Young people, social media and the changing economy

By Pat Watson Wednesday March 04 2015 in Opinion
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Who would deny the maxim that the more things change, the more they remain the same? The 1960s was a period of tremendous change as the mass of baby-boomers came into the age of revolution. Young people are all about changing their world. It is the sign of a healthy moral conscience that this happens. Given the size of that cohort group, it would be natural to expect that there would have been a massive effect. The civil rights movement, the age of free love, people marching together for a better world, these all characterized that time period as expressed by Bob Dylan’s anthemic “The times are a-changin’”.


Well, the times are definitely changing again. We have been in a decade-long depression, which no one wants to name as such. This economic downward spiral has most significantly affected young people. This then puts them once again at the cusp of change. How they will go about creating that change is the question.


The emergence of the group IS – Islamic State – is attracting young people who believe that participating would be the way to change the world this time around. At the same time, in the United States and in other nations, youth-empowered protests against police abuse of people of colour organized by means of social media also signify the times.


Young people are compelled to participate in these actions because, in the current social and economic environment, they have little to lose.


Those whose lives have not known the world without social media are the new generation. Their activities led the Arab Spring, the Idle No More and the Occupy movements. Similarly, social media galvanized the massive protests in Egypt and in Hong Kong.


A large number of youth worldwide have a lot of time on their hands. The high level of youth unemployment is the reason. We need, therefore, a full-scale, youth-engagement movement that will give them reason to hope, one that is productive and creative – not one that tries to entice them with slick videos of beheadings.


Young people need a message of “hope and change” attached to concrete action so that it registers as real.


Perhaps you’ve heard the argument that they should help themselves. The evidence is that they are doing so, but they are in a situation that is not of their making and they are responding in the best ways they can. The shift in the labour market, the world of part-time work, short contract work and unpaid internships, result in stalled lives. Not only stalled, but frustrated.


Compounding the problem here in Canada, we are burdened with a government whose idea of change is to propagate fear and oppression. Fear and oppression are the factors that marked the 1950s as the Cold War took hold. Fear and oppression were the factors that dragged almost every nation on the planet into the massive military orgy of World War II. If the goal is to employ young people by coercing them into military involvement, then we may be well on our way.


We need to hear from political, economic and social leaders what is being done concretely to respond to the current changing world where wages are falling despite the increase in the minimum wage. We need a fail proof social safety net that will free young people to begin to live their lives fully, rather that this pitiful inheritance of impoverishment that is now theirs to navigate. Of course some answers will come from young people, but it need not be left to them alone.


A note on sex education…

Long before there was sex education there was sex. There was sex before pornographic magazines, films and websites. There was sex before there was rape, cyber-bullying and sexting. Ontario’s Ministry of Education wants to give children an understanding of the world they must now navigate as they mature into their own understanding of one of mankind’s most basic instincts. If parents do not want their children to be informed in a classroom environment about these modern issues – let’s say modern pressures and modern dangers – as they relate to sex, then they should respectfully absent their children from this information. But, stand prepared for the consequences.


Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose

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