Moving Along, Nothing New To See

The Ephemeral Digest is slowly, and gently, moving location to so please come and pay a visit. This site will stay up for a while so no rush. Feel free to browse and pop by when you get the chance.

Colours Along The Floating Harbour, Bristol

Colours Along The Floating Harbour

Baby Boomers, All About Age?

Ed Howker and Shiv Malik were at the Arnolfini as part the Festival of Ideas. Howker and Malik have written the book Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth.

“Born after September 1979? Struggling to find a decent job, even though you’re a graduate? Can’t afford to buy or even rent a house? No prospects? Welcome to the jilted generation. Things go wrong in society all the time, but rarely do they go wrong for an entire generation” says the summary at the back of the book.

Apparently these two authors did their own research and discovered that today’s young people (31 and under) did actually face a harder time than young people of 30 to 40 years ago. Pardon me for my lack of enthusiasm when Malik told us that he’d had to learn to use Excel and to draw up graphs and everything. Compare that to the 1.38 million hits that social mobility as a search term brings up in Google Scholar.

Some of the issues that young people are facing according to the authors:

  • Being stuck in the rental sector, over 50% of young people rent because they can’t afford to buy;
  • Student fees mean that young people start off their professional lives in debt.
  • General financial situation: increased national debt because of the costs of pensions and the NHS etc.

Why do these things matter?

  • Because young people will stop having children, apparently there is a statistical link to housing and money;
  • Society will lose its communities;
  • People will stop having relationships;
  • People will start leaving the country.

The political part of the discussion focussed on neoliberalism and the rise of Thatcherism. There was some discussion about demographics and market research and how we were now segmented into voters. Politics focuses on short term discussions rather than the real issues apparently.

Also, young people just weren’t involved in politics any more, they weren’t striking, they weren’t protesting and they were generally apathetic. The irony of the pair’s own friends who were policy advisers and that at 29 they told us they were themselves too old to advise politicians seemed to pass them by.

The relationship between the media and politics was questioned and we were told that editors are usually much older and this was the problem.

Ed Howker rejected the idea of class as a determinant of how society works. Then when I questioned why they, two 29 year old journalists, who in general are professionals who will have grown up in families that are better off than three in four of all families in the UK, and both married saw themselves as facing the same issues as young kids from Brixton (an example from another audience member) – Shiv got defensive and wondered why his choice to get married should have any affect.

Most of the talk was based on generalisations, 50% of young people are now in higher education we were told. In actual fact the real rate was 45% in 2008/09. But those 45 out of 100 are not randomly plucked out of the population. Female and male young people face a difference at 51% and 40%, respectively. Also, “currently fewer than one in five young people from the most disadvantaged areas enter higher education compared to more than one in two for the most advantaged areas.” (2010, Hefce 10/03).

It was a fascinating talk and most of it was shallow enough to raise many arguments. Some audience members agreed with the ‘analysis’ and told about how their children spent too much money. Another woman nearly had tears in her eyes talking about how she had to go on the dole in January after being very well educated. I was reminded of the David Icke documentary I saw one time where the existence of lizard people was combined with discussions of 9/11 and terrorism. Just because some elements are true does not mean that we need to believe the rest.

Playing On The Side, North St

Playing On The Side, North St, originally uploaded by still awake.

Transported: When Not Waiting

In December 2009, I was running for the morning train through the dark and rainy streets of Bristol. The time was just before seven and the train doors were beginning to close as I sprinted towards the barriers. The guard used his pass to let me through the gate and then pointed towards the end of the train while the manager held the remaining open door for me.

The train left a few seconds late that morning because of the efforts at Bristol Temple Meads. I was so enthused by the wonderful treatment that my compliments were effusive on Twitter. The response from some was that at least the staff were nice this once. I realised, however, that there had been very few bad days overall. That was one magical event in a series of pretty ok travelling over four years.

The inside of the train is usually warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I tend to get a seat and occasionally have the privilege of having a table to myself. The waiting part is the worst because not only is it indeterminate but the standing around is done outside. Buses are more variable in their service probably due to traffic and other urban centre issues. Trains seem to be better at getting there.

This isn’t just anecdotal information; the annual public performance measures by the Office of Rail Regulation backs up my memories with data. A train is defined as being “on time” if it arrives within five minutes or ten minutes of the planned destination arrival time.

The service I use is now run by CrossCountry but was run by Virgin. In Quarter 2, the on time measures were 89.9% for 2008/09 and 91.8% for 2009/10. Compare that to Virgin whose on time statistics were 81.9% for 2008/09, a huge difference, especially for anyone waiting out in the cold. However even they have improved to around 90%.

When everything runs on time, and that includes my waking up, I can be home in Bristol by 6.30pm. Other times, of course, it’s not that easy.

I remember a winter three years ago when I was still reading my Terry Pratchett book at 8pm in the snow while waiting for the Virgin train which didn’t want to arrive. I went home through Newport once because the track to Bristol had to be closed off. There was snow and ice on the tracks that closed off the Severn Tunnel and made a morning’s journey much longer but provided some beautiful Welsh scenery and the slow journey behind a regional train that extended the 42 minutes into over 160. These tales of woe, however, are sparse and in between. In February 2009, the snow in England which shut down most work was mostly ignored by the trains although I was warned to avoid travelling by a colleague who arrived in Cheltenham and couldn’t get to work because the buses had been stopped. He paused for a coffee and then went back home.

The commute may not be as lovely a journey as those on the Orient Express but it’s usually a nice break from reality and punctuated by a cup of coffee and a good book.

on time

The Views From Vauxhall Bridge Are Forever, Bristol

Data: World Statistics Day And Access

20 October 2010 was UN sponsored World Statistics Day

The celebration of the World Statistics Day was meant to acknowledge the service provided by the global statistical system at national and international level, and hoped to help strengthen the awareness and trust of the public in official statistics. The day serves as an advocacy tool to further support the work of statisticians across different settings, cultures, and domains.

Official statistics are data produced and disseminated by national statistics offices, other government departments’ statistical units and indeed by many UN, international and regional statistical units.

In the UK the history of statistics ranges from the Domesday Book in 1086 when William I commissioned a detailed inventory of all the land and property in England and Wales. The results of this first major statistical enumeration were set out in the Domesday Book. To the statistical order in 2009 for the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics.

The latest order decreases the time that journalists, and others, have access to statistics prior to their official release. The five day period has been decreased to a maximum of 24 hours to be exceeded only for exceptional circumstances.

I mention this last and latest act because data driven journalism has been able to flourish with the advent of available data – free or inexpensive – and with access to software that allows its manipulation. Previous Data columns have explored some ways in access and exploitation –in the nicest possible sense – have been pursued. This column is a reminder that access to data is governed by those who create it and as such its availability is not always certain.

A useful resource for connecting and meeting other people interested in data driven journalism is the European Journalism Centre and the group Data Driven Journalism: