Episode 275 – Born Digital with Robert Wigley

Robert WigleyMuch handwringing goes on over the impact of technology on young people. Many domestic disputes centre on the amount of screentime that should or shouldn’t be allowed.

Robert Wigley saw the issue from two perspectives: as a father of adolescent boys, but also as a mentor and investor working with Gen Z entrepreneurs. The results of his research with both are fascinating, and reveal a more nuanced and optimistic story than we usually hear.

As a first-time author, he also discovered much about the process of writing and publishing which will be equally fascinating to other first-time authors!

Bob’s site: https://www.robertwigley.uk/

Bob on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertWigleyBD

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

The Extraordinary Business Book Club bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/extraordinarybusinessbooks

The EBBC summer 2021 reading list: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/thinking-better-the-ebbc-summer-2021-reading-list

Alison Jones: I’m here today with Bob Wigley, who backs young entrepreneurs in cutting-edge technology businesses and chairs UK Finance. He spent a career in finance, rising to be EMEA chairman of Merrill Lynch and a member of the board of the Bank of England during the 2008 financial crisis. He’s been chairman of the Green Investment Bank Commission and wrote the seminal report Winning in the Decade Ahead on the future of London as a global financial center.

He’s a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and Companion of the Chartered Management Institute, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland, Visiting Professor of Oxford University’s Said Business School, and an honorary fellow of Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. He also sits on the UK Economic Crime Strategic Board, which is co-chaired by the Chancellor and the Home Secretary.

And his first book Born Digital: The story of a distracted generation has recently been published by White Fox. So welcome to the show, Bob.

Bob Wigley: Thank you very much for having me. Really looking forward to the conversation.

Alison Jones: It’s great to have you here. And do you know what strikes me immediately having read that remarkable biography is, ‘oh, that’s not the book I would have thought you’d have written out of the box’. So just tell us a little bit about that.

Bob Wigley: Yes. It’s funny, everyone says, so let me get this straight, you’ve been a banker for 25 years, you’ve supported the free market and here you are writing a book which basically recommends more regulation. How does that work?

Well, the answer is, really, because I watched the effect technology was having on my own three adolescent children as they were growing up. How very differently particularly the youngest one uses technology from the way my generation did. How it affected the way they looked at the world, their attitudes.

And then a couple of years ago as part of my work in supporting young entrepreneurs, I made a New Year’s resolution to meet a new Generation Z entrepreneur every business day. And I met over 200 and it was really those 200 conversations, which by the way, were pretty much always the best hour of the day, that cemented my view that Generation Z is not incrementally different from mine, but very different, fundamentally different. And I think a lot of people in my generation haven’t really added it all up. So I wanted to write down what I’d learned, try and join up the dots for people and come to some conclusions about the future of Generation Z based on their relationship with technology.

Alison Jones: And it isn’t just the relationship with technology, you talk a lot about their sense of purpose as well. But tell us a little bit more about the fundamental differences that you have noticed in those conversations.

Bob Wigley: Well, the key one obviously is that this generation has never known a time when there wasn’t technology.

So whilst you and I grew up in a period where we had a completely offline life, and then we had, well now we have a mixture of on and offline. And that leads to a very different attitude to technology if you’ve only lived in a time when Google existed, when you do your shopping online rather than physically, when money is simply a character in a digital wallet, not a note in your pocket. It does massively affect your attitude to technology and what we can’t ignore I’m afraid, is that over the 10 years that these technologies have become ubiquitous in just about every aspect of our lives, adolescent wellbeing has substantially declined.

And whether you look at measures of happiness or unhappiness, loneliness, anxiety, depression, and sadly, even self harm and suicide, all of these, what I call negative factors, have grown very substantially over the period during which these technologies have become ubiquitous in youngsters lives.

And whilst the academic evidence doesn’t support a directly causal link between the two, I don’t think the two can be a coincidence. So my book examines in very great detail the relationship between these two developments.

Alison Jones: And I think what’s interesting as well, from your particular perspective and background, because we have a lot of people examining the mental health impacts of technology, which of course, you know, it’s a massive experiment we’re running really isn’t it, nobody knows what’s going to happen, but you’re also looking at how that reflects on entrepreneurship and attitudes to business. And I was really interested by the point you make about one of the things that perhaps we don’t talk about in Generation Z’s use of technology: is almost the opportunity cost. So technology is a great enabler, but it’s also a massive distraction and adults find it incredibly hard to resist that kind of distraction, a child in a sense has got no chance.

Do you see people who succeed and people who fail and what’s the difference between them in terms of their ability to manage that distraction?

Bob Wigley: So, I mean, the point is this, that we are all, and this is not a particularly a Generation Z issue, although perhaps more so for them than for our generation. We’re all constantly distracted by technology. And I tried to calculate in the book, if you take the example of the average worker in their work environment and the fact that they’re probably using their mobile phone at various points while they’re at work, I think I calculated that if you simply reduce the distraction by half an hour a week, and every single worker in the country therefore in effect worked for half an hour more a week of the time that they were in work, that the extra GDP that could be generated would be about 50 billion pounds. And to put that in context, that’s about a third of the sort of pre COVID NHS budget. It’s actually equivalent to the whole education budget of the UK.

So these are enormous figures that the distraction costs. Now the Economist could argue about whether that isn’t.

Alison Jones: Astonishing, isn’t it?

Bob Wigley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that’s the first point, I think, just going back to mental wellness, what I have learned absolutely is that all screen time is not equal and all users are not equal.

Let me just explain what I mean by that. So if you are in a very focused way, watching a film and not simultaneously sending messages on Instagram or Snapchat, if you are educating yourself by watching a class at school and you’re not simultaneously using Facebook Messenger and half watching a Netflix film with the right-hand corner of your eye, that’s probably a good thing. But it’s the time between 11 o’clock at night and two in the morning when many kids do chill and scroll, frankly, idly through social media or it’s those that are compulsive users of gaming technology, who may be spending many, many hours a day gaming in every available spare moment, it’s them that we need to worry about.

So all screen time is not equal. Some is good. Some is not so good. And all users are not equal because some people who might’ve been, might well have been vulnerable to bullying or just vulnerable in the widest sense in the offline world, maybe particularly vulnerable in the online world and parents, and I’m one of them, so I’m not holding myself out as any kind of great role model here, assume that because the internet is consumed very often from the home, indeed often from the child’s bedroom, that it’s a safe place, but of course it isn’t, it’s very far from a safe place.

We require our children to provide identity if they go into a pub or to gamble or to go on an airplane. But we don’t require any kind of identity on the internet, either for children or indeed for adults. And that I’m afraid results in a lot of nefarious activity, which is accessed from the child’s bedroom, but we’re assuming it’s a safe place.

Alison Jones: So, yeah, that’s absolutely fascinating, the thing about age constraints, because again, it’s that difference between offline and online, isn’t it?

I’m just going to bring you back though to that point about the differences that Gen Z have with business and the way that technology both enables that, but perhaps also distracts and makes that kind of focused attention more difficult. So what was your experience with working with Gen Z entrepreneurs and their attitudes to well, technology, but also to deep work?

Bob Wigley: So, this is really fascinating. I mean, the central question here is at a time when AI is developing and is developing in a way which will mean that many basic jobs will disappear, and the only jobs left for human beings are those which are the more complex jobs which require deep attention, deep reading, deep listening, focus, concentration: are we teaching Generation Z to multitask? I call it in the book the concept is of digital bees, where they don’t tend to focus on anything very long. They are quickly distracted by the next incoming message or ping or buzz or notification. And they snack on multiple information sources like bees hopping from honeypot to honeypot.

So I think that’s the question. Are we teaching them the right skill set just at the time when we actually need them to be concentrated on the one thing?

Alison Jones: Well, my answer is probably not. What do you think?

Bob Wigley: That’s obviously the point really, there are books just on this whole subject. Cal Newport did a very interesting book, which I think is…

Alison Jones: Digital Minimalism?

Bob Wigley: That’s it. Oh yeah. Yeah.

Alison Jones: Well, he’s got two Digital Minimalism and Deep Work. Yeah. Really, really interesting. Yes.

Bob Wigley: You mentioned purpose earlier. Maybe I could pick up on that because that was one of the big striking revelations from these 200 interviews I did with youngsters.

I would say our generation is leaving Generation Z a pretty miserable hand of cards, whether it’s a sort of overhang from the global financial crisis and austerity, whether it’s more recently COVID debt, whether it’s a damaged planet or, the continuing global war on talent. If I was Generation Z I’m not sure I’d be thanking our generation massively for the world we’re leaving them.

But actually what that’s led to is a whole series of values that they hold and a series of characteristics that they reflect which come directly from that layup. So they are actually remarkably mature in their attitudes about the need to sort these societal problems, which is why they focus on environmental sustainability, for example.

 They think the capitalist model is, in its oldest form, basically broken and that companies need to have purpose, which goes beyond simply making money. They need to be participating in society and in some way, serving societal wellbeing. And so many of the business ideas that the youngsters came forward with were actually not pure businesses. They were what I would call social enterprises.

They were a mixture of making money and serving societal purpose. And I think that’s one massive difference between our generation and Generation Z.

Alison Jones: It’s it’s a very hopeful sign. Isn’t it? It’s interesting. My son and I, I was reading your book and talking to him about it, and many of the observations that, you know he’s only 13, so, I don’t even know if that classifies as Generation Z, but he reflected many of the observations. But also his use of technology, I think, is smarter than I’d given him credit for. It’s interesting, he does a lot of self-directed learning online. So for geography particularly, a thing of his, so that ability that they have now to follow an interest, and I think that must be feeding into the entrepreneurial spirit as well.

Bob Wigley: Absolutely no question. You know going back to my comment about all users are not equal, you know, there are many in Generation Z who have quickly learned that they can be distracted and take action to self-regulate and find good things to do on the internet. And that’s fantastic.

And that as you say, has led to not only an entrepreneurial attitude, but actually the ability to pursue it on your own without help from other people, because it’s all there laid out for you if you go and look for it.

So definitely self-starters I think find the internet an incredible resource, but of course there are many kids who aren’t that resilient, who don’t self-regulate in that way.

We know don’t we, that the part of the brain responsible for risk aversion in adolescence is not, it doesn’t function properly. And that’s why sometimes they do things that we kind of roll our eyes and say, what on earth were you thinking when you did that? Well, the answer is they don’t have the bit of the brain that we have, that would stop them and regulate them in that situation.

And it’s them we’ve got to worry about. I’m afraid we do have in a way have to cater in terms of regulation for the vulnerable. The younger children who have access to age-inappropriate content and children who can’t self-regulate.

Alison Jones: Yeah, absolutely. And I guess, you know, for me, for all parents out there, what is your, obviously the book is nuanced and has lots of great advice and thoughts in it, but just, you know, bear with me, humor me, one tip for parents who are worried about how they can make technology a force for good, rather than not in a child’s life.

Bob Wigley: One is difficult, but I’ll give you two.

So the first is that my point about all screen time is not bad. So I think the central tension in every family household today is very often an argument between the parents and the children about how much time they spend on screens. And as I’ve tried to explain, it’s not about screen time, it’s about what they’re doing on screen when they’re on screen, which leads to the second point really.

 So police and restrict, as Professor Sonya Livingston calls it, is just not the right approach. That leads to the second point, which is engage yourself in your child’s online life.

And what I mean by that is when we talk to our kids, lets say we do have supper in the evening, which itself of course is as a communal family mealtime is itself a declining proposition, but let’s supposing we do sit around the table without devices and have a conversation in the evening. We say, what have you been doing today?

Oh I went to the park, I met John and played football, or I went and saw Sienna and we had a game of tennis, whatever, right. What we don’t tend to say is well. Okay. But between 11:00 PM last night and two thirty this morning, when I saw you turn your lights out and you’re on your device and I’m guessing you were probably scrolling through Instagram and chatting to friends on Snapchat, as a matter of interest, how many people were you talking to, what kind of things came up? And that may sound like prying, but actually it isn’t actually any more prying than asking them what they were doing in the park, because to them, there is no difference between the on and offline world. It’s all one, it blurs.

We make the distinction. They don’t, because they’ve never known a time when it didn’t exist. And I think if we spend more time engaging in what they’re doing online and understand what they’re doing, we’ll be better positioned to help them understand the risks of some of the things that are are on the internet and to help them focus on the things which are good for them.

Alison Jones: Yes, brilliant. And I think even just showing enthusiasm for their enthusiasms is important, isn’t it? They need to know that that’s valued, that they can talk to you about it. And you’ve got a much better chance of hearing about the bad stuff, I think, if they are used to talking to you about the routine or the good stuff.

Bob Wigley: I mean, I guess we all learn as parents if you start with a negative the recipient just turns straight off. So you’re never going to get the second part of the sentence where you come up with the brilliant advice.

Alison Jones: Yes. Brilliant. And let’s talk about the writing too, Bob. Because this obviously is your first book. What did you learn in the process and what does writing look like for you?

Bob Wigley: Well, I learned a massive respect for authors, I think is the first conclusion, in the sense that, you know, happily, I don’t as it were make a living from doing this. But if you did it’s incredibly hard work. So just to give you some idea of the process, day two of lockdown, I decided, if ever there was a time to write a book, this was it.

So I sort of decamped to the dining room and started writing down the chapter headings, which I’d had in my head for some time. I then Googled every chapter heading to discover slightly to my horror that there was a book on every single one of my chapter headings, an entire book, in fact, sometimes several.

So then I decided I’d have to read all these books, otherwise I might be writing something that someone had already written. So I read 35 books over about a month. I then on the basis of what was in them, then read probably 200 government reports, reports from children’s charity on adolescent wellbeing.

So there was probably two months of just reading before I even put pen to paper. Finger to keyboard.

And then I kind of went through my chapters and I realized definitely there were new things I wanted to say. There were ideas I had from the 200 interviews that I had conducted with these youngsters that was genuinely new material and it was slightly different from what I’d read.

 So off I went. Now, then it takes three months, in my case, to put this down, and it’s an incredibly referenced book, so I’ve got 515 references to external data, which is a lot, I think for book of 350 pages

 It then it goes to a professional editor who spent a month literally marking it up word for word and sending back comments, questions, suggestions.

I then spent six weeks going through her comments. And then it goes through, you know, copy-editing, proofreading and a typesetting process. So by the time you actually get to the finished article, you’re completely sick of the sight of the thing and you can’t bring yourself to pick it up anymore.

And the day it actually goes off to the printer. You sort of, you cry, Hallelujah, if I never have to read that book again, it’ll be too soon kind of thing.

I’m full of respect for authors. Then of course you have to market it, and try marketing a book in a pandemic. By the way, thank you for doing this because these podcasts have been a lifesaver, getting the message out when you can’t go and do book signings or lectures is incredibly difficult.

Alison Jones: That’s hilarious. I love that writing looks a lot like reading for you actually for long periods of time, which is exactly right, isn’t it?

Bob Wigley: Do you know it so rejuvenated my interest in reading. I mean I have not read, I doubt I’ve read 35 books in the last 35 years. And I read them in a pretty short period of time and it’s, I have to say, the joy of sitting down with a book, I’d forgotten how good it is and I will definitely be doing more reading in the future.

Alison Jones: Well, Hallelujah, for that, you know, this book club depends on that sort of attitude.

 But let me ask you a bit more about the publishing as well. So when you decided, oh, well, you know, might as well write the book here we are in lockdown. Some people are baking bread, I’m going to write my book: what did you think about the publishing angle? Or were you very much focused on the writing angle?

Bob Wigley: Well, I guess you probably already worked out from the way I wrote the book that I’m a bit nerdy, I suppose. So I kind of, I went and bought that Almanac thing, which is the writers and something or others Almanac, which has got, you know… ,

Alison Jones: Writers and Artists Yearbook?

Bob Wigley: Yes, that’s the one you know, it’s about thousand pages.

So I read that, just because why not. Oh, I flicked through it anyway. And of course it is actually an incredible resource if you know nothing about book publishing, which I didn’t. It pretty much tells you at least the structure of the industry and how everything works and what the different participants do.

And I suppose the other thing I am is quite independent. So having written the book, I did submit it to two or three mainstream publishing houses. I actually got a conversation with the head of business publishing at Penguin, which was quite interesting. She was quite helpful. I have to say, I don’t think I even got acknowledgement emails from the other three firms I sent it to.

 Which I found you know, on top of being discourteous, and we can make excuses for people because it was locked down and they were all working from home. But I mean, really was so dispiriting.

Alison Jones: Or furloughed to be fair

Bob Wigley: Possibly, possibly, but then there should be a system to say this person isn’t there and they won’t be answering their emails. I mean, that’s just, it’s just B101 bad organization.

So that was incredibly dispiriting, when you put this enormous effort into what you see as your sort of life work, and you don’t even get an email saying we’re not going to read it because we’re not accepting new submissions.

So I then having researched this, read the book you were talking about. I kind of thought, well, maybe the self publishing route or a hybrid would be the way forward and I found White Fox who I think are kind of the new model in a way.

So it’s self-publishing but with assistance, they have everything that a mainstream publisher would have. They don’t pay for you to market your book, you pay to market it yourself, but everything else, all those processes I talked about, just the sheer mechanics of getting your word file into something which can become a book, and through these various copyediting, proofreading, typesetting processes, and the edit, finding an editor who will work with you on a one-to-one basis, they were brilliant. They did all that for me. And then they guide you on aspects of the marketing and we then found at a PR firm in London, which is one of the leading firms. And I worked with a lady there who was fantastic.

We found in America, a specialist digital publishing sort of social media orientated, digital publishing business that specialize in getting your book featured in social media. So I worked with them and it’s been a fascinating process.

I mean probably the next book I should write is, you know, the author’s first experience of writing a book and what I learned from it.

Alison Jones: They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it’s not far different from a book really? Is it? There’s a lot more goes into it. I always say it’s not rocket science, but it’s not trivial.

Bob Wigley: Oh, it’s far from trivial. As I said, massive respect for authors. I think it’s incredibly hard work and I think I just, when I read a book now, I, because I understand what goes into it better, I probably just have, I get more from it because I understand what the person who’s produced this baby has gone through to get it there.

Alison Jones: Yes, really interesting. If I were to ask you did you enjoy the process, what would you say?

Bob Wigley: No, I really did enjoy it. I enjoyed rejuvenating my interest in reading. I enjoyed the fact that I had genuinely, I thought, you can disagree having read the book, but I thought I had come up with some observations and some ideas and maybe mostly actually linking things together in a way to form a pattern that other people hadn’t in any of these books.

And actually the final thing that I was most happy about was most of the books I read were very critical of big companies, of gaming, of software products, talked a lot about addiction, distraction, negative mental health. Not many of them, if any of them, really had any solutions. So I, because I have such a positive view of Generation Z and what they’re going to do for the world and us in our old age, I wanted the book to end in a very positive way.

And I wanted to be positive about Generation Z, so whilst I am negative about the way some of the companies operate and what some of the technologies do, the book is essentially positive about Generation Z and its potential contribution to improving the world. So I think that’s really important.

Alison Jones: Yeah, absolutely. And it was great to take that away from it. I also, just on a kind of editorial note, I loved the way that you ended it with that little story, your son asking you so Dad, what did you learn from researching? It was such a, it’s almost a filmic moment. You know, it was just that kind of plot exposition stuff, really nicely done. I thought: I’m going to remember that.,

Bob Wigley: Thank you. Thank you very much. He didn’t of course say half of that, but I think that’s what all kids do, right.

Alison Jones: Authorial license. Yes.

Bob Wigley: He did say most of the other things, actually, my youngest was fascinating. I mean, he’d come in and say, Dad, look, I’ve just read chapter seven, this Snapchat thing, you’ve got that completely wrong. You know, it was hilarious. So that was very helpful.

Alison Jones: Your earliest Beta readers. I love that, brilliant.

Bob Wigley: So actually my middle son was helpful in a very different way. It’s funny how that one being 17 and one being 19, there’s such a big difference.

He was more concerned about anywhere in the book where I’d said anything remotely positive about myself, that that would be taken negatively by readers as sort of self aggrandizement. So he said, you know, when you talk about the restaurant, don’t mention Dad that you’re an investor in the restaurant, that sounds kind of arrogant, or when you’re talking about the management of this business, don’t say you were the chairman, it sounds like you’re making yourself out to be self-important.

 Which was really interesting because I was simply being factual and I’m not, I hope you can tell, a person who is prone to that kind of thing anyway, but he was super sensitive to it and he wanted the book to be a success. And so it was really useful to have these perspectives.

Alison Jones: Yeah, fascinating. And I bet it’s been a really good family project as well. Actually. I like that…

Bob Wigley: Oh no. They’re all utterly sick and tired of hearing, well, that’s going in the book. Well, that’s already in the book. It’s all in the book, you know, but I think that they don’t want to hear about another word about this project.

Alison Jones: Oh, a bit of an own goal! Oh well. I always ask my guests, Bob, to recommend a business book, you know, obviously apart from Born Digital. What business book would you recommend that people listening to the podcast should read? May not be one of the 35 that you read last spring, but which book has made an impact on you?

Bob Wigley: So I think the book I’d recommend is one I had presented by the author at a lecture, it’s called Superminds. It’s by Thomas Malone, Professor Thomas Malone who I think is from MIT. I can’t remember, but one of the top American technology universities. The subject is, as he puts it, the surprising power of people and computers thinking together.

And basically what he’s saying is don’t be scared about AI. Don’t be scared about machine learning. Don’t think that these things are going to take away from the value of humanity. Actually, what really works best is computers and clever human beings working in groups together and be excited about what they could do to the world, you know, because we will solve, we will cure cancer for example, no doubt through the combination of people and computers working together on research with brilliant scientists.

So that was I thought an inspiring book and funnily enough, shortly after I read it, I have a genius friend who is a doctor, who told me that he is working on a project. He’s a future fellow of Australia. He’s working on a project at Queensland University, where I’ve become a visiting professor, where he is linking live pig brain cells to computers, to improve the performance of the computer. And then linking the computer with super qualified academics in the particular space where they’re trying to crack a problem. And so he was kind of illustrating exactly what Malone was talking about in Superminds.

Alison Jones: Wow, absolutely fascinating. What is great as you say, is to hear an optimistic and positive take on what this can achieve. That’s brilliant. Thank you. And I don’t know it, so I love getting a recommendation I don’t know.

What about a tip for first time authors? And you are so close to the process. You know sometimes I speak to people who’ve done 20 books or something and they can’t remember what it was like to do their first one, but you’re still raw from the experience. So what would you say to somebody who’s just setting out on this journey?

Bob Wigley: Well, I actually do think that the Writers and Artists Yearbook, and also the other one that comes with it, which is the Writers and Artists Guide to Self Publishing, were brilliant, just sort of a tour de raison as it were of what you’re going to go through and who you’re going to meet and the various roles that they play, which is not at all obvious when you come to the industry.

So definitely go and read those. And I guess, go and talk to people that do it for a living. So one thing I would say, and I hope this isn’t going to go down badly with some of your listeners, but I do think that, how can I put this? There are some traits in the book industry that kind of, it needs to be brought into the 21st century.

 Even in the editing, it was fascinating. I mean, I wanted to write what I believed in the book. And so it inevitably, because it was looking not just at technology, but societal trends, you know, it’s touching on issues like sexuality and gender and religion and my editor asked me to take huge swathes of this stuff out.

You can’t mention anything trans for example and I said, well, why not? Because you can’t open a newspaper without reading about that subject. And I think Generation Z has a very interesting perspective on it, and I’d like to talk about it. No, no, can’t go there.

So I found that fascinating and maybe it’s because professional editors in big companies just don’t want to produce controversial books. I don’t know what the reason is, but that was one example. And another one was you know, when we produced the cover of the book which I hope you agree is quite striking. I felt it looked better with a glossy cover than with a matte black cover with the face in the middle, because just when you saw it just looked really exciting and White Fox said, oh no, no, no, no. Can’t possibly have a glossy cover. That’s very sort of, you know, £5.99 from WHSmith kind of thing. And I can’t remember what they said it was something, you know, it was very, very Oh no, we, don’t sorry. That’s just, that’s not the kind of book you want to produce.

And so there was this sort of, I don’t know, there are all these kind of, in-built sort of traits and habits and I’m wondering about, cause I’m, I dunno, I like breaking the mould I suppose. I just wonder how many of the things, you know, is this really, valuable experience born of producing 20 books? Or are they just habits that the business has got into, that the profession has got into that actually could be broken? I don’t know. You would know better than I.

Alison Jones: It’s such a fascinating question. And I mean, I’m not going to resolve it all here, but the gloss thing is interesting because actually librarians would have been delighted had you had it gloss because it wears harder, you know, and it’s just a personal preference thing, but I know what they mean, I think matte has a classier feel perhaps than gloss, which is what they thought they wanted to deliver for you maybe.

Controversy in books is really fascinating. And you know, we grapple with this at Practical Inspiration on a daily basis because you have to be able to talk about controversial stuff, and yet you are putting your head over the parapet and, you know, if you use the wrong turn of phrase, if you don’t mention… there is a real nervousness, I think, and of course, if somebody is going to get sued, it isn’t the author, it’s the publisher. So, you know, there’s that kind of thing as well.

But I agree. I think, you know, we have to develop a more robust and more engaged and open way of being able to talk about, you know, the trans issue is absolutely relevant to what you’re talking about and why on earth wouldn’t you want to engage with that, given that Gen Z do, and it’s such an important live issue for them.

So, yeah. It’s… I don’t know. I think you’re right. I think there’s, it’s a slightly legal mindset, you know, no lawyer ever said yes when they could say no, because it’s just safer. And I think there’s a little bit of that super caution that publishers suffer from because they are risk averse people, because it’s a low margin business, maybe. If you think about journalism, there’s probably more risk appetite there.

Bob Wigley: But if you think just on that subject for a second, if you think about it hyper-personalization is absolutely a fundamental characteristic of Generation Z, they live in an internet world where what’s served up to them is very personalized to them.

And that leads them to regarding themselves as a brand, sometimes as a celebrity and the way they present themselves is very personal to them. And so in the worlds of sexuality and gender, there is a direct read across to them not wanting to be boxed or categorized. And that’s why we have now this term pansexuality, where people simply present themselves as they want to, which might be different tomorrow or the day after.

It might not be in a box of the type that we thought about when we were growing up, it could be a much wider category. And this is why when I hear people saying, you know, there are now 113 different genders or it might be, I’m making this up, but, they think it’s ridiculous.

Well, don’t be surprised by that because that’s just 113 people wanting to express themselves as themselves, and frankly, that’s up to them. So I think there was something to say that I sort of was stopped saying, but anyway, that’s fine. We’ll see, maybe book two.

Alison Jones: Maybe, oh, I was going to say it’s like having children, isn’t it. Having gained all this experience, you can’t waste it. You’ve got to write another book now and where can people find out more about you? More about the book, Bob?

Bob Wigley: So my website is www.robertwigley.uk. And if you buy the book there, the proceeds will go to adolescent wellbeing charities. There is the dreaded Amazon Kindle and Audible. I just make the point and this is, you know, in support of authors, not me really.

If you buy the books through the website, £20 of proceeds can go to charity. If you buy the book through Amazon £7.70 of royalties come to the author, which can go to charity. And some would say that may be Amazon’s market power is now so huge that someone needs to do something about that because I don’t know how, as I said mainstream authors can survive on those kinds of royalties.

So we probably need to do something about that.

Alison Jones: Well, there’s a whole new podcast topic. Brilliant. Thank you. Fascinating topic. Fascinating conversation. Thank you so much for your time today, Bob.

Bob Wigley: Thank you for having me. I’ve really, really enjoyed the conversation.

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