If you thought the digital divide between India's big cities and tier-II towns is increasing, think again. Figures suggests it couldn't have been any narrower: six out of 10 youngsters in the 14 cities the survey was conducted said they are either very active, or at least have a profile, on one or more social networking site.
A whopping 57% of the more than 5,000 respondents between 18 and 25 years said they access at least one networking site every day, and look for anything from friendship and love to news and jobs. Last year, this figure stood at just 46%.
There's more. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, the survey suggests, are the most popular with youngsters in India, where a mobile telephony boom has helped register an impressive rise in internet penetration. Given that by 2016, India will have at least 350 million internet users, and about 75% of them will go online using mobile devices, the figures are only a reiteration of the shape of things to come.
“More and more, people like consuming content the way they do on their Facebook newsfeeds or Twitter timelines,” says BuzzFeed India editor Rega Jha.
But then, this is where conventional wisdom goes wrong. For all those of you who thought India's young access these sites only to stay connected with friends, and girlfriends, here's some food for thought. 42% of the respondents in the 22-25 age group claimed politics was their most tweeted topic, followed by sports, current affairs, friends and movies.
"There’s a sense of urgency when it comes to social media and that’s exciting. You don’t want to wait till you reach home to switch on your TV or for the next day’s newspaper," says 28-year-old Shakti Shetty from Mumbai.
For most Indian youth, social media is not just a medium that helps them stay connected but also one that offers a platform for free exchange of ideas and thoughts, and even a private space away from the prying eyes of parents and relatives. Interestingly, users are further migrating between platforms as well.
"A lot of people have moved from Facebook to Twitter thanks to moms, dads and relatives, who are now there to make it feel like your housing society. Youngsters feel they have to behave themselves," says Wilson Pereira, Twitter's @AdvancedMaushi.
Another popular Twitter user @oculus adds, "Personally, it's given me an outlet to share jokes which might otherwise earn me hard stares from my family."
In terms of the most number of social media users, however, the survey didn't throw any surprising insights: technology hub Bangalore, as expected, topped the list, with Pune coming a close second.
Politics apart, there is no denying the fact that this is also the age of drunken status updates, unwanted photo-tags and check-ins of the most mundane kind, and the young is milking the possibilities to their advantage.
Surprisingly, only 30% of the users said social media helped their love life. But there are exceptions. “I know a lot of people who've found their partners through Twitter. No big deal. You interact. You meet. You meet often. You click. You fall. And boom!” says Pankaj Sinha an engineer with close to 16,000 followers to his Twitter handle @AskThePankazzzz.
Expert speak: Don't join Twitter...It's an addiction!: Pankaj Sinha, @askthepankazzzz
There is, however, a negative side to it too. As 28-year-old Aditya Magal points out, social media has made "stalking and other creepy behaviour easy and in most cases undetectable."
But, for the Indian youth, networking isn’t all about play and no work. The survey revealed that an increasing number of them are using it for professional networking and to find jobs. “As a comedian I can say it has (proved to be a boon) because it's the best way to reach newer people and convince them to come for my shows,” says popular stand-up comedian Sahil Shah, referring to Twitter where his funny tweets draw newer audiences.
Full Coverage: HT-MaRS Youth Survey 2014
Not everyone is enamoured with social media’s so-called infinite reach, though. Rocky Singh, anchor of popular TV series Highway on My Plate (HOMP), says social media did not have any significant impact on the TV series, although it did help them connect with food lovers.
"Like-minded people have formed HOMPers groups across the country and are now organising lunches and dinners," he adds talking about attending such get-togethers in Kolkata and Mumbai.
Youth speak: Staying connected in the virtual world, disconnected in the real
So what is driving this tool in India?
With some 900 million cellphone connections, India is the second-largest mobile market in the world after China. And for millions of Indians, cheap smartphones are becoming their first internet-connected device, offering the convenience and affordability required to stay connected. Close to 60% users who participated in the survey say they access social media through the mobiles.
When it comes to the choice between WhatsApp, Instagram and Snap Chat, WhatsApp emerges the clear winner with 82% responders using the application on their mobiles.
The survey further revealed that men were more active on mobile phones than women, in contrast to worldwide trends.
“In India there is a sad state of affairs when it comes to (empowerment) of women,” says technology entrepreneur Gagandeep Singh Sapra. “Besides, we are a scared country when it comes to women.”
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Methodology of HT-MaRS Youth Survey
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