[VIEWPOINT]Individual thoughts, group apathy

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[VIEWPOINT]Individual thoughts, group apathy

They say that voter turnout in university student body elections is very low these days. There are various reasons, such as declining job opportunities for students and general skepticism on student power as a whole. But the most important reason is that student bodies no longer represent the interests of university students.
“A spell that makes your imagination a reality,” is a phrase on the Yonsei University student body organization’s posters scattered on campus billboards. It paradoxically expresses the wishes of today's youths. Students expect magic that will turn imagination into reality. Of course, cyberspace is their life and characters in online games are their other selves.
Communication is not done through speech, but through messenger programs and text messages. Their main interests are magic, dance and travel, and these activities turn dreams into real experiences.
The youths, who crowded every corner of the country with people shouting out “Dae Han Min Guk (the Republic of Korea)” during the 2002 World Cup soccer games, were the groups that were voluntarily formed in cyberspace clubs, cafes or sites and jumped out to the real world. These groups emerge on the surface, depending on their main interest at the time, as “Roh-ppa” (a negative term for people who blindly follow President Roh Moo-hyun), “Hwang-ppa” (a negative term for people who blindly follow professor Hwang Woo-suk), or “anti” (groups that are strongly opposed to something or someone).
These group identities are the reflections of personal preferences, not ideologies. How can a university student body find its place amid these circumstances?
People who attended university in the 1980s and are now in their 30s felt a comradeship while fighting against gigantic enemies and solving social problems together, with their student bodies and other campus organizations.
But people in their 20s now group together according to their subject of interest, hobby or value. Such groups are not organizations but thematic communities. They get together to kill time or just to be with somebody. Of course, people can get involved in various groups simultaneously according to their personal needs or wants. Compared to political organizations or social communities, they are far less cliquish. The numerous cafes and communities in cyberspace are such communities.
The group activities that youths in their 20s form and take part in are not communities in the conventional sense, but groups with a tendency to focus on oneself. Such groups are made by individuals to put the spotlight on themselves and represent themselves.
The group should exist for oneself. Not the other way round. The psychology of writing negative replies on Internet Web sites and creating “anti” sites implies that “one individual, who could not organize a group in reality, could stand up and talk as if one represents a group by oneself.”
Youths in their 20s are apt to think they can represent the public.
They also have the characteristic of being able to abandon their group if they find a new theme or interest. They sometimes fall into meditation or simply set out for India to travel with a backpack. At times family background, a prestigious education, tailor-made designer goods or money can strengthen their superiority, they seem to believe. That way of thinking is similar to their parents’ generation, which tends to put more weight on family background, education and a stable life. Under such circumstances, there is no reason for them to be interested in organizations like the student body. In fact, the student body can not do anything for these atomized individuals.
In contrast with the dreams of university students in the 1980s, which focused on the cause of the times and grand social reform, the present dream of youths in their 20s is personal.
It is a dream that may seem trivial. To these students, a student body that sets forth great themes such as social polarization, pension deficits and unification is not a body they can belong to. This is the biggest difference between youths in their 20s and the older generations. It can make people think that there is a lack of philosophical thinking or awareness of issues such as the relationship between individuals and society and social problems.
But that is not the whole picture. Their lifestyle demonstrates that the youngers are eager to avoid the collective mindset their parients were forced to adopt. They no longer value the group that sacrificed the individuality of the older generations. The student bodies should realise this interesting change and adjust to it.

* The writer is a professor of psychology at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Hwang Sang-min
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