Express yourself

When I was young(er) youth self expression was all about hanging at the local train station, mucking around on bikes listening to mix cassettes on your walkman, going to the roller disco, buying the latest single on vinyl and spending hours at Athena choosing which posters to plaster on your bedroom walls. And when we weren’t calling our friends’ houses for endless conversations (only allowed after 6pm when it was cheaper) we wrote letters – long ones on A4 lined paper with our Shaeffer fountain pens. Happy but hugely different times to today’s teens.

I loved Dan Wilson’s How 31 year olds consumer media blog post in response to 15 year old, Morgan Stanley intern Matthew Robson’s memo for the investment bank about teenage media use that hit headlines for its frank insight into teen trends.

I wish my 75 year old internet-illiterate godmother June had a wider audience for her stories about life in London in the 60s. My favourite of her how-we-did-without-personal-electronic-communication-equipment tales, is when as a nurse on call she wanted to make the most of London’s night-life. So she would tell the cinema (restaurant or bar) that she was ‘in the house’ and she’d also tell the hospital where she’d gone. If she ever needed to be bleeped while out at the pictures, they would put an announcement – like a ticker-tape running across the screen – over the top of the flick and she’d hop skip to the hospital! Genius.

As we were chatting the other day, I realised how big a fan June is of the landline phone because she doesn’t do any form of online or digital communications, and she likes to talk and feel connected. It rang a bell (sorry, Dad-like joke!) with a recent Seth Godin post in which he’s plotted different types of communication channels on two axes – bandwidth versus synchronicity. It’s definitely worth thinking about. As Seth points out, in terms of real time communications in which a high density of information is exchanged you really can’t beat the phone (including tele-conferencing and live webinars) or face-to-face contact. While at the other end of the spectrum (low bandwidth and non-interactive) you’ve got graffiti and postal mail which although doesn’t sell in the traditional sense is still an enduring form of self expression.

The old school writing on the wall concept has today been mainstreamed through Facebook walls (the choice of word ‘wall’ can’t be coincidental) complete with the Graffiti application to Myspace pages, blogs, Twitter updates and online dating profiles. All these free and accessible applications appear to have normalised public self-expression making it more a mass market phenomenon. I wonder how this sits with the traditional arts of creative expression – painters, journalists, novelists, artists, photographers, etc.

One example of art meeting self expression is the Walking in My Mind exhibition advertising along the Southbank this summer. A number of the trees have been wrapped in red material with white dots. Very striking indeed. Emily Wilkinson has some great photos of them on her blog. Note in these pictures they haven’t been graffitied. Last night I was at the NFT and while waiting for a friend took a closer look at the now completely defaced tree wrappings. I wonder how and when the graffiti trend tipped. Who started it? When was the critical mass of tags, doodles and comments reached that it no longer became wrong but was the normal thing to do? Even the sign requesting people respect the art work has been defaced! Or maybe it was intentional?


At least someone learnt something from their graffiti trial – it’s very hard to write on trees.


With new ways of expressing yourself come new rules of etiquette. From the Dom Joly “I’m on the train” mobile phone spoof to a combined top 10 for Twitter etiquette. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t indulge.

As N.W.A. rapped, “I’m expressing with my full capability…”. Just make sure this doesn’t result in you ending up “living in correctional facility”!


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One Response to “Express yourself”

  1. emilywilkinson Says:

    Nice post, and really if they’re going to make an outdoor exhibit like that what do they expect people to do? I think it makes it more interesting…

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