School years are the best years of your life. I had rather hoped that this tired phrase had been replaced with something slightly more inspirational, particularly since the advent of social-technology has brought a world of opportunity to our fingerprints. Yet, in a recent talk at a careers day it seemed like the early nineties was being replayed in agonising detail.
Agreeing to talk to 14-16 year olds about careers within technology wasn't a difficult decision, in fact the only challenge was finding time where I was in the UK long enough. However, the date was fixed and my commitment to do at least four talks per year had been met. To be fair this was the oldest group I had spoken to, and part of me had half expected telling questions about the true source of cyber-attacks, or questions about the steps needed to hack into someone's car.
What followed however was session after session in which young children replayed the exact same fears I had faced decades earlier, and more worryingly a real lack of awareness of opportunities available to our children in the 21st century. Nearly all of the children I spoke with complained that they are fearful about the future, with only one commenting that he was excited about what the future holds.
Who is to blame for this lack of guidance? It would be easy to point the finger at the school system, but this is the same school system that arranged for external speakers to talk to these young adults about their chosen professions.
The one telling comment however came from these young adults themselves. When asked who uses Twitter, almost every hand went up. I then proceeded to ask them who they specifically follow, almost hoping that at least one respondent was aware of the books I had written, but alas Kim Kardashian had greater social media exposure than me! In all seriousness though, not one young adult followed one professional that was in a career that they may be interested in. One of the pupils who wanted to work in sports science for example could not even name one person in that chosen profession.
Is cyber education a job for the parents? In a study we did entitled the Digital Divide we asked parents about their teens' online behaviour, and found that 23% admit that they are overwhelmed by modern technology. Just as many claim they don't have the time or energy to keep up with everything their teen does online.
So who exactly is responsible for providing inspiration and guidance to our future generations? Inspiring a generation should be a combined effort of not just parents but also teachers and industry professionals like me. If it truly takes a village to raise a child, then the advent of social-technology has turned our village into a sprawling metropolis, shouldn't we look to use some of its inhabitants for their expertise?