Martin Orton on: London Materialympics 2011

People were forced to leap from the upstairs windows of a burning building in Croydon last night as rioting spread across London and beyond. (Image: The Telegraph)

Everyone this morning is asking the same question, why? How can our young people do this to us? Where is the political agenda? Oh please…we’re focusing on mindless thuggish behaviour: the result, not the cause. It’s a tiresome perspective – as if we, the society that is responsible for raising them, are blameless.

We thought they were happy with being excluded from school, condemned to some bad youth centres, to live out their youth as silent victims of our inability to deal with the real issues. Sedated with PlayStation and table football.

So how did they suddenly transform themselves from the passive aggrieved unemployed into a proactive, well-organised army of rampant materialists?

Well I can tell you, and the answer isn’t a simple sound bite.

They’re just doing what we tell them to… think about it. What messages do we tell them about happiness? The sophistication of digital marketing to young people by brands is beyond most adults’ realm of comprehension. You Tube, Twitter, Facebook: smartphone specific and highly targeted. We teach them what they should want but not how to go about getting it. When the gap between want and opportunity stretches this far, what can we really expect?

Citizenship classes sponsored by Grand Theft Auto? The Facebook debating society? Or sex education by Grinder?

An injured male appears to be helped up by others, before they open his backpack and help themselves (Image: The Telegraph)

Male role models nowhere to be seen, racist police, teachers given up, and a small but significant group left to be educated by the Internet. Sounds like Lord of the Flies meets Mad Max. Beyond the Millennium Dome – to JD sports in Woolwich.

To be honest if any of us could really put ourselves in these young people’s situations we would do exactly the same. The problem is we can’t even imagine the world they inhabit – the zero opportunity existence.

A brave Hackney resident voices her views on the rioting and looting (Uploaded by XItwigyIX )

I’ve been talking to and working with London youth for 10 years. In the last 3 years I’ve seen a dramatic change and it’s down to one thing – self-directed learning online. Young people simple have no way to sort the mass of misinformation they receive. How can they – nobody knew they where even looking at it until now. So no one is teaching it. What should they be teaching? Critical thinking and digital fluency or simply put, how to distinguish sense from nonsense.

The research I’ve carried out with the groups all say the same thing. Conspiracy theories and misinformation that’s spread online influences young people to an extent that they and their peer groups will believe anything. The jump between belief and action is small. As we’ve seen in the London riots. So these riots and the destruction of innocent people’s businesses in their minds is completely justified. Police are racist, government is corrupt, nobody cares – I’ll take whatever I want. Maybe the products themselves will deliver me the values I imagine I have – on Facebook.


A looter posts a photo of himself with his stolen goods on Facebook (Image: The Daily Mail)

Why would a looter post pictures on Facebook of their stolen goods? They’re so far into the matrix that they no longer even see the world outside.

Will we change youth policy? Will we change education? Create opportunities?

Tough questions, not least why didn’t somebody pull the plug on BBM? Or even the mobile networks? Just pay-as-you-go would have done it.

There’s been a lot of discussion about water cannons and plastic bullets. Do we really want to wake up to death as well as destruction? My biggest fear is that this has opened a door to a new type of behaviour, one that can be accessed anytime a group want to go on a shopping trip.

Maybe the Big Society can step in and sort this? Why not – big government seems to have failed. After all these are the children of the high spending Labour era.


After last night, I’m open-minded… Or did we see this coming?

Young people in London fear violence after local youth clubs close (Uploaded by wakeup2nwo)

Martin Orton
Managing Director, Bold Creative
@marty_orton

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