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Wednesday May 12, 2010

Simple, spontaneous and cool

Using social media to bring people together in solidarity, more than 500 Malaysians, mostly young, of all shapes, sizes and creeds, got together to simply … well, dance.

THERE is a word that young people these days often use to describe something that they disapprove of. If they say something is “fail”, it means it has earned their thumbs down.

It would not be inaccurate to say that in almost anything to do with adults in Malaysia today, young people under 30 would use the word “fail”.

Whether it is politics, law enforcement, government or religious authorities, the young would simply point their thumbs downwards. None of it appeals to them, none of it is cool. They are tired of constantly being told they are troublemakers and don’t know what’s good for them.

Yet, I have seen young Malaysians time and time again defy every stereotype that their elders put on them. Where our so-called leaders have looked as if they belonged to the 6th Century, young people are doing innovative and creative projects that show they are firmly in the 21st.

When politicians have shown that they only know how to divide people, young people have shown that they can stand solidly together.

Last year, when our leadership failed repeatedly to unite people regardless of race and religion, young people got together in a show of solidarity in the Tali Tenang project.

Using social media to bring people together in solidarity, they met in real life to show that they were for peace and unity, without the need for any political rhetoric. About 200 of them came together and, amazingly, there were no riots or any form of unruliness. Nose-thumb to their elders again!

Last weekend, they did it again. Connecting via Facebook and Twitter, more than 500 Malaysians, mostly young, of all shapes, sizes and creeds, got together to simply … dance.

Fans of a currently popular TV series, they got together on several evenings to rehearse; and on the appointed day showed up, followed instructions and did their thing in a joyous spontaneous atmosphere.

Just watching the participants rehearse already gave one goosebumps. Each night some 200 people, who mostly did not know one another, gathered together in one spot to do one thing together, dance.

They submitted themselves to great discipline and effort, enjoying the sweaty camaraderie. You looked around and can’t help but think: this is every politician’s dream; but there is no way they can do this, for the simple reason that they can never be cool enough.

The whole event was organised by young people themselves; they volunteered to teach the steps, take photos or videos or spread the word. While there was some sponsorship, it was not a hugely commercial event with no greater objective than to do something fun together.

I’m sure there will be detractors who will tut-tut about how this is not our culture and such. They can go ahead and organise a culturally-appropriate flashmob if they want. But it takes a certain generous frame of mind – one that essentially believes in the good in people – to truly organise such a community event.

The flashmob also underscores the power of social media, something so underestimated by our leaders. The entire organisation of this event was done online. All it needed was a good idea and some key people to promote it on their Facebook pages and on Twitter – and that was it.

Before long, more than 1,300 people had signed up. Although ultimately not as many people actually showed up for the event, it was still a success because it was likely the biggest flashmob ever held in the world.

The entire event held so many lessons that the powers-that-be could learn from. Firstly, to appeal to young people you need to tap into whatever is current and trendy, and not try and invent something new.

Secondly, young people can come up with better ideas than most adults, and know exactly how to organise it themselves.

Thirdly, young people are quite capable of enormous discipline and effort if they like, and want to do, something.

Fourthly, there is absolutely no need for any VIPs to officiate at these events. In fact, the absence of any ups the cool quotient of the event.

Fifthly, when young people get together like this, they do not automatically destroy. Rather they build friendships, community and peace, regardless of race, religion or creed.

Where else can you see girls in tudung boogieing next to girls in shorts, and boys, and then grinning at each other with joy at having successfully done a perfect routine?

There is no greater feeling than from having participated in something with a whole bunch of strangers that is creative, organic and fun. No need for special T-shirts, expensive equipment or long official speeches. Simplicity and spontaneity is in. Pity our leaders can’t understand that.

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