Sunday, October 30, 2011


I have officially departed my home town of Penrith, and so my timetable on the newsletters will officially go back to normal. When I was born, there was no internet, now I can't live without it. Humorous, really.

While I was in Penrith, however, I had the opportunity to dispel a well used myth about the younger generation - the so called 'Gen i'.

A friend of mine teaches year 7 English, at a school in Fairfield, west of Sydney. 'English' has changed since my school days, because they actually completed a unit on film: specifically, animation. When I was in year 7, we had to do Shakespeare - 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' to be exact:

For aught that ever I could read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth.

Or something like that.

But before this turns into an 'in my day' diatribe, I should clarify that this is a positive story. Keep that in mind.

So, my friend asked me to speak about introductory film and animation to the year 7 kids at his school. The idea was to present to all of the year 7 English classes in two sessions. Two sessions consisting of eighty restless 13 year-olds each.

Piece of cake.

As I sipped a tea and thought about it, it seemed easy enough. After all, they had only really heard of Pixar and didn't need to know about anything complicated like Flash or Maya animation.

I got to work putting together a presentation with loads of video, from some personal favourites like Tim Burton's 'Vincent', to crowd pleasers like the 'Happy Feet' trailer. Macbook in tow, I turned up in the morning, ready to present.

I was prepared, even excited. And then, on the way in to the classroom, a teacher warned me that I had a particular class within the group that were made up of 'difficult' kids.

Naively, I asked: "What do you mean by 'difficult'?"

She frowned at my ignorance: "They have learning difficulties. So just be sure you keep them under control."

Eh...piece of cake.

So there I was, standing in front of eighty expectant faces. I got the ball rolling by asking them about what their favourite animation films were. Seemed like a good ice breaker.

Then I started to play 'Vincent', Tim Burton's 1982 short stop motion animation (using clay) about a boy who wants to be Vincent Price. It goes for roughly 6 minutes.

According to conventional wisdom, If I was going to lose the attention of a bunch of 13 year olds, this would be the moment.


They watched the whole thing from start to finish. Not a peep.

And, over the course of an hour, they listened, answered my questions, laughed occasionally and watched whatever media I put up on the screen.

Now I know that I was not presenting a boring subject, like maths, but I really believe the reports of the next generation being listless and easily distracted are grossly overstated.

We live in an information and media rich world today. The new generations are simply trying to navigate this new world.

For example, in his book 'Information Anxiety (1989)', Richard Wurman claims "that the weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person in 17th-century England was likely to come across in a lifetime."

That was in 1989.

And I don't know how Mr Wurman asked people from 17th-century England about how much information they received in a lifetime, but it is an interesting idea.

So much has changed. How different will the world look for the next generation?

I don't know.

But I saw a roomful of kids get excited about dancing penguins, giant blue 'Avatars', and a little boy who wanted to be Vincent Price.

Many things have changed, but they're still just kids.

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