Hey Snapchat Generation – Own Your Future

A young man takes a photo with his smartphone in Bangladesh.
A young man takes a photo with his smartphone in Bangladesh.

By Nana Soetantri

The youth have the power in their hands to shape not only their future, but also the current state of affairs.

If you haven’t been living under a rock, then you know that Michelle Obama just delivered the speech of speeches of the 21st century. Like the Huffington Post tweeted: “This is Michelle Obama’s world. We’re just living in it.”

But take a moment to wipe away the tears (I know I did) and decipher it for it what it meant. More than a rallying call to support Hillary Clinton’s bid for the US presidency, it was a message about her children and for all children. They hold a lot of promise, and her choice is to enable them to realize this promise, to have a leader that will guide and deliver a bright future. In one of the more moving lines of her speech, she spoke of having a time where the impossible is made possible, where the “highest and hardest glass ceiling” can be broken, and that children can now come to “take for granted that a woman can become President of the United States.”

These are lofty words, and yet, it rings true. Kids, children, the youth are indeed brimming with potential. They are the stuff of clichés. Let’s do this for the next generation, they say. Or in another pop culture reference—Game of Thrones—they are the reason you stage a war or burn cities to the ground.

These are all valid reasons, of course. However, if you look at it from another angle, the youth here seem to be mere ‘objects’ or a point of reference – an inactive part of the equation. Whereas if you turn this around, the youth can become the change agent. They can drive the action and realize results themselves. Now.

There is no better example of this than in an election. In Japan a few weeks ago, the same youth vote contributed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe winning the majority of the Upper House. Those in their teens and early twenties felt the benefits of Abenomics and job creation, thus prompting them to support Abe’s party in the first election for many among the Japanese youth.

On the other side of the pond, the debacle of Brexit brought about a debate on the role of the youth in the outcome of the EU referendum. Many blamed young people for not showing up to vote Remain, and thus they were told not to blame the older generation for screwing up their future. However, soon after polling day this was debunked by the London School of Economics, with a study noting that the youth did turn up to vote and that Leave simply had more numbers.

The youth, therefore, have the power in their hands to shape not only their future, but also the current state of affairs. It is for this reason that ADB is calling on the youth, particularly those 18 to 25 years old, to lend their voice and share their ideas on better transport. Through a video of not more than three minutes long, they can put a spotlight on mobility issues that plague them—such as fear of walking home at night after class lest they be harassed, or losing quality of life due to congestion that eat away hours meant for sleeping, studying or spending time with family—or solutions that can greatly ease their daily journey or others’.  

Called Are We There Yet, this youth video competition is a play on words that we often hear from kids or toddlers eager to reach a destination. For this contest we, the adults and transport experts, ask you the question – are we there yet? Are we at a point where transport helps our way of life or does it hinder us from development? Do you think negative transport impacts such as air pollution, increasing emissions and road fatalities affect you? Or are these mere concepts that are not relevant to millennials?

We think you have a lot to say, and not just because Snapchat numbers are on the rise. But more importantly, we think there’s a lot that the youth can do. Sending a video entry is one way. Those who win stand to present their ideas on an international stage and who knows, there may be an industry practitioner, NGO worker or government official who might just take you up on your proposal.

But there are more reasons. We encourage you to rethink transport and redefine the way we move. Invent solutions, create awareness or use a bike for short-distance travel. In India, Arjun Kumar took this one step further. When he was only 12, after a cyclone affected Chennai, he found his parents waiting at home worried, so he decided to make an app that lets parents or guardians know where a school bus is at any given time, whether the child is in the bus, and how much time will it take for the bus to arrive home. He received an award from MIT in 2012. He also eventually made a personal safety app for women and young girls.

And so to paraphrase another Obama, we, including the youth, have the capacity to shape our destiny. “I see a younger generation full of energy and new ideas, not constrained by what is, ready to seize what ought to be.”