The youth does owe a debt to preceding generations... for their innovation and tenacity. Now, that onus falls on the young to usher in the next era of progress. This is likely to be an incremental rather than an overnight revolutionary one, and such has been the trend through most of history.
As a result, much of the societal changes will be a series of smaller alterations that may seem insignificant on their own. One of the broadest fields in which the youth can go about making these smaller changes is tech. As we move further into a digital age, we discover the various shortcomings of devices and softwares we so heavily depend on.
Some may be functional, proving to be an impediment on productivity. However, there are others that are more aesthetic in nature. And although they might be less obvious opportunities for the youth to make their mark, they exist nonetheless, waiting to be discovered.
Making 'margins' talk
This occurred to me when I was reading an article by Sam Anderson where he bemoans the limitations of e-books. Specifically, he finds it difficult to enjoy them as much as their tangible counterparts because he likes to annotate his pages, a practice he refers to as “marginalia”.
At length, he laments the difficulty of trying to scrawl his thoughts on a digital book, and wistfully describes various ideas that could facilitate the integration of marginalia with e-books. He even mentioned that the idea garnered significant support when he mentioned it in a previous article he had written.
For me, this seemed like a clear opportunity for someone proficient in coding or web/app design to create a software that allows friends to share their digital notes across e-books. Although some effort has been made towards this end, there is plenty of potential for improvement, as Anderson himself notes. And an enterprising individual willing to take up this venture could themselves conceive of further possible areas for development.
Marginalia is but one of a plethora of potential areas where the youth can provide solutions to less pressing problems, but still contribute, make a difference and benefit themselves. There are countless other similar niches out there, waiting to be capitalised on.
By their very nature, they are more obscure and thus difficult to come across. However, this ties neatly into another practice that will no doubt serve the youth well - being aware of public sentiment. To unearth these opportunities, one must tap into, and gauge, the mood of consumers.
As such, the youth can create surveys, conduct interviews or examine data to look for patterns that can constitute market gaps, which they can then use to create a platform, product or service of their own to benefit both their targeted consumers as well as themselves.
It helps to have an understanding of consumer wants. Only a few months ago, two high school students gained national acclaim for creating an app that allows people infected with COVID-19 to anonymously notify people that they have been in contact with to get tested, thus encouraging more responsible behaviour by removing the stigma associated with admitting to being infected.
By understanding that people may not be comfortable to disclose that they were contagious, these two were able to instantly provide a solution to a problem that did not even exist a year ago.
At a time where the youth may be searching for a path to pursue, these small projects could be the way forward. After all, they seem insignificant on their own, but collectively form a better, more efficient and more advanced society.
- Umer Lakhani is a Dubai-based undergrad.