Groundbreaking new research from global management consulting firm Booz & Company, in partnership with Google, has provided the most illuminating snapshot yet of the habits and aspirations of the Arab Digital Generation (ADG).
This research was unveiled this week at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. It is taken from a sample of 3,000 digital users in nine countries in the region, all of them in the 15 to 35 age bracket. (This group comprises 40% of the current Middle East population.)
The research estimates that the ADG is currently around 10 million strong.
Some results of the research are likely to surprise western observers. For example, the research reveals both that the respondents want freedom of choice and that 70% of the respondents find that the internet helps them get closer to their religion.
What is also apparent is that ADG consumers remain reluctant to make purchases online. (The highest country in terms of online purchasing is the UAE at 12% but this is a much lower figure than the world average of 20%.)
“One reason is cultural,” stated Hatem Samman Ph.D, Director of the “Ideation Center” at Booz & Co. “The cultural reason is that people want to see the product. Another reason is the lack of security they feel on the website and issues related to security.”
At the Media Summit Presentation, Digital Natives, Mohamad Mourad [pictured], Regional Manager Gulf, Google, acknowledged that “the commercial web has not yet kicked off in the region.”
However, Mourad also pointed to the individualism and sense of freedom that the research has uncovered among the young Arabs. “They (the respondents) really believe that they should be able to do what they want. Let’s step back again – in this part of the world, we are used to being subservient…(but) this generation want to take control of their lives. They want to express their opinions openly and freely and they also want to make their own decisions.”
Asked whether they prefer TV or the internet, almost 80% of the respondents opt for the internet. When one teenager from Jordan was asked what it would be like to live without the internet, she replied: “it would be like walking without shoes. It is going to be very painful.”
According to the data, 83% of the ADG use the internet daily.
Speaking at the Media Summit roundtable Youthquake, Her Royal Highness Princess Rym Ali, founder of the Jordan Media Institute, urged caution against over-exaggerating the extent of the digital revolution in the Arab world. The Princess had seen other research that was markedly less upbeat than the report undertaken by Booz and Google.
“It’s a very fascinating conference. A lot of it is true. Technology is carrying us to places where we probably don’t even know where we are going,” The Princess remarked of this week’s event in Abu Dhabi. “Yes, the internet penetration has increased in our part of the world…I’ve seen figures recently (that) 0.1% on Tunisia are active on Twitter, 0.4% of Syrians are active on Twitter, 0.26% of the Egyptian population is on Twitter.”
Facebook may be more popular, she said, but added that “we are still not living in a complete cyberworld.”
The Princess also commented on the Arab Spring: “I personally believe that the surge in use of social media came with the uprising,” she said. “Before the uprising, when you look at how the youth were using social media, they were using it more for entertainment, very rarely for civil society and debate. They were more consumers than producers of content. That is changing slowly and that’s a great thing but…I think we now need to look at content. Social media is great, the technology is great, the tool is fantastic, but without proper content, where does it go?”