Social-media natives in Myanmar, digital natives planet-wide

By Anne Collier

In no time, many Burmese will go online for the first time never knowing an Internet that wasn’t social. “This is going to be a digital revolution, not an evolution. This is not going to be slow,” said Vietnamese-Canadian tech entrepreneur Rita Nguyen, founder of Myanmar’s first social network site, Squar, told the BBC. She never visited Myanmar before this year, when she moved there and launched the site. Squar is a “very Silicon-Valley-style, minimal product,” she says, “a very light, just-get-on-the-Internet and start talking [in Burmese, of course]” – kind of service, which urges its users to tell the site developers what they want. Nguyen added, “Our message was, ‘Help us build the right product for you. This is Myanmar, we’re totally new here, and no one really knows what you want.'” Apparently they’re taking that to heart. Nguyen said the site’s getting “thousands of feedback points weekly.”

The world’s digital-native population

The BBC piece didn’t offer any numbers, but the vast majority of Squar’s users are probably digital natives, of which the Georgia Institute of Technology says there are 363 million – nearly a third (30%) of people aged 15-24 in the world and about 5.2% of the world population of nearly 7 billion The ITU, which partnered with Georgia Tech on the study, defines “digital natives” as “the population of networked youth – aged 15-24 years – with five or more years of online experience.” The researchers found that 79% of youth in Europe are digital natives, compared with 9.2% of youth in Africa, but that will change – fast. “Within the next five years, the digital population in developing countries will more than double, and it’s the developing countries that “are most impacted by their digital natives.”

“They will define the future,” says Georgia Tech’s release. The figure that Michael Best, an associate professor there who worked on the study, said the most important number it turned up was each country’s digital native population as a percentage of its total population. Looking at that percentage, the Top 9 out of 180 countries in the study were Iceland (at 13.9% of the country’s total population), New Zealand (13.6%), South Korea (13.5%), Malaysia (13.4%), Lithuania (13.2%), Barbados (13.1%), the US (also 13.1%), Slovakia (12.7%). Denmark, Latvia and Norway are tied for 10th at 12.3%. Myanmar, probably thanks to decades of isolationist military rule, is 179th, but – now that it’s opening to the world, with people jumping right into social, or participatory, media – it probably won’t stay there for long.

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