP - Business Visits and Events Partnership

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BVEP Blog

In, out, in, out, shake it all about.

By Simon Hughes - For those of you expecting yet another view on the current EU referendum – gotcha! We are of course currently polling all our partner organisations to see what the collective view from the business events sector is on the thorny question of which way to go and are looking forward to seeing the results.

I’m afraid though that the cunning headline for this blog has been designed to demonstrate my immense respect for the headline writers employed by our national press. News International apparently selects theirs at birth, puts them through Eton and Oxbridge and then locks them away in the News Building near London Bridge to churn out classic headlines until they are creatively wrung dry and take up a career in politics. Or so I’ve been told.

The real focus of my attention is a news story that broke last month, when the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the latest numbers on teenage pregnancy rates in the UK. These official figures showed that the rate had fallen to its lowest level since records began back in 1969. Most commentators welcomed this as good news, though some expressed concerns about the cuts to public health services and lack of sex and relationship education – both of which would help bring the UK teenage pregnancy rates more in line with other developed European countries.

The comment that really caught my attention was one that linked this drop with a similar reduction in rates of sexually transmitted diseases amongst teenagers in the UK. One key factor cited was the impact that social media has had – sadly not in terms of the education and communication opportunities our addiction to all things digital offers us. It appears that one contributing factor is that so many teenagers spend so much time socialising via social media that they are not engaging with each other in the real world – or IRL (in real life) as they would put it. Result – a decline in the human contact that can result in both the transmission of STDs and unwanted teenage pregnancies.

Like all unforeseen consequences of new patterns of behaviour, there is obviously an upside to this development, as this latest research has revealed. Yet it made me pause for thought. What are the longer term implications of this kind of impact on the world we live and work in? As ever it’s difficult to avoid sounding like a grumpy old fart when considering such a question. I am of course from a generation when mobile communications meant walking around to my friends’ house and knocking on the front door to see if they would like to come out and play. My socialisation as a teenager revolved around the trip down to the Sunday night youth club in the local parish hall, hoping that the local skinheads wouldn’t be lurking to slap me around a bit first.

I endured the real time horror of trying to find a girlfriend as a teenager and then having to organise myself accordingly with trips to the cinema for some back row canoodling and at some point that awkward moment of meeting the parents over a nice cup of tea. What I do know is that this was real social interaction that created real experiences that in turn helped me develop into the person I am today. Not perfect by any means but with a wealth of experience to call on based on meeting real people from different backgrounds and with different points of view.

So how does a teenager today replicate that kind of socialisation when the internet of everything means you don’t have to leave your bedroom to explore the world? Attending that youth club led to me eventually running the parish youth committee and putting on events that made more money that the annual parish fete. We even got the local skinheads to join in rather than beat us up. The grounding I gained as a teenager in terms of organising events, working with a diverse range of people and getting stuck into the importance of detail, marketing, controlling budgets and creating amazing experiences have stayed with me throughout my career.

Of course I was growing up at a time when my choices were constrained by a very particular set of circumstances. There was far less choice for all of us that were teenagers 50 years ago. Framing that experience in the context of the digital age we now inhabit is probably an impossible task. We didn’t have the hardware, let alone the software that now opens up opportunity for anyone to connect with anything at anytime. Yet that need to make connections that are real, sometimes dangerous, that challenge us and teach us lessons that can stay with us for life is something I think is an essential part of helping us develop as rounded, balanced and engaged people. You can Google it of course – but it is not quite the same experience is it?