By Vijay Eswaran
American President Thomas Jefferson once said: “Every generation needs a new revolution.” What the youth of today are experiencing is the social media revolution. The impact of this, amongst other societal changes, was a hot topic at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Dalian, China, where I had the honour of being a panellist.
When the moderator asked what makes me an expert on youth, my response was simple. I was a youth once and in many ways, I guess I never left that behind.
Clichéd as it may sound, youth is a state of mind. My company is 13 years old and has just entered its teenage years. Our employees globally are a group of dynamic young people. Our customer profile consists largely of youth from different countries.
I am constantly interacting with young people either at work or through the various seminars I conduct at colleges and universities. I keep abreast with how youth feel, communicate and react. In fact, I can proudly tell you that I know exactly what ‘planking’ means! I can bet most of my peers would be clueless.
The emergence of social media obviously plays an important role. The internet has grown in leaps and bounds to become arguably the most important form of communication, enabling people from all over the world to interact and receive immediate feedback.
Today’s youth are quick to experiment, adopt and embrace the new and the different. This freedom of expression and instantaneous response are what resonate with the youth.
Today’s language overrides traditional lines of demography, geography and culture. There are no longer clear distinctions between East and West, public and private and national identities. Today’s youth have gone international with the internet. The young and the passionate can discuss a diverse range of issues, problems, likes and dislikes; all without revealing their identity, culture or country of origin, because online, you are a Netizen, a citizen of the internet.
Facebook has become the fourth largest “country” in Asia, with about 750 million citizens, of which the majority are the youth.
Youth today are fused through shared interests such as art, music and political persuasion. Through these shared commonalities, a graphic artist in Delhi may have a more direct connection with peers in London or Lebanon than with people on the same street.
From Japanese mangas to democratic freedom, social media is literally providing citizens with revolutionary ways to connect, interact and mobilise. A decade ago, no one predicted that a revolution could have been facilitated online. The Arab Spring wasn’t merely Arab; it went global due to youth empowered by social media.
Among the youth in today’s hyper-connected world, there is a need to expand their consciousness of what’s happening in the world. In the field of education in particular, there has been a tremendous leap in Asia.
I was amazed to find out recently that American high school students are being taught math via Skype by Indian college students. This type of education has symbiotic results because the tutors from India are learning about American education system and pop culture and their students are learning about a country they’ve only seen on Slumdog Millionaire.
I was in Trinidad and Tobago two years ago at a business forum and a journalist revealed to me her dilemma: she was unable to communicate with her daughter, whom she described as “anti-social” and “always on the computer”.
I assured her that her daughter was far from being a hermit if she was active in social media! I advised her that if she wanted to bridge the gap, she had to learn the “language” of the youth. In other words, she had to get plugged into her daughter’s main modes of communication, whether it was Facebook, Twitter or one of the many new platforms mushrooming in cyber space.
It is seemingly insignificant analogies such as these that can serve as wider metaphors for the radical shifts our society is undergoing, and it is the younger generation that is adapting to them most rapidly. This communication gap is exactly what is happening on a larger scale across the globe.
The access to information, exposure and multitude of opportunities that greater connectivity provides are at the fingertips of Asia’s youth. For us to communicate better with the youth, it is absolutely crucial to not only understand the trends, but to embrace them as well. ‘Us’ includes individuals, companies and even governments.
(The writer is a leading Asian businessman, bestselling author and speaker. He is also a major investor in the Colombo Stock Exchange.)
Read on Daily FT : http://www.ft.lk/2011/10/27/changing-culture-of-youth-in-asia/