The world's fastest growing economy, bound by information, connectivity and commerce, sits momentarily at just over 1.3billion people. You could be forgiven for thinking this is China, or maybe even India, but it's Facebook. And it's not the only recently conceived, rapidly-expanding tech platform to revolutionise our lives. Banks have developed their offerings over hundreds of years to help facilitate cash flow and commerce globally, but in just a few years, the likes of Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Instagram have surpassed the number of global bank accounts. So, what's my point?
It's clear we are in the midst of a tech evolution, it's changing our lives almost every day. But it's the latest chapter in the digital journey that I believe marks the most significant (and maybe most positive) change: we are increasingly taking control of what and how we consume. It doesn't matter whether it's by social media, a search engine or an app, we decide what we want to watch, read and indulge in. The rise of self-service technology is impacting our lives in every aspect.
Sorry to use another banking analogy, but think about how we were managing our finances five years ago. Or, think about when you set up your first account - it was a family decision, heavily influenced by parents' loyalties. Generation Y now looks at what banks actually offer, and how good their applications are. Long gone are the days of going to a branch and meeting with the manager - today (albeit only with a small number of banks so far) you can book a video appointment through your banking app. In other areas of your life, think about how we would have booked a taxi two years ago. Thanks to Uber, Lyft, Hailo and other similar disruptors you can do it effortlessly, real-time at the touch of your screen. Tech is erasing the rhythm of life we were so used to - we don't go home and 'see what's on' TV, we chose what's on. And we choose when, and we chose what device we're going to watch it on.
So, this is my point. If we inform our lives at our convenience through technology, and our primary news channel is no longer managed by the traditional broadcasting corporations but has shifted to our rapid social news feeds, then how do we engage future generations in the meatier topics of economics and politics? I don't mean to suggest we force people into societally important topics, but politics had seen a snow-balling decline in interest among the under 30s since the 1950s, and it looks set to only get worse.
I recently read an article, on my phone, in The Telegraph with the headline: 'If you're under thirty, bad luck. You're screwed.' The piece begin with the opening gambit, 'If you're under thirty, old people have stolen your future. And what's worst, you let them do it'. It skates close to morbid a little too much, but it did highlight a lot of the unsustainable and terrifying issues that face under 30s (well worth a read - the link is below). The main takeaway was that these issues, primarily housing and pensions, have been driven by not voting. For years, party manifestos have addressed the wants and needs of those who vote - 38% of under 24s in 2005 (and 51% in 2010) - it's hardly surprising that, as part of this self-fulfilling prophecy, we've not been heard. According to the Hansard Society's recent political engagement audit (no link below...) the number of young people certain to vote has fallen to 12%. As we near the close-run 2015 general election it's interesting to see the heavy focus on youth engagement from the parties as they realise that the large number of disengaged young people could well be the silver bullet!
So that's the problem: our peers, and many to come, have lost interest and faith in politics with no easy way back in - so how do we change this? There are some obvious solutions where turnout is the issue - ease of registration, voting on a Saturday, school and university campaigns, or even parent-targeted campaigns. But perhaps the most appropriate way to engage with the tech savvy generation would be to make voting (and engagement) digital. Let's take it a step further, imagine our mundane parliamentarians (MPs) had the opportunity to promote their manifestos to the general public via an application immediately before they voted, refocusing the importance of political engagement on education rather than just turnout. The banking analogy earlier, of signing up on your parents' recommendations, would no longer be true for politics - and that's how it should be. We should make decisions that we believe will benefit us for the next four years, not our folks! Ironically, Ronald Reagan said something very similar over 35 years ago - some things are slow to change it seems, particularly in politics!
Whatever is decided at the coming election, my hope is that we won't find ourselves at the next one marking 'x' on a piece of paper against our preferred choice. If that is the case then maybe, at the very least, we'll be travelling to the polling station by hover board. That's how I envisioned 2020, anyway.
[Stand Up, a campaign for youth engagement in politics, launches at the Royal Albert Hall on 21 April 2015. Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/stand-up-launch-event-210415-tickets-15865189208]
Referenced: 'If you're under 30, bad luck. You're screwed' - Alex Proud
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