Rhiannon Harries: The next generation will end up paying for our freebie culture

On My Mind
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The Independent Online

A few weeks ago, I shared a couple of bottles of wine in a bar with some friends. When the bill arrived, one round had been forgotten. "Fantastic! Let's pay and get out of here," I hissed, with a disproportionate amount of jubilation for someone who has merely necked a bottle of gratis house white. "Er, no, let's tell them – they're really nice here," frowned one of my companions, and everyone looked embarrassed on my behalf.

They needn't have, because by now I was feeling less like a daring subversive than a low-grade skank. Getting something for nothing now and again – not necessarily by devious means – is a pleasure I hope I am not alone in taking. But I grew up with the knowledge that, ultimately, freebies of any sort were a rare, unreliable bonus, and that somewhere along the line, everything has a price. In this case, it was my dignity.

For people a couple of years younger than myself, who have never known life without that new-found land of the free, the internet, I wonder whether the word "free" has a different resonance. From the illegal downloading of film and music to above-board streaming sites such as Spotify and iPlayer, via Google Books and Wikipedia, anyone under 21 with access to a computer is likely to have enjoyed a sense of certainty that, in terms of entertainment and information at least, they can get what they want, whenever they want it, for the minimal cost of an internet connection.

Of course, this convenience is the beauty of the digital revolution, and its many benefits in the enlargement of knowledge and creativity are beyond doubt. But there is also a sense of entitlement that it cannot help but foster which, whether right or wrong, could not be a more inappropriate preparation for the recession.

Add to that the fact that many of these children will have spent their formative years witnessing their parents securing easy credit for houses and holidays they couldn't really afford, watching check- out girls transformed into pop stars on TV talent shows and eating imported strawberries in the middle of winter, and you have a generation practically hard-wired to expect a lot for not much.

With university top-up fees tipped to rise again, scant jobs for graduates and a squeeze on all forms of credit, today's young adults face a particularly intense financial and professional struggle.

The trials one experiences in youth are rarely an adequate training for those later in life, but those hit hardest psychologically by the "econolypse" might well be those who have been brought up in a climate where ease is the rule and not the exception.

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