For South Africa Youth, Technology Is a Source of Anxiety and Inspiration

Youth in South Africa are using technology to drive social change. But being constantly connected to all that’s happening in the world can be stressful...

For its recent Youth in Flux project, Viacom spoke to more than 7,000 people ages 16 to 24 across 14 countries. Through ethnographic interviews, video diaries and online surveys this project had a goal of finding that out what makes youth tick.

Youth today are growing up constantly connected and hyperaware of everything that is happening, both locally and at a global level. Many things affect and shape their experience of the world: from news about insecure financial times and political corruption to never-ending comparisons to others on social media.

In South Africa, we spoke to 505 young people of a mix of races – 43% black, 35% white, 11% coloured (local term for multiracial) and 8% Indian. Here are some insights on how they they’re similar and different from their global peers:

Being young isn’t easy. Virtually all (96%) South African young people we spoke to said it’s hard to be young today. This was slightly above the global average of 93%.

It’s tough to tune out world events. Being ‘always on’ makes it almost impossible for young adults to avoid hearing what’s going on in the world. Only a fifth of South African youth (20%) said they have no trouble blocking bad news – nearly matching the global average of 21%.

They’re using technology – social media especially – to drive social change. Right now, on every imaginable platform, youth are promoting inclusiveness. Just about all South African respondents (98%) found it important to collaborate with others to make the world a better place (96% globally). A recent example in South Africa is the #FeesMustFall campaign, a student-led protest in response to an increase in university fees.

South African youth are exceptionally motivated to create a more non-judgmental society. In South Africa, young people in South Africa were 30% more likely than their global peers to say they’re inspired by people who break free from outdated perceptions of gender, race and religion (82% South Africa, 63% globally).

They’ve grown up in a fully digital world – and tech is a ‘frenemy.’ Over half in South Africa (56%) reported having a love/hate relationship with social media (53% globally). This results from the insecurity generated by social comparison online. While it’s inspiring to see others accomplish great things, it also creates pressure to succeed – and fast. And as they check updates all day, FOMO (fear of missing out) becomes a persistent source of anxiety.