The Children are in Charge

The Children are in Charge

I spoke at the WA Property Conference a few years ago. One of the topics I identified was the increasing ‘INFANTILISATION’ of Society.  From time to time, I like to check back on myself to see if I was on the right track – and yesterday I came across something that seems as if I was.

I am not a regular TUMBLR user, but a link led me there yesterday, and the ‘homepage’ struck me as particularly infantile. Check it out yourself. Here is a snip anyway, but the whole thing is pretty much GIFs and cartoons (visually) and you’d have to scroll for a long time before you found anything that could be of interest to a mature adult.


For those interested in the TL/DR version, here is an extract from my eBook on the topic:


The manifestation of infantilism is not prominent in current business literature; possibly because it is not popular to do so for the bloggers and journalists. To me at least, the evidence of increasing infantilism is over-whelming. I deviate from the dictionary[i] definition which states: A state of arrested development in an adult, characterized by retention of infantile mentality, accompanied by stunted growth and sexual immaturity, and often by dwarfism. I am referring exclusively to the behavioural aspects and not the medical/ physical manifestations.

It is possibly no surprise that one of the biggest TV cult hits at the time of writing is Arrested Development. While the show was cancelled in 2006 after a few seasons, it was revived to much wider acclaim in 2013. (In 2011, IGN[ii] named Arrested Development the funniest show of all time). That to me seems indicative of it possibly being a tad early for its times and the ‘we generation, infantilism found its mark after the pendulum had swung a bit deeper into the current social era.

Web 2.0 Logos

Business names of the Web 2.0 era are almost without childish and infantile. From the funky, primary colour schemes and fat fonts to the made-up names everything is strongly reminiscent of baby talk.

Flickr, Prezi, Box, Pipl, Plinked, Pownce etc. is not too dissimilar to coochee coo that adults will turn to when talking to babies.

SMS language & emotional expressions

There is no need to explain the meaning of LOL or Gr8 to anyone. Nobody blinks an eye when today becomes 2day. Whilst it may have been necessitated by physical limitations of SMS messages, the conventions have found their way to other forms of communication where those constraints did not apply which suggests that it found fertile soil.

Some linguists might argue that this is a normal evolution of language, and others would describe[iii] this new variety of language, texting () as "textese", "slanguage", a "digital virus". According to John Sutherland of University College London, writing in this paper in 2002, it is "bleak, bald, sad shorthand. Drab shrinktalk ... Linguistically it's all pig's ear ... it masks dyslexia, poor spelling and mental laziness. Texting is penmanship for illiterates."

I believe there is consensus that this transformation has been more rapid, and more profound than any previous single shift in language use and this can be attributed to these seed of change falling on a soil that is particularly suited to such infantile linguistic conventions.


Whether it is Commerce, Art, Education or Health, there does not appear to be an industry that is immune to Gamification.

Gamification[iv] typically involves applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. Gamification has been called one of the most important trends in technology by several industry experts. Gamification can potentially be applied to any industry and almost anything to create fun and engaging experiences, converting users into players. (From)

Behind all the pseudo-science talk, it is worth remembering that Gamification is essentially about playing games.

Entertainment Software Association[v] reveals some telling statistics, which reinforces that games are popular and that Gamification of everything is tied to the social and technological shifts discussed elsewhere. The average gamer is 30 years old and has been playing for 13 years. Sixty-eight percent of gamers are 18 or older. Forty-five percent of all players are women. Today, adult women represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (31 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (19 percent). Sixty-two percent of gamers play games with others, either in-person or online. Seventy-seven percent of these gamers play with others at least one hour per week. Thirty-two percent of gamers play social games. Gamers play on-the-go: 36 percent play games on their smartphone, and 25 percent play on their wireless device.


Whilst data visualisation itself is not new – and can arguably be traced back to cave paintings – it is worth noting that data visualisation has always been direct; e.g. the slice of a pie-chart was proportional for the dataset or the heights of the bars in histograms had a direct quantifiable relationship with all the other bars. Infographics have proliferated steadily over the last several decades, but it is only the last decade with the advent of specific software tools (to create) and software platforms (to distribute) that Infographics, as we know it, have exploded.

Infographics have introduced an indirect, narrative element to the data story – to the extent that it is has made the picture childish. This is usually exacerbated by the colour schemes and fonts (again a very Web 2.0 design language). For example, a simple stack diagram won’t do, it must now be filled with jelly-baby figurines to highlight that the bar might be referring to people – instead of simply writing the word people on the relevant axis. (Image[vi]).

Reality TV

It is generally believed that reality TV has boomed since 2000. Some interesting statistics[vii]:

Americans spend 1/3 of their free time watching television and of that 67% are reality shows and the number of shooting days for reality TV in Los Angeles rose 53% in 2012, making up about 40% of all on-location production and it now constitutes 57% of all television shows in the US.

It is appropriate to represent some statistics as an easily digestible infographic[viii]:


Strictly speaking presentism is a philosophy where presentism is the belief that neither the future nor the past exists. In this context, I am applying less rigorous (non-philosophical) definition to refer to a general attitude that reflects short term orientation, including the desire for instant gratification and a disregard for the long term and the distant future.

This is no more cleared by the apparently whole-hearted embrace of the infantile, presentist philosophy appropriately referred to as YOLO – You Only Live Once. The disciples of this particular religion do not embrace that philosophy as a matter of self-evident truth, but rather proffers it as an excuse to do stupid stuff. (Jack Black famously quipped that YOLO is Carpe Diem for stupid people. I take from that whilst there is a metaphysical dimension to Carpe Diem, YOLO is seen as an excuse for stupidity – and is explicitly defined as such by the urban dictionary.

[i] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/infantilism

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IGN

[iii] http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jul/05/saturdayreviewsfeatres.guardianreview

[iv] http://www.gamification.org/wiki/Gamification

[v] http://www.theesa.com/facts/gameplayer.asp

[vi] http://designreviver.com/inspiration/30-of-the-best-infographics-that-effectively-showcase-data/

[vii] http://anhoward.wordpress.com/the-effect-reality-tv-is-having-on-us-shocking-statistics/

[viii] http://screenrant.com/reality-tv-statistics-infographic-aco-149257/

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