Monday, 14 January 2013

Youth of Today

I was asked to speak about the youth of today at a recent Asian Youth Forum held by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung held in Bangkok, and I tried to identify what it is that makes the youth of today different from the youth of say, a decade ago.  One salient difference is how much digital technology has changed our behaviour today, even more so amongst the younger generation who is the main user of the Social Network, and make up the larger population of the digital world.

We know already that Indonesia is the third, if not second largest user of Facebook and the microblogging site Twitter, and one needs only look around to see how mobile gadgets are becoming an indispensable part of their lives.  Indeed, it is likely that the urban youth of today go to bed with their smartphone on their pillow and check their email, texts, Twitter and Blackberry messenger even before they get out of bed in the morning.  The youth of today are creatures of multitasking. They can eat, talk, drive and do things while their fingers continue to text at lightning speed on their mobile.

So, I would say, the youth of today, thanks to the ubiquitous technology, have a power that they didn't have a mere few years ago, when media consumption was limited to watching the TV, listening to the radio and reading a magazine.

First, they have at their fingertips the power of communication.  Through the many social media platforms such as Twitter and blogging sites, young people have an endless and continuous channel for expressing whatever it is they have on their minds, their thoughts, their fears, their opinions, their ideas and their dreams about everything and anything under the sun without reservations.

They are no longer mere consumers of the media and passive targets of advertisers.  Instead, with their vocal opinions on things that matter to them, from fashion, music, celebrities, to politics and current issues, they are generators of trends and shapers of taste, influencing advertisers on how to market and sell their products, and the government on its policies.  A full blown discussion on Twitter can cross over to the traditional media, bringing the topic to the fore and infecting the general public.  Breaking news is no longer the domain of the electronic media, but is often born in the Twitterverse.

The other power that young people of today have, is the power of connectivity.  Through the same social media platforms, the youth of today are citizens of the Net that know no borders or boundary.  Distance and time are no longer constraints as they are constantly connected to a world that deals in the Now and in the Instant, whether in Jakarta, Singapore or New York.  Everybody on the planet is only a tweet away.  Even Lady Gaga.

This connectivity gives them the ability to spread ideas globally in a matter of seconds, giving rise to a new type of activism never seen before. Both revolutions and riots can be organized through the social network in ways that real world institutions find difficult to track or control.  Today's youth are no longer objects, but with their changing avatars and changing status updates, they're masters of their own identity.  They are also effective changemakers and activists when they wish to be.

Another power that the technology brings, is the power of knowledge.  Gone are the days when good teachers, a complete set of encyclopedias and a well stocked library, are doorways to knowledge.  Today's five year old is a research master when she's with her iPad with Internet connection.  The youth of today have the key to knowledge at their finger tips and can access the wealth of information through their friend Google.  A school boy with a mobile gadget can know a lot more than a teacher without Internet connection. Not only are they no longer at the receiving end of Information, they are producers of information through their blogs, Facebook posts, YouTube uploads, websites etc.
These days, the role of a teacher is someone who facilitates their learning process rather than passing on knowledge.

Today's young people also have an incredible power of creativity at their disposal.  The digital life has made it easier for them to foster and showcase their talents. YouTube can turn a nobody to a superstar and enable anyone with an internet connection to set up their own video channels and show off to the world. Photographic sharing sites and blogs can turn them into photographers, writers, publishers and even citizen journalists complete with their audience and critics. Theirs is a world of innovation, creativity and productivity limited only by their imagination.

Altogether, they have the means and capacity to change the world for the better.  In the middle east, they helped bring down autocratic regimes.

There is however, a downside to this power.  When the use of technology itself becomes the end and not the means. When it controls human behaviour and not the other way round.  When the power of connectivity means disconnecting from real life and real issues.  When virtual communication is replacing vocal communication.  And when easy access to information results in information overload and the inability to tell the difference between what's relevant and what's merely noise.

So that instead of changing the real world, they're in danger of getting distracted and lost in the virtual world.

(Desi Anwar:  First Published in The Jakarta Globe)


  1. Ass wr wb. I followed your twitter today, and came across your awesome blog too. I read some of your interesting articles, and I will be back again in the following days.

    It is very hard to find such a friendly people like you nowadays. I followed many celebrities, singers, and many others, and they were not following me back. Hahahaha.

    It was funny. I am just "nekat" to follow those wonderful people however I am just ordinary people. Rakyat jelata hehiehiehee.

    Asep Haryono
    Blogger from Pontianak. Kalimantan Barat

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