Young people have always ushered in new ways of thinking, but thanks to technology today’s Arab youth generation is substantially different from its predecessors. We call it the Arab Digital Generation (ADG). These young people are extremely active online and in social networks. The ADG is the Middle East’s best educated generation. It is impassioned about self-expression and wants change.
To better understand the ADG, Booz & Company, in partnership with Google, surveyed over 3,000 active digital users aged between 15 and 35 in nine countries across the Middle East. We found that some 83 percent use the Internet daily, and 61 percent spend more than two hours each day on social networks. They prefer the Internet to television, and instant messaging to talking on the telephone or email—even with family and friends.
Their appetite for the digital life reinforces the Arab world’s susceptibility to technology-driven change. Already, demographics, wider social horizons, and a lack of jobs are redefining the lives of young, digitally connected Arabs and their societies.
In the Middle East, younger people—who tend to be heavier users of the Internet—are a larger proportion of the regional population than elsewhere and their numbers are growing. From 2006 to 2011, the number of Arab Internet users grew by 23 percent per annum, compared to 14 percent for the rest of the world.
The social factor is also critical. While the ADG came of age in a fairly restrictive environment, bounded by social and cultural traditions, it now has broader horizons thanks to digital technology. ADG members have a sense of control over their lives. In our survey 63 percent express a desire for freedom, and 37 percent feel the Internet allows for free expression of opinions without fear of the consequences.
In addition, the ADG is well-educated and often unemployed—giving it a sense that the region may not offer opportunities for economic success. Indeed, one in six of the ADG are at university full-time. Most non-students in the ADG already have degrees. Sadly, education does not mean employment. Youth unemployment in the region in 2011 was 27 percent for those aged 15 to 24—the highest rate in the world and more than double the global average.
Remarkably, however, the ADG is optimistic and hopeful. These young people want change to improve the social and economic well-being of others. So if Middle Eastern countries and businesses want to compete globally, they should harness this optimism and education by leveraging digital technology.
The deft use of digital applications can improve society, the economy, and government, and tap the vitality of the ADG. And while many governments are already taking such steps, they need to redouble their efforts. By harnessing the ADG’s desire for change, its education, and its knowledge of technology, the Arab region can build stronger, more competitive societies.