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make sure you are all ears – or use public transport in your research

The thing I love about public transport is that from time to time (more often if you take the headphones off) you get to overhear some very insightful conversations.

Last Friday provided one such moment. I have to say in general getting out in public spaces can be a great way of gleaning information for a project or about a certain demographic – a stealthy bit of eavesdropping can be just as valuable if not more so than a well constructed focus group or user workshop.

On this particular occasion I had the chance to listen to two first year college students (19yrs old or there a bouts) discuss in great detail the real life everyday trials and tribulations that gave them most concern: everything from ‘not hating on people who are easy targets’ to ‘how MySpace sucks so much time, just cos I want to feel some love and attention when I should be doing my college work!’

There was little that was surprising about what these two young guys had to say – but it was a quick reminder in how we in the creative industries tend to generalise too quickly. These two young guys as said were about 19, were both skaters, from their conversation and observations were certainly educated and articulate. They were very thoughtful if not a little introspective, but certainly sensitive to their place in society. In many ways their interests and opinions were typical of self marginalised youths who had chosen to pursue interests outside of the mainstream ‘normal’ culture. However it was plain to ‘hear’ that while they relished their self imposed identities on the edges of teenage culture – they also had a need to be accepted, to not be hated or disliked by the mainstream they had opted out of.

While the mainstream wasn’t for them – they talked about understanding that ‘different people move to different strokes’. In short they were happy with their choices but keen not to be critical of others just for their differences. Their concerns and dilemmas were the same regardless of their chosen interests in life.

It highlighted and reminded me why often the creative message misses the target with youth culture. In short often as an industry we try to hard to be elitist or exclusive in the message – we try to make it too cool, and in doing so we miss the core sentiments that are shared by the demographic. The same age old trials and tribulations of life as a teenager, where you are still looking for an identity, still wanting to be liked – no matter how angst the world makes you feel.

It was only because I’m between books and my iPod had gone flat that I caught this conversation – but it reminded me of the importance as creatives of not only ‘keeping out eyes open’, but also our ‘ears’ after all listening is good…

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