Takeaways from SxSW, Part 1: The Brazilian Dream

By Anne Collier

In addition to the panel mentioned in my previous post about Hope North and the one I participated in, “Reaching Teens on the Digital Streets,” here – in two parts – are some takeaways from two areas I focused on at South by Southwest (SxSW) last week: featured speakers and social media use in other countries….

The Brazilian Dream

In “Brazilian Youth: Dreams, Activism, Hyperconnection,” Carla Albertuni of research firm Box 1824 in Sao Paulo presented the findings of a quantitative and qualitative national survey of 18-to-24-year-old Brazilians at a unique time in Brazil’s history – with 25 million people aged 18-24, people “born in a free country, free of the barriers their parents faced, without fear of wildly fluctuating inflation, feeling what it’s like to have growing economic prosperity [the average family income is around $1,200/month, she reported], connecting to an ever-more-digitalized new world without borders or physical or social limits, and demonstrating a new way to relate to each other … the first global generation of Brazilians.” In a nutshell: “a new Brazil” + “a new generation” (and I would add + “new media”) are “an unprecedented combination” that add up to what might be called “The Brazilian Dream.” This dream does sound unique to this generation at this point in time in Brazil, but also global in some aspects – because, the research shows, its 18-to-24-year-old practitioners think of themselves as global actors as well as Brazilians and as active participants in their local communities.

‘The American Dream’ distributed & customized

Whatever people think about what has happened to the idea, when “The American Dream” was coined in 1931 by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer James Truslow Adams (see Wikipedia), it reportedly meant something much deeper than a lifestyle fueled by prosperity. It was a vision that seems to have been appropriated and customized in many parts of the world, the original “meme” distributed long before digital media but I think now more realizable by more people everywhere; and – because of social digital media – the sharing of it is building on the dream, and creating new practices toward attaining it in diverse, creatively customized ways. Does that make sense? If not, keep reading, because I think – if Box 1824’s interpretation of its data is accurate – Brazilian youth are demonstrating what I’m trying to say. And I feel there’s value to parents, educators, and policymakers everywhere in seeing what’s going on with youth in Brazil.

The study found that 76% of its 18-to-24-year-olds feel Brazil’s changing for the better and 89% are proud to be Brazilian. But they also feel there is something called a “global culture” that they’re connected to. They are hyper-connected (not just online), plugged into both their local communities and online interest communities, and they think collectively. So they have a new approach to functioning in the world – well past “the participation model of the ’60s,” when “political engagement meant sacrifices” including “the abandonment of self-questioning in exchange for total dedication to a cause. Today, individual desires are expressed in a network, where people with the same goals quickly find each other [free of geographical constraints] connect and start to act on those desires.” It’s a decidedly non-competitive, collaborative sense of accomplishment and social change in which “thinking about another person doesn’t necessarily mean not thinking of yourself,” according to Box 1824’s video about its findings. “When I see people around me are happy, I feel much better,” said one of the young people in the study.

Diversity, not dualism

Albertuni said today’s youth have a “culture of and,” not a “culture of or” – for example, instead of either doing social projects or choosing to make a decent living, they feel they can do both. Eighty-three percent feel opposing political parties can join together behind a single temporary cause, and 81% that different mindsets can work together to transform society. You can have disagreement and diversity right in the collective cause or action.

‘Daily micro-revolutions’

Half of those surveyed said they feel more connected to collective than individual thinking, which is changing the way people act in the world, Box 1824 says. Ninety-two percent of Brazilian 18-to-24-year-olds believe their own actions can change society, 70% wish to participate in community projects, and 24% already are, many in the favelas, their own neighborhoods – projects started by people, not government. It found Brazilian youth (and I suspect there is resonance among North America’s) believe in daily micro-revolutions” – direct action. As Albertuni described the idea, “whatever you choose to do in your day-to-day life can transform society.” How? The Box 1824 video says young change agents are “observing real problems in their communities, analyzing causes, and visualizing short-term objectives.”

Who are these change agents?

Box 1824 calls them “Bridge-Youth – activists, not protestors, “pollinators, integrators, dialoguers” who build their knowledge through interaction, online and offline, and don’t have single or permanent causes. It sounds like a balance of serious activism with a light touch (there’s a kindness to it, and a freedom from grandstanding or heavy demands). It’s doable activism. Albertuni told us there are 2 million of these young activists in Brazil.

Says one from Sao Paulo in the video, “I try to do everything with the goal of showing how possible it is to create change.” Another young man said, “Every person is gifted with some transformation tool, for himself or for others.” A young woman in Rio de Janeiro said, “We have to share as much as we can. If that person needs it, and I have the information, of course I want it to grow for everyone, you know?” They’re also creators of “a new kind of transverse influence between people and institutions,” quietly accomplishing community improvement projects that are already, “bit by bit,” changing the world. “Even when isolated, these young people are transforming society.” They’re acting on “four callings,” as Albertuni put it: “participation, dialog, diversity, and creativity.”

She profiled several young change agents with different talents and interests (see her slideshow for all of them) – for example, Thiago Vinicius, 20, a loan officer for the Uniao Sampaio Community Bank and co-founder of a “fomentation agency” in his part of Sao Paulo, a community development organization that supports a network of local businesses which accept a special “social currency” unique to that community (Brazil has 50 social currencies, Albertuni said, a concept that sounds more effective and cohesive than a chain of barter agreements but too much to go into here). Thiago also helps organize workshops and socio-cultural activities in his community; works with a women’s union; and continues to do volunteer work for an environmental organization, Projeto Arrastão, for which he has volunteered since he was 14.

3 youth-founded projects

Albertuni pointed out ForaDoEixo.org.br, a cultural collective (which she described as creating “a social tech indie music creative economy”) that has staged more than 500 concerts in 100 cities in the past year; a touring hacker bus about digital transparency, CasaDaCulturaDigital.com.br (“showing things going on in government that people don’t have access to” – good things, not just bad things); and Catarse (“catharsis”), Brazil’s own version of crowdfunding (sort of like Kickstarter.com, but different – according to researcher Joel Finn – because, “rather than being interested in a certain product or service, Brazilians are much more interested in the social benefits of the project and ashave a ‘estamos juntos,’ or a we-are-together, mentality”).

The values, projects, and practices of youth that Box 1824’s study turned up give new meaning to the term “digital citizenship,” showing how substantive its practice can be. Their agency and social activism are both uniquely Brazilian (e.g., fomentation agencies) and globally connected. I suspect it would be a good idea for the rest of us to look for creative mashups of global, local, online, offline, individual, and collective action like these wherever they turn up in our communities and countries, see if or how we can lend our support, and then watch what happens!

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