Posted on 07. September 2015
Two years ago I attended a lecture at the University of Liverpool on the differences between generations. To a certain degree every generation believes that the generation that came before theirs was too rigid and conservative, and consequently the generation that came after too wild and out of control. This observation led to heated discussions among attendees, as people were belonging to different age-groups. Later that evening, I kept discussing for hours with my then-colleagues at the University of Tirana, in the “Cavern Club”, a nearby cosy shelter famous as the birthplace of the Beatles.
Even though it was quite some time ago, I still remember what was presented during that lecture. Today – perhaps more than ever – we have arrived at the point where two different cultural narratives prevail: one preoccupied with youth in the context of generational change, and one fixated on ‘youth as hope for the future’ in the context of socioeconomic change.
Both of these narratives provide a basis for understanding the current portrayal of young people in today’s society. Although young people often grow up as active citizens, with the opportunity to live and work everywhere throughout the world, at times their situation seems to be positioned unfavourably. Especially with the recent financial and economic crisis, young people’s general enthusiasm has been under much closer scrutiny.
In recent times, media has not only served as a main source of information for what is happening around the globe, but has also fuelled a debate that portrays young people as ‘the new-media addict’. This main discourse comes predominantly because young people are the highest users of online and social media tools. Although this discourse suggests that ‘media-addiction’ is excessive and does not support young people as they strive for education and success, my arguments aim to convey totally the opposite.
This portrayal dominates political culture – where most of the conceptual space for youth is constructed, experienced, and struggled over. Political culture is a very well-known concept for academics in political science, but sometimes difficult to conceptualize. It does mostly refer to ‘particular patterns of orientations in a society’. Put in simple words, political culture is a distinctive and patterned way of thinking about how political and economic life ought to be carried out. It mainly contributes to ‘illuminate’ us about how to choose our policies, leadership and dominant beliefs about the economic life.
Because of this theoretical framework, political culture is also able to produce ‘a whole set’ of beliefs and ideas concerning young people, their perceived role in society and how they are portrayed in reality, as well. It has so far produced specific ‘images’ about how youth is organized, learned and lived across societies. In understanding the discursive practices (the family, school or politics of culture) through which young people are positioned and position themselves – it is necessary to recognise that certain specific ‘portrayals’ or configurations in the media are imposing certain ways of thinking, which are then consumed by the general public.
One of the most dominant contemporary images we address in this article, is the one which is becoming more and more fierce in the ‘political culture’: the consistent representation of young people, as ‘the new-media addict’. When referring to young people, our target group is mostly the Millennials, also known as ‘Generation Y’. Coming immediately after Generation X, there are no precise dates when this generation starts and ends, but most researchers use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.
Over the past 5 years, media has put a strong emphasis on how young people from Generation Y spend most of their time on the internet, producing a clear addiction to the new-media. More often than not, the question asked is: What is wrong with young people? Because of advancements in technology, globalisation and a mixture of cultures, it is a matter of fact that young people from Generation Y are spending more time online. This boost is largely facilitated by smartphones and other inventions which allow users to access the Internet from virtually anywhere.
Indeed, we can no longer imagine our daily lives without media and communication technologies. At the start of the 21st century, the home is being transformed into the ‘giant site of a multimedia culture’. However there are still potential benefits to this new media. Recent studies have shown that it is due to technology that the visual working memory (a person’s ability to recall for visual information) is higher among young people. While older adults might store the same number of items, their memory of each item is ‘fuzzier’ than that of younger adults.
The question I pose here is: what is right with technology? Nowadays, technology and new media can serve as ‘a big gate of opportunities’. It is mostly due to technology and online communication that numerous and consistent possibilities for studying or working abroad are presented to young people of my generation.
If for a moment I try to recall how my life has changed dramatically over the years, I could definitely say that 20 years ago, I would have never thought of living and working outside of Albania. Nowadays I am not only concentrating my work across different countries in Europe, but I am also trying to construct ‘a solid social network’ with many people from all around the globe and across generations. Technology and the ‘new-media’ is a great help for Millennials like myself to work online for different projects, to network, to follow online-courses in prestigious universities, to Skype and to further make a good use of its multiple features.
Rather than generating a media discourse which portrays young people as tech-addicts, our main attention should focus on how to make the best out of technology. Indeed, there might be proper or improper distinctions between Generation Y and other generations, but this should encourage the creation of self-betterment and expansion of opportunities for personal and professional growth. As a matter of fact, there might be ‘lazy young people’ who do nothing other than spend all day online on their smartphones or tablets, but on the other hand there are many Millennials who use technology as a means for increasing their chances to enter the labour market. The latter understanding should serve as the leitmotif for leading our societies and media as well. Rather than criticizing what young people are doing wrong with the excessive use of technology and new-social media, the discourse should be more framed on how every single individual in our society could acknowledge the achievement of young people. How to boost their confidence and intelligence, to keep them motivated and push them forward for attaining success?
In reality, there is more when referring to young people. By not solely focusing specifically on their identity construction in the light of the often stigmatising and arisen commentary of media discourses, we should focus on how young people use ‘new technology’ for their professional development. Through revitalizing faith and trust in young people, we could encourage them to do much more. As Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook recently pointed out: “Everyone has an indispensable and unique perspective they could bring to the world”. May we all together as individuals, multiply opportunities, connect people, create positive images, and think of innovative and creative ideas on how to use technology – an indispensable tool of our lives nowadays.
Finally, it is important to understand that us, the millennials, are definitely growing up in a tough time. In many ways, we are surrounded with a lot of high expectations for what we should achieve. At the same time individual failure is difficult to accept when confronted with a sense that you’re an important person and expected to succeed. Although largely out of our control, the fact that the economy does happen to collapse just as we get out of college and enter adulthood – has forced a confrontation between these greater expectations and the limitations of our current reality. It is in this context that the importance of embracing the opportunities of new media and asserting our identity is all the more relevant.
I will as well share this article with my friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook, while welcoming for their comments and feedback.