Scouting has a duty to do its best for young people
When I heard that the Scouts had come up with a new pledge adapted for 21st century youth I feared the worst.
It started with the best of intentions. It wanted to prevent non-believing lads like George Pratt from Somerset, who was in the news last year, from the stark choice of faking their allegiance to God or missing out on one of the most valuable experiences on offer for today's youth.
The challenge for Scouting is that it takes a long view; its values were honed back in the distant days when duty and deference were the norm, and are designed to last a lifetime and even beyond. But its members – and I nearly wrote customers, so caught up am I in the culture of consumerism that reduces everything to a transaction – are at that age where the present looms so large they can't see the other side.
If the Scouts were really up to date, they'd have hired an experiential marketing analyst. They'd have got 12-year-olds into focus groups, given them a two-litre bottle of White Lightning, and asked them what they want rather than what they need.
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They might have come up with something close to the Guides' new pledge which demands of its members that they be "true to themselves". This, as the Guides have been told, is daft: women who have been true to themselves include not only Mother Teresa but Miley Cyrus too. Any pledge that can be faithfully sworn by a near-saint and a twerking victim of pop music's sexploitation can't be worth much.
The Scouts' own venture into pledge-updating could have been even worse. Imagine a suitable set of vows designed to follow teenagers rather than lead them. Welcome to Scouting – you may take the formal pledge, as follows: "I, like, promise to update my Facebook status five times a day, like, and do my duty to Justin Bieber, lol". Or non-beliebers can take the short pledge: "I, like, whatever." Now that's over, it's time to earn your "making a fake ID" badge.
But three cheers for the Scouts, who really have done their best, and their duty to the nation's youth, by keeping their old promise with God intact but offering a new version for atheists.
The Scouts' values are so enduring that they might be rolled out into other areas of life. Press regulation for example. The Government wants to have the newspapers overseen by something through an ancient mechanism involving Royal Charters and the Privy Council; the press wants a DIY solution.
Meanwhile the public, ordinary people rather than celebrities, seems to have little say in the matter.
But imagine a press regulator made up of Scouters. Is it OK for a newspaper to make up stories about Princess Diana? Of course not, and I'm really surprised you had to ask. What about blaming everything on immigrants, gays, and the mentally ill? No, it's bad manners, obviously, apart from being inaccurate. OK, how about tapping into people's phones and photographing them with a huge lens when they're sunbathing in their back gardens, for no other reason than it's fun? What are you, stupid?
Journalists who pass the test – and that's almost all of them – would get to wear a shoulder badge saying: "I've promised to do my best" while the rest would have one saying: "I will do my worst".
If you are finding all this too much to take in then you're not alone, because October 20 is Information Overload Day. It's another of those days when nothing much really happens, and is flawed by having a potential audience that can't bear to read or hear another thing.
We are, say the experts, suffering from infobesity (great new word) and infoxication (stupid new word) in an era where there is more stuff written about Justin Bieber every second than there was written about everything in the previous five thousand years.
And the problem is compounded by the way constant exposure to online information damages our memory. Letting our computers and smart phones fill in every gap displaces the restful interludes during which memory is processed. So we potentially take more in, but remember less.
The solution, say scientists from Stockholm, is to switch off (literally and metaphorically) and take a break. Which I will do now, while I can still remember to.