Monocultural youth; bane or boon?

Many people keep asking me about my views on Arab youth. So I decided to give it a good think, before writing my latest article. I noticed that when I would go to the malls I would find a very distinct resemblence in youth from all over the world. Their gestures, hairstyles, fashion sense and even sometimes language are all very similar in nature – sometimes to a point where I cannot tell where they originate from. Not quite sure if this is a good or bad thing, I am however sure of one thing – media plays a big role in influencing our youth. Read on for more…

This article was first featured in Gulf News on the 15th January, 2010
As I sipped my cappuccino at Jumeirah Beach Residence on a pleasant summer morning, I couldn’t help but notice the young Emiratis in front of me.  Long haired boys in kanduras listened to their iPods, others sported baggy jeans and Ed Hardy caps. A group of beijing girls on the adjacent table took one another’s photos on their digital cameras and I could tell they were uploading them on their blackberry Facebook accounts every five minutes. The scene was familiar, I thought to myself, so familiar in fact that it took me back to one summer morning in Barcelona as I watched a Spanish group of teenagers. This recent uniformity of the global youth is a fascinating equivalent to a Rubik’s cube – a juxtaposition of different colours that come together as one strong identity.

Western and Middle Eastern youngsters seem to have very similar consumer and lifestyle habits; they indulge themselves in similar activities and use similar technologies. I see this uniformity in our youth as a global phenomenon driven by globalisation. Yes the world may be flat, and our youth’s attitude and behaviour are the result of this flatness. The omnipresent influence of media such as MTV, Time Warner and Showtime are some of the most powerful drivers in shaping our youth. At a time when Hollywood and its affiliates now generate $10.6 billion dollars annually, one cannot deny the significance of this influence. This development has a huge impact on the metamorphosis of a generation who are perhaps inclined to view the West as an inspirational utopia. Even in developed markets such as Japan, the highly popular Anime cartoons with large eyes and light coloured hair have a huge impact on the appearance of their youth; although these cartoon characters have more western features and no longer resemble ethnic Japanese. It is hard to differentiate your average teenager walking the streets of Tokyo from his or her counterpart strolling down Fifth Avenue; bane or boon?

With history as a guide, in the eighteenth century, when novels were first published many were concerned that readers, especially the young, would be corrupted by the licentious and immoral behaviour described within. By the twentieth century the potential causes for concern had proliferated dramatically. Today media experiences seem to multiply month on month, and while much concern about their influence on young people may represent older worries in new forms, the media ecology of today’s youth presents a new frontier that offers unique challenges.

A child born in the 1930s might have spent as much as several hours a week listening to the radio, reading comic books, newspapers or magazines. Since television was first introduced in the 1950s the number of hours young people spend interacting in some way with media have increased to an extent far beyond the youthful imagination of today’s grandparents. According to Nielsen’s Media Research today young people spend up to five hours a day interacting with electronic media.

The effects of the growth in power wielded by the media are colossal. In conservative countries behaviour such as cultural abandonment, identity crises and generally negative attitudes are cause for concern. In the Middle East parents may not necessarily want their children to adopt the social behavioral patterns of Western counterparts.  Regardless of its positive or negative connotations, it might prove to be difficult to impede, as to many youth these elements define being young. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have enabled the youth to all be part of that big Rubik’s cube.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Absolute uniformity of any society is rarely a positive outcome and although we may deem it necessary to go out of our way to teach new generations about our culture and history and guide them in terms of their identity, in doing so the media can be a powerful ally. At a recent TED talk UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said “We are at a unique moment in history, we can use today’s interconnectedness to develop our shared global ethic – and work together to confront the challenges of poverty, security, climate change and the economy.” I find todays Arab youth (which make up 60% of the population) to be both creative and technologically proficient .Take Firas Shamsan – he started a ‘Life is beautiful without smoking’ blog in Qat-stricken Yemen and reached thousands of people from all over the Arab world and helped many overcome their smoking addictions. To add, the creation of new organizations such as Young Arab Leaders means the youth are given an identifiable, positive standard to aspire towards . These social initiatives all address important issues and are equally facilitated by technology. A well designed and executed media strategy not only draws on a populations creativity but, with proper oversight, can also encourage our youths pro-active approach in positively shaping their future.

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3 thoughts on “Monocultural youth; bane or boon?

  1. It is true that with globalisation, one of the changes that is being felt, is the increasing homogenisation of cultures. This is a phenomenon which is being felt as much in old and established cultures such as China and India, as it is in this part of the world. So in truth, there is not much that one can do to fight it.

    At the same time, at another level, there is a strong base local culture, which exists and which continues as the holding glue of these societies. And no doubt this exists in this region as well. This fundamental culture evolves with time as well, as a result of the challenges and changes that contemporary life presents. The fundamental truths are however preserved in the home, and are passed down from one generation to the next. And though under constant attack from the media, it is something that is protected and preserved, within the home, giving a grounding to the new generations as they develop.

    One of the important tools and means for people of a culture to recognise and hold on to their culture, is for them to find heroes and role models that they can look up to. These role models could exist or emerge from any field, be it sport, or art, or movies of education or even business. Perhaps as more and more role models are recognised, this will help the youth to look within their own culture, rather than have to search for heroes outside.

  2. Interesting topic. There is this element of uniformity that comes with globalisation. My greatest fear (not that I have to worry about it in my lifetime) is that in 75 to 100 years time the subtleties and idiosyncrasies that make visiting different cultures so enthralling become diluted. Already architecture is very much uniform. A skyscraper in Dubai is the same as it is in Singapore, although architects desperately claim that there is some “local” inspiration.

    As with all revolutionary steps our species takes, there are opportunities and challenges along the way. Its already interesting to the ways in which societies backlash against foreign influences… I’m sure this is nothing new given the volatile history of the world since our arrival.

    Definitely food for thought.

  3. I have to concur with Mr. Al-Salim, this is definitely food for thought. We are definitely seeing a homogenization of societies and cultures as a result of globalization and media influence. Although I am not particularly in favor of us becoming one amorphous mass. I do believe that as we see the similarity between people of different countries that this would lead to reduction of the xenophobia that seems to be creeping in. That we would strive to recognize our commonalities and share a view of action for the good of all human kind. Not view each other out of a lens of fear and prejudice. Each of us should share our cultures and do our best to preserve them from the view of the color and majesty they add to the quilt in whose fabric our lives are inextricably woven.

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