Can Vietnam manage Its Generation Gap?

A blogger on ZDNet, the global online resource for IT professionals, observes this week that the government hoping to use the Internet to engage Vietnam’s tens of millions of young people is the same government that  jails bloggers for posting political dissent.

Vietnam is building an online social network for its youth, its prime minister told the Communist Youth Union in Hanoi last weekend.  He said the government needs to educate young people in patriotism, love for the nation, and love for the government.

Imprisoning bloggers may not be a good way to get the younger generation to love their government, but it illustrates the challenge every generation faces as it tries to control young people.  Rational elders usually figure out, sooner of later, that youths are hard to control but end up loyal to their country and respectful of their elders anyway.

The telecommunications gap between Vietnam’s young people (under 30?) and the ruling elite is staggering — and not only because technology has evolved rapidly.

Vietnam is only a generation removed from starvation poverty.  It’s ruling elders experienced first hand the tragedy of war and the pain of hunger.  Every one of them has a gripping personal story of sorrow.  Certainly they want to stay in power (and see bloggers as threatening) — but many of them also want to spare their country’s children of the suffering they experienced.

What have Vietnam’s young people experienced?  A global revolution in popular culture, and the freedom to exploit opportunity in one of the world’s most dynamic frontier economies.

A powerful generation clash became inevitable when Vietnam opened itself to free enterprise and international trade.  The young Vietnamese and their government love their country; and they will figure out how to honor each other as the telecommunications revolution exposes Vietnam’s growing pains.

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