The new digital age for ASEAN youth


The Covid-19 pandemic ushered the beginning of a new digital era for Generation Z in Southeast Asia

Sociologists call Generation Z that of those born between 1997 and 2012. It is the first generation in the history of mankind to never have known a world without mass communication technologies such as the internet and smartphones. Their deep knowledge and familiarity with technology makes them the most experienced generation to date in the digital arena, with the potential to bring a real revolution in the job market. Many of these young people learn coding skills since the age of twelve; others earn considerable sums thanks to the new opportunities offered by social networks; many experiment new university courses and jobs never thought of before. They can therefore be considered real pioneers of the digital sector.

The young inhabitants of ASEAN countries are no exception: using digital tools to always stay in contact with each other, they are more creative, competent and ready to seize the opportunities of the digital transformation. In fact, a recent report by the World Economic Forum found that despite the difficulties due to poor connectivity in some areas, digital transformation has already created a technology-savvy generation in Southeast Asia that will be a key factor for an inclusive and sustainable growth in ASEAN. The same survey, conducted in collaboration with Sea, found that young people in the region between the ages of 15 and 25 have adapted to the restrictions by increasing their digital presence, while new entrepreneurs have accelerated the transition to e-commerce.

Southeast Asia today is home to 220 million young people, which is about one third of the total youth population. To closely observe the potential of this human capital, the “ASEAN Youth and Community Dialogue Forum 2020” was held online on 24 November, with a focus on policies for the development of young people, new trends and the challenges they face. Host of the event, Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Trần Anh Tuấn said that his country and other ASEAN members rely heavily on young people for the construction and integration of the Southeast Asian community.

Precisely with regard to socio-cultural aspects, in fact, the recent “Culture Next” report that the music streaming company Spotify developed to analyze the role of audio entertainment in shaping the culture and market orientations of young Southeast Asians highlighted interesting conclusions. Looking at 3,000 Gen Zs and Millennials from Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, and analyzing their relationship with brands, web content, technology and culture, the report represents an interesting insight into the generations that will shape ASEAN’s future. In fact, the survey shows how new identities are no longer defined only by the place of birth or language, but are rather formed by the complex online interweaving of common passions and interests: 61% of the interviewees declared that they have at least one friend from another country; 56% define themselves based on who their friends are around them, what they are passionate about and what fashion they follow; 78% believe that music helps them to get in touch with each other and with other cultures, thus creating a transnational community that goes beyond the borders of their place of origin.

In conclusion, the new generations of Southeast Asia appear quite different from the previous ones. Thanks to direct contact with the digital revolution, Generation Z in ASEAN is dynamic and flexible, ready to seize the opportunities of the transformations underway and open to new forms of supranational integration. With over 200 million young people under 35, Southeast Asia is therefore a candidate to become an important innovation hub in Asia and around the world. 

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