In the Era of Synopticon, We Are Being Watched

By AsiaToday reporter Kim Yujin - "I can't afford to buy a house anyway. I'd rather go out for nice brunch."

The youth of today will be outraged if you advise them, "If you work hard, you will achieve your goals." "Just give up $22 a week and you'll have a deposit on a median priced house in Sydney in...175 years."

Renowned Australian columnist and demographer Bernard Salt lashed out at young people for their wasteful spending in his 'The Weekend Australian Magazine' column saying, "I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more. I can afford to eat this for lunch because I am middle aged and have raised my family. But how can young people afford to eat like this?" His words have caused Millennials to criticize him strongly.

A Twitter user sarcastically wrote, "Skipped smashed avocado for breakfast this morning. Excited to buy a house next week." The Guardian reporter criticized, "Baby boomers have already taken all the houses, now they're coming for our brunch."

The example above reflects the reality of the Millennial generation - those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Many Millennials are often referred to as wasteful, self-absorbed, sensitive to criticism, and defensive. In other words, they have a clear preference. They follow their own 'sophisticated' taste to buy what to eat and wear. However, they are not focused on buying the house that they are going to live in forever. They are focusing on the present moment and willing to pay for the present moment of happiness. Millennials tend to fight for their rights and thus are less willing to sacrifice than previous generations. They don't see marriage as mandatory. While Millennial men are trying to get away from the pressure to be the main breadwinner, Millennial women are trying to get rid of the pressure to be either both workers and mothers or give up one thing for another.

They also consume news based on their taste. When it comes to local elections, Millennials would look up those statements made by candidates to carefully pick the one that best represents their views. For them, voting is a tool that reflects their taste. From personality to attitude to clothing to even personal life. They would vote for a candidate that best represents their preference.

◇ Do Millennials communicate through the 'Synopticon'?

The Millennial generation is the first born into the digital world, specifically the Internet and social media. In particular, many Asian Millennials enjoy soft surveillance of others using their internet access in the age of Synopticon, in which the many watch the few. Since Asia has a high internet penetration and fast internet connection with high population density, many young people in Asia show a keen interest in social, political and economic issues online.

Political issues are the greatest prey and targets of Millennials' surveillance. They express emotions and give feedback in real time on social networking sites such as Twitter. Experts point out that this is not a form of conversation or discussion, and it is no different from a sort of excretion. But if you at it the other way round, it means they want to communicate and get sympathy from others online.

Social networking sites are not only a means of communication but also a tool of surveillance. Girls' Generation member Tiffany sparked heavy criticism from Korean netizens for posting the Japanese Confederate flag, also known as the Rising Sun flag on National Liberation Day in Korea. The Rising Sun flag is controversial due to its association with Imperial Japanese rule. Although the star issued handwritten apology twice in response to the controversy, Korean netizens continued to criticize and Tiffany had to leave from her TV show.

Controversy with social media networking sites can also cause a lot of tension between countries. The apology for wavering Taiwanese national flag by Tzuyu of the Korean girl group TWICE figured prominently in Taiwanese presidential election. The 16-year-old Taiwanese singer had appeared with a small Taiwan flag on a Korean variety show and as the show was released on Weibo, Chinese took to social media to denounce her. In the meantime, Taiwan's pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party leader Tsai Ing-wen was elected Taiwan's president. In her victory speech, Tsai referred to Tzuyu controversy, saying, "This particular incident will serve as a constant reminder to me about the importance of our country's strength. This will be one of the most important responsibilities for me as the next president of the Republic of China," raising China-Taiwan tension.

◇ Susceptible to feelings of anxiety and inadequacy

Those characteristics of the Millennial generation boil down to one thing - they want to become more independent. Their desire to reflect their style and personality even when buying little things is a reflection of their awareness that they don't have a big influence in reality. Eventually, Millennials' synoptic approach is not only a measure of judgment in an unstable situation, but also an attempt to get out of the isolated reality of themselves.

So what is the ultimate goal for Millennials today? While it is part of our natural instinct to pursue happiness, there are few conditions of happiness that are guaranteed for the youth of today. Unlike previous generation, the Millennial generation has no hope of buying a home as there are so few stable jobs out there for them.

A recent study entitled, "Millennials are never happy," was released from Trinity University. The study found that Millennials are hugely susceptible to feelings of anxiety and inadequacy because they have been exposed to extreme situations like terrorism, and a serious polarization is creating a sense of distrust towards the society among them. Millennials entered the job market during the worst global recession. They have higher levels of student loan debt and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their predecessor generations.

However, they are interested in making things happen in their communities. They want to use their talents to help people around, and participate voluntarily in social movements. Millennials, who have a more open-eyed approach to their wants, go to watch movies, cook, exercise, and read books to feel good about themselves. Many startups are being created in a variety of fields to suit their spending habits. Existing companies are also fiercely competing to meet their needs.

◇ Millennials are taking power and world leaders are focusing more on them

Millennials have their own opinions and tastes, so they don't follow the opinions of others easily. Some might think they are narrow-minded, but Millennials are more exposed to different opinions and views than any other generation. They are already experts on selecting the right content for them. Each of their opinions is a fragmentary piece, but it can build a new form of big power once it evoke sympathy online.

Politicians, who should pay attention to public opinion, cannot ignore Millennials that are sensitive to issues and communication. Therefore, many politicians in the countries with representative democracy try to form a constant social consensus with Millennials.

Since understanding how Millennials think has become important, many leaders around the world are coming forward to communicate with them. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe surprised everyone by popping up as Super Mario during the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics back in August to promote his country's 2020 Summer Olympics. His appearance followed a promotional video showing various characters from popular culture, including Doraemon and Hello Kitty. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is headed by PM Abe, has been pursuing "media politics" since 2009. As individuals began to control information and images in the age of the Internet, political circles have developed a media counterstrategy in response to rapidly changing public opinion.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been one of the most active of social media. He sends birthday greetings to foreign leaders via Facebook and congratulates opposition lawmakers on their election victory. To celebrate his 2nd year in office, Modi shared some images of his 96 year-old mother visiting him at the PM's official government residence for the first time on his Facebook account, impressing many people in India. Apart from him, many politicians are active on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to express their political stances.

In the end, the future of politics, economy and society sits firmly in the hands of Millennials. Are you going to get caught in the web of their surveillance or are you going become a surveillant? Or are you going to use them?