One teenager had not heard of EDF. The company engaged in a project costing £20 billion (or is it £25 billion?), a project in the same county, was no more than three letters that signified nothing to the person who had been asked about it. Another teenager has not heard of Hinkley Point, the place on the Somerset coast where EDF are involved in the massive project to build a third nuclear power station. The huge buildings of the first two of the stations are visible from miles away. Flat moorland runs down to the Bristol Channel and they stand out clearly against the horizon. In a landscape so low-lying, where landmarks to give reference points are not plentiful, it can be hard to judge how far away the site is.
When I was a teenager, all of my contemporaries would have known of Hinkley Point. Perhaps it was about a sense of pride that somewhere significant could be seen as you drove down a hill from our village; perhaps there was an unspoken fear that if anything went wrong at the station, the radioactive fallout would quickly reach our homes. Whatever the reason, Hinkley Point would have been a familiar place name.
We would have known the name of the power station and we would have known the names of significant companies in our area, including Clark’s Shoes at Street and Westland Helicopters at Yeovil. Everyone would have had family members or friends or neighbours who worked for one of them. Three people on our road worked for Clark’s, one worked for Westland’s (even my father worked at the helicopter factory for a short time, until he decided he could not cope with the confines of an office).
Our local employers were small when compared to the more than twenty thousand workers who are, and who will be, employed in the building of Hinkley Point C. If we were aware of the companies that were significant in the 1970s, how are teenagers now, with an infinitely greater degree of access to information, not aware of such a huge development in sight of their own neighbourhoods?
Teenagers with access to websites and social media are undoubtedly more worldly wise than we ever were. Sex and relationships, celebrity stories, sports news, their knowledge of these is unrivalled. What is lacking is a basic knowledge of significant things in their own community. We’re I a Marxist, I might think that the online world had replaced religion as the opiate of the people.