The Memes 2018

The new Adults: 18 in 2018

“I am really excited about the 2019 polls as I will be voting for the first time. I see a lot of injustice and violence in the country today. I raise my voice through my social media portals but there are so many people speaking and much of what’s online is lies and fake news, so my voice is unheard. But voting and making an informed choice will really help bring around a change as there will be thousands of others like me who would be desperate for a change.”

- Kavya, Engineering student in Hyderabad

The year 2018 marks the start of an era where those born in the 21st century will enter adulthood. Roughly, around 25 million Indians are born every year. There are already more than 400 million Indians who have been born in this century. Faster than we can imagine, 21st century natives will start to dominate workplaces, consumer trends, electoral politics and popular culture.

The generations of Indians born between independence and the 1970s reached adulthood and entered the consumer economy in an era of restraint. An economically insular, socialist Indian context taught them to stretch only as far as the blanket would permit. The next generation born in the eighties and nineties started earning and spending in a more liberalized era. However, as the children of parents from of an earlier vintage they retained an osmotic, albeit diluted, connection with the scarcity mindset of the past.

Those born in the 21st century are the first generation to have no connection with pre-liberalization India. Their parents built careers and benefitted from opportunities that economic liberalization and consumerism brought in its wake. They have none of the baggage that defines the cohorts that precedes them. As a result their demands from brands and businesses, workplaces and social spaces, politics and politicians are quite different. Everything is within the realms of possibility for them – at best a credit line or few clicks away.

As part the annual Aspiration Study that Future Ideas conducts, we meet young Indians from across the socio-economic spectrum. A 20 year-old girl, daughter of a construction worker and domestic helper, living in a Thane slum, spoke to us of her ambitions to become a chef and beauty parlor owner. Already she was taking steps to get relevant work experience, and live a life that her parents could not have ever imagined. A 19 year old boy who lives in a Mumbai chawl, in a one-room home without a refrigerator, spoke of his goal - to become a driver for Uber and out-earn his father in a couple of years’ time. A 16-year old boy from small town Madhya Pradesh told us of his dream to watch Roger Federer play live in a stadium.

Older generations grew up with a learned sense of gratitude for any positive change or developmentwitnessed in their lifetime. For the 21st century Indian, material progress and development are entitlements, a new normal that can’t be negotiated with. If earlier generations got their kicks from discovering a digital footprint for a brand or a service, the 21st century generation, born into a constantly wired world,expects this as a basic hygiene factor. They expect and demand much more.

At the same time this is a generation that has grown up in a hyper competitive Indian context, where opportunities are few and aspirants many. They live in a pressure cooker urban Indian environment that glorifies starting salaries and standardized tests. They can see all around them a young India where employment growth is not keeping pace with the number of graduates coming out of the education system. They are also surrounded by India’s vast problems of poverty and social inequality and immersed in social contexts that are still led by one’s ethnic or community background. Surrounded by screens they are frequently distracted, the normal insecurities of youth exacerbated by social media. These contextual realities mean that even today, young Indians are typically socialized into conservative thinking around gender interaction, career management and communal identity. It is not surprising then that a CSDS study in 2017 revealed that young Indians tend to be stressed out and somewhat conservative by nature.

By the 2024 general elections, 21st century Indians will constitute almost 20% of India’s voters. Soon they will have numerical power to seriously impact the outcome of elections. If they decide to patronize a new product or brand, they will have the ability to make it a cult phenomenon.

How this entirely 21st century born-and-bred generation negotiates the transition to adulthood, and how they redefine the meaning of adulthood is a highly consequential journey that will play out in the next couple of years. Keep an eye on 2018 as the year that India’s first generation to have been born in the 21st century entered the mainstream, using their energy and ambition to shape the future.

Each generation wants new symbols, new people, new names. They want to divorce themselves from their predecessors.
- - Jim Morrison