Breaking barriers between youth in the new tech era: is there an easy way through?

Written by Alexandru Dragos Ene, Vice President, Director of Communication, JADE – European Confederation of Junior Enterprises

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Alexandru Dragos Ene JADE – European Confederation of Junior Enterprises Vice President, Director of Communication

Living in Brussels for a while I understood that there is a lot of high level talk, especially around European Institutions (The EU Parliament and EU Commission) about the fact that youth should be empowered much more, especially in less developed economies. It just happens that I am from Eastern Europe, from efficiency-driven country, and stumbling across students from all around the continent has driven me to some interesting ideas about the status quo of youth and the emerging generation.

During Generations Club 2014, the Chairman of Microsoft Europe, Mr. Jan Mühlfeit, said that we are the first generation in history able to use technology better than our predecessors. Technology is, of course, a prime driver when it comes to facilitating communication, but how much does it really help us understand each other? Not a single time in my life have I been part of an important meeting between young people my age that preferred to use a video conference software rather than having it face to face, unless it was no other way to do so.  And there is an important reason to do it. As young people we strive for expressing ourselves, and we feel a need to use our full potential of body language, physical proximity, and any other way of direct communication. We put our energy into our relationships, and while technology may give us a helping hand, it cannot teach us to be better people.

I believe youth are falling into a trap. Internet is bringing the world knowledge into everyone’s hands. It’s easy to feel empowered when you can learn anything at least at basic level from a few clicks. But it may also teach us that we can do it fine on our own. Let me give you a example of how knowledge brought people together in the previous century: in communist Romania, good books were not so common, and people were not allowed a great variety of entertainment. People were reaching to others to complete their beloved collection of novels, and they were trading rare music collections for encyclopedias brought from abroad. This bonded people, they were feeding culture to each other.
Now all this knowledge is so accessible that opinion has become well overrated as importance. For some, it feels that opinions are one of the few intangible things that we truly own. Media also encourages opinion expression, and the so called opinion leaders may trick us into thinking that they equal knowledge. We, the young people, have the opinion ego.

I challenge you to imagine a world where everyone thinks their opinion is the best, because they know everything. I challenge you to try to solve global problems with people that were always used to say “I know better’”. There is a serious threat that we forget to listen to what other have to say because we care too much about our opinions, especially in a world where young people are used to extremes: like versus dislike, thumbs up versus thumbs down.

We cannot make the connections looking forward. We can only do it looking behind us, at what it has been said, and heard. There is no other way to compensate our natural lack of experience but by embracing the ideas of the group, brainstorming and making connections between hundreds of ideas that otherwise remain in each other’s minds, far from the internet. Without that, we are incredibly inefficient, we become stressed or we just give up, whenever opinions clash one against the other. This is not working, and our education lacks the culture of collaborative communication.

While we are promised a better world for innovation, most opportunities are only open for some few lucky young ones from the less favored countries. They are open to the ones that make it on their own, because in the countries where education manages on regular basis to give birth to teamwork, innovation just happens. Those people don’t always need to be taught entrepreneurship, they don’t need anything more than just laws that don’t kill start-ups.

On the other hand, young people from my country, for example, live the dream of changing their society for the good and believe in social projects. But it’s so hard to find followers among their own age that they end up thinking that their dream was just a dream.  On the other hand, when they do find them, magic happens. Want proof? There is an Alternative University in Bucharest, set up entirely by students, that started from just an idea, an idea to change the status quo pf education. How did it start? Another student thought it was a good idea too. Then it became a project.

Collaborative communication is not an easy thing to teach. First people need to be fully aware of themselves and their behavior. They need to accept who they are and embrace change. Secondly, they need to understand the process of learning. They need to learn from other people as they were open, living books. Thirdly, they need to be proactive and motivated, so they need to invest into the relationship from start to end.

Everything above can and has to be taught during school, so that fresh students could assemble organisations of people capable of self-directed learners and start putting real projects, with impact, into practice straight away. In other words, to be able to fail at the very beginning of their maturity and independence and be capable to learn the most out of it. Fail often, fail early, but fail smart. And as you fail, communicate, and improve from the feedback around you. Real teams support members that fail and bounce them back into action. Real teams communicate it through.

While technology does a great job at helping us getting the job done, it does not inspire, nor does it create for us. It’s just there, to ask it what to do. We need to use it for the others, not just for ourselves. And in the end there is still one thing that is and will be always out of our control: no matter if our opinions on it diverge or not, the future will still happen.

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