Sunday, April 27, 2008

And We Would All Be Safe

Insomnia III
Originally uploaded by Maria takes pictures.
Yesterday I lectured in Geneva to a group of designers on the ways ‘we’ and ‘them’ are produced in youth cultures. One of my key themes in the presentation was the sense of insecurity felt by a large number of teenagers. There is not one single reason to point out: the sense of instability and anxiety results from the Internet, secularism, social inequality, lack of attention and confusion on parenthood just to name a few. The Internet is giving a voice for millions of freedom fighters but also acting as an efficient tool to terrorists, pedophiles and bullies. Therefore it does not come as surprise that one can witness an escapist sentiment in many youth cultures, which can be interpreted as a reaction to the world that the baby-boomers are offering. We’re destroying our planet, the public sphere and killing people on our borders. A growing number of teenagers are asking: what is the point really?

Of course the sense of instability and anxiety is not a privilege of teenagers. Kate Kellaway writes in this weekend’s The Observer how insomnia is becoming an epidemic of our era. The numbers are shocking: 27 % of Brits have at least three nights of bad sleep per week, 63 % suffer at least one. One in four Brits are finding it difficult to sleep well. The Western world seems to be turning into a community of unhappy, scared and wealthy zombies.

The Observer had asked a number of insomniacs to tell about their difficulties with sleep. As an insomniac myself, the stories are frighteningly familiar. During the last three and a half years I can’t remember a week when I had slept well seven nights in a row so reading the article felt like they had installed Big Brother cameras into my bedroom. As any insomniac knows, lack of sleep is not 100 % bad. Journalist Tim Adams describes the unusual moment of clarity emerging often in the middle of the night when sitting in a quiet house with your laptop and schoolgirl Elsa Vulliamy talks about the fear of the bed. It is black AND white, good AND horrible. “I’d just want it to be morning again” – a quote from Vulliamy – is something right from my mind earlier this week but I also can remember from my freelancer days the addiction to working in the middle of the night - which had as its flipside the grumpy zombie moments around three-four in the afternoon. And someone who always sleeps well cannot understand how much like a Superman an insomniac feels after nine hours of continuous sleep.

After my presentation yesterday we ended up talking about the responsibility of adults – teachers and parents specifically - when it comes to teenagers sharing intimate stuff online. We have entered a world where more and more parents are finding it difficult to perform some of the key roles of being a parent: protecting the child, passing knowledge onward and at times making the decision for the child. The helpless feeling is something we all insomniacs recognize – you feel very abandoned and helpless, lying in your own bed eyes wide open and thinking about the rest of the world resting in peace.

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