A Lost Generation of Brits Don’t Know How to Make Do and Mend

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Britain’s youths have more opportunity than any generation before them to be innovative with technology, and yet are becoming a “lost generation”, unable to fix the simplest of gadgets, Professor Danielle George, presenter of this year’s Christmas lectures, has warned. She intends to use her three lectures this year to inspire young people to repurpose everyday electrical items.

Professor George, who works as a Professor of Radio Frequency Engineering at the University of Manchester, has lamented that, whereas previous generations were able to ‘make do and mend’, reconfiguring broken items into new useful pieces, the current crop of under 40s expect everything to work, and simply throw broken items away.

Prof George said: “We’ve got a lost generation that has grown up with factory electronics that just work all of the time,” the Telegraph has reported.

“All of these things in our home do seem to work most of the time and because they don’t break we just get used to them. They have almost become like Black Boxes which never die. And when they do we throw them away and buy something new.”

Each year, the Royal Institution invites a professor to deliver a series of lectures aimed at young people. Since their foundation in 1825 by Michael Faraday, numerous scientists such as Sir David Attenborough, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins and Marcus du Sautoy have presented on topics as diverse as “The Num8er My5teries”, “The Planets” and “The Language of Animals”.

Gail Cardew, Director of Science and Education at the Royal Institution said: “Our aim is to bring to life the incredible ingenuity, innovation and creativity of engineering.”

This year, Prof. George has chosen for her theme the reconfiguring of everyday household objects to create new items. Entitled Sparks will Fly: How to Hack Your Home, she has drawn on the hundreds of videos now available on the internet that teach people how to put their electronic items to new uses for inspiration.

“There is now a big maker community who are thinking hard about what we do with all of these gadgets. They are remaking and repurposing things,” she said. “I talked to someone who had used some LEDs on his bike so that he could put up a message as he was cycling.”

Her demonstrations will include showing people how to use a magnifying glass and shoe box to turn a mobile phone into a makeshift projector; how to turn a bottle of water into a lamp; and how to use kitchen foil to make too-small batteries fit properly.

“I want young people to realise that that they have the power to change the world right from their bedroom, kitchen table or garden shed.

“Today’s generation of young people are in a truly unique position. The technology we use and depend on every day is expanding and developing at a phenomenal rate and so our society has never been more equipped to be creative and innovative.”

The first lecture, delivered last night, was inspired by Newcastle inventor James Swan, who, in 1878, demonstrated the first working light bulb. In the modern variation, Prof. George played a computer game on the windows of a skyscraper using hundreds of light bulbs. Over the next two nights she will also demonstrate how to turn a smartphone into a microscope, how to use Lego to solve a Rubik’s cube, and sending wireless messages via a barbecue.

“When I was eight years old I was given a telescope by my parents and I was fascinated – I would get up in the middle of the night to watch lunar eclipses,” she said. “It was the first time I realised how mathematics and physics could be used in a practical and useful way and I knew immediately that this kind of hands-on investigation was what I wanted to do in life.

“If we all take control of the technology and systems around us, and think creatively, then solving some of the world’s greatest challenges is only a small step away. I believe everyone has the potential to be an inventor.”