(MENAFN - Arab News) A very debated issue in the era of social connectivity concerns the impact that new communication tools have on younger generations. The nature of this impact particularly interests the Arab world where an immense and growing number of the many young citizens of the region use social medias (1 million Facebook users only in Jeddah) to connect with others, share knowledge and be heard.
The organizers of the 2012 Jeddah Economic Forum (JEF) decided yesterday to deal with this controversial matter and close the forum's sessions analyzing the changes provoked by social communication in Arab societies and ways of positively capitalizing the benefits of modern technology.
Former Director of David Cameron's Digital Communications Office in the UK and now Regional Director of HillKnowlton Rishi Sasha, Member of the Arab Thought Foundation Ibrahim Mothana, Head of Google Emerging Arabia Abdulrahman Tarabzouni and Executive Director of the National Strategy for Youth at the Ministry of Economy and Planning Saleh Al-Nassar brought examples from their personal experiences to illustrate the new technologies' huge potential, when correctly used, in serving the cause of development and job creation.
HillKnowlton's responsibility for delivery of key strategic communication campaigns across Australia, the Middle East, Africa and South and Central Asia, Sasha identified some key sectors that are already immensely benefiting from social media platforms and explained how to approach Internet communication tools.
"Online Blogs, forums and websites are supporting the public health and education sectors not to mention entrepreneurship. People with health problems can now form online communities and share viewpoints and experiences. Skype allows to hold online conferences breaking distance barriers and social medias in general are helping entrepreneurs to find mentors and capital and companies to improve their services," said Sasha.
"We have to be however mindful of the risks involved in the use of social medias and actively manage them only when we have a clear scope and strategy in mind, not just to be part of a trend. Quickly networking incongruous ideas is the worst we can do. Taking time, observing and studying these communication tools will bring substance to our initiatives and opinions," he added.
On this subject, Al-Nasser and Mothana highlighted the unexpected capacity of many young Saudis and Arab citizens to capitalize on the communication speed and knowledge availability of social medias to empower themselves, show their capabilities and also start up humanitarian initiatives as for instance in Yemen and Jeddah on the occasion of last year's intense floods.
"More important than knowledge is consciousness. Through social medias, young Arabs are engaging in voluntary work, opening to people of different faiths, becoming more aware of the new directions of the world's economy and catching the opportunity to manifest their skills uploading photos, paintings, music videos, etc., that within minutes are spread to thousands of people," said Al-Nasser.
Tarabzouni, currently heading Google's expansion into new markets in the region, focused his intervention on the ways the Internet has affected our lives in modern societies and economies.
He identified three main components of this influence: The infrastructural dimension; the financial aspect i.e. the monetization of the content on the net; and the Internet as a tool for democratization. The first aspect concerns mostly the role of states and governments, through their investments that enabled the current levels of broadband connectivity.
The second aspect deals with the financial return of activities on the net, which has witnessed ups and down in the region but that is registering new opportunities. In the UK, in 2009, the Internet economy contributed an amount of 100 billion pounds to the national economic outcome (7.2 percent of the GDP) and registers a 10 percent growth per year.
About the third aspect, Tarabzouni established an analogy between the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century AD and the invention of the Internet at the end of the 20th century. Today, just like yesterday, the representatives of the most reactionary religious sectors feel threatened by innovations able to spread knowledge in the society, and so they first try to contain them and, at a second stage, to use them at their own advantage.
On the other hand, Saudi public opinion is using more and more social medias in order to express its voice and dialogue with the institutions. Tarabzouni underlined the case of YouTube and the huge increase of production and consumption of video clips by Saudi youth. The time has come, he said, to invest in venture capital and build a real knowledge-based economy.
Founder and CEO of TESHKEEL Media Group and moderator of the session Naif Al-Mutawa, recalled the adventures of comic superheroes based on Islamic culture. The project received worldwide attention for his message of universality of values and was praised by US President Barack Obama on the occasion of the 2010 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.