Are our young people stuck in 'infinite browsing mode'?
Choices. Everyday. Inescapable. Big, small. Good, bad. Choices are something that we have all grown up with, and that we’ve learnt to accept. But when we’re not so sure what to do, how do we make the right decision? Especially if our judgement gets clouded by bad information, our emotions come into play or our own circumstances dictate the decision we need to make. It can begin to seem like an unsurmountable task, especially when it comes to careers. Especially when you’re a young person who’s been asked to choose how they will start their career, something which has clearly evident at last week’s Skills London event at the ExCel centre. Thousands of young people nervously approaching stands, huddling in groups for safety and hiding from their teachers in the coffee shops outside.
‘Infinite browsing mode’
It’s easy to understand why an event like this might seem to be scary for them, I’d been at the same venue a week before for the Business Show and experienced the same in many ways. The problem I faced was the sheer amount of choice. I had a few conversations but most of my time was spent browsing the show guide, trying to work out who to speak to, and which seminars to join in the 4 hours I had there. Thoughts start to fill your head in scenarios like this: what if I speak to the wrong people, why did I sit through that talk when after 5 minutes it was clearly not worth my time, why didn’t I make a plan before I arrived?
It wasn’t until this week after seeing the speech made by Harvard law student Pete Davis that I started to understand one of the possible underlying factors affecting us all, but especially our young people - we’re stuck in what he called ‘infinite browsing mode’ - endlessly scrolling and swiping through life’s choices. Infinitely browsing through the different options available to them, starting research on options before being distracted by something ‘more interesting’, faced with recommendation after recommendation about which career pathway to follow, adverts targeting them based on the research they’ve done so far. This is what Davis calls the ‘defining characteristic of a generation’.
The burden of choice on young people today is unprecedented. I may not have had all of the information I needed as a teenager to make an informed decision but I certainly didn’t feel ‘bombarded’ which was the word used by a careers advisor I spoke to at last week’s event. As adults we think we are helping, but we’re not. We’re creating new opportunities for young people every day and new ways to interact with them but providing very little support on HOW to make the choice. And when we feel burdened by a decision the tendency is two-fold - stick where I am, or go with what’s expected of me. In the case of our young people this usually means applying to university. Keeping their options open. Buying more time to make a decision. That was certainly one of the reasons I went to university, and was why 3 years later I stayed for a 4th year to study a Masters. Whether the young people at the event last week had been upstairs in the ExCel faced with an endless corridor of rooms, or stood in the middle of the bustling room below, they would have been faced with options. Hundreds of them. Too nervous to take a chance by opening a door. To committing to an option.
‘Pick a damn movie’
As Davis says, of his and his peers’ time at Harvard:
We may have come here to help keep our options open, but I leave believing that the most radical act we can take is to make a commitment to a particular thing, to a place, to a profession, to a cause, to a community, to a person, to show our love for something by working at it for a long time, and to close doors, and forego options for its sake.
We need to start thinking the same and transfer this into the ways in which we seek to serve our young people in helping them to select the right career pathways for them, so that when they hit ‘play’ they do so with commitment and intention to see it through.
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