Indifference of some young people “is shocking”

In the opinion articles he writes monthly at Macau Business, Professor Keith Morrison is presented as an author and educationalist. As the interview we published on these pages proves, Mr. Morrison is more than that. He is probably the most lucid mind when it comes to youth in Macau. Keith Morrison came to Macau in 2000 and has worked with several universities. He is currently vice-rector of the University of Saint Joseph.

MB April 2020 Special Report | Youngsters living on a keyboard

‘Rich’, with jobs and freedom – does this make young Macau people a special case?

Keith Morrison – ‘’Rich’, with jobs and freedom’; it’s a nice catch-phrase but little more than that. We must be very cautious about making generalizations such as ‘young people’, as though they are a homogeneous group. They are not. Some come from rich backgrounds, but many, far more, do not; they and their families struggle to make ends meet, and in many families the young people are important family breadwinners. Many take part-time jobs to fund their higher education (HE). Some young people in Macau are very committed, hard workers, high achievers and have high aspirations; others are not – it is unsafe to generalize about an entire age group. Young people don’t have as much freedom as the title suggests; they do not have actual freedom to purchase their own homes, so they have to live at home; they don’t have much freedom to choose certain occupations or careers, because such opportunities do not exist, despite the rhetoric of increasing diversity; many don’t have freedom to apply their degree studies, as no such jobs exist, and, if they want to – or have to – stay in Macau, they take jobs outside their study areas. Yes, it’s easy to get a job at present, but it may not be the kind of job they want and it may have limited prospects, so there’s not as much freedom as the rhetoric would suggest. It’s freedom with many boundaries, freedom to walk around in a cage. Young people are not a special case here, apart from the obvious fact that work is easier to get than in other parts of the world and that competition is nowhere near as cut-throat as elsewhere.

“It’s freedom with many boundaries; freedom to walk around in a cage”

Too much too easily and too soon

The liberalization of gaming turns 20 years in 2001, but its effects only began to be felt in 2004. The generation that is 20 years old now is the first to experience this new reality. Do they need to adapt? Or is it the older ones who need to adapt more to the younger ones?

K. M . – It depends on what values one holds, and it’s not an either/or, as both age groups need to adapt to each other and both age groups need to resist other forces at work in either party and at large in Macau society. One cannot talk about a generation as though it were homogeneous; this is not the case in Macau – look at the social stratification, unequal wealth distribution, inequalities, diverse life styles, employment differences and multicultural variations within and between generations. The realpolitik is that Macau’s present situation is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. On one hand it’s an opportunity for more employment and increased incomes, in which case some would say that both parties can adapt to it. On the other hand, some of the values implicit in this are undesirable in the eyes of many – materialism, consumerism, short-termism, commodification, acquisitiveness, gambling and narrow, low-level work, shift work and mundane, uncreative work, with a mentality of easy-come, easy-go, uncaring, job-hopping, putting up with boredom and ‘just taking the money’. It’s a generational matter as well as an overall matter. Some young people acquire too much too easily and too soon.

“Some young people have too much too easily and too soon”

They have expensive cell phones and are connected to the Internet almost 24 hours a day, but they take little interest in their surroundings – do you agree with this diagnosis often made in Macau?

K. M . – There is a lot of truth in this, and it is a phenomenon that is by no means exclusive to Macau; it is well documented worldwide and is a destructive force as well as a benefit. The work of Sherry Turkle makes this very clear. Nor is it confined to Macau youth – look at their parents and relatives; they do the same, and children learn from their parents as role models. It’s understandable, perhaps, that young people decline to take an interest in their immediate surroundings when all they see in Macau is an environmental mess, unaffordable housing, congestion of people and traffic that boggles the mind. The negative effects of cellphones are very clear in Macau’s youth, and it’s a very annoying practice and a tragedy that is waiting to boil over. Many Macau young people have no understanding of, or interest in, the wider world outside Macau; that’s shocking.

“The negative effects of cellphones are very clear in Macau’s youth, and it’s a very annoying practice and a tragedy that is waiting to boil over.”

Cellphones, cars, and apartments

They have (potentially) good wages but are unable to buy a good house in Macau to create a family. Do you think that sooner or later they will publicly express that frustration?

K. M . – Young people already have expressed frustration and anger, and repeatedly, but nobody seems to take much notice, or, at least, the people with the power to do something about it don’t. Maybe Macau’s youth are very accepting and/or powerless, (i.e. ‘that’s the way the cards are dealt, so get over it’). It’s partly a problem of too much money-mindedness amongst the powerful and the decision makers, to the neglect of human-centred societal development, concern for the poor, and caring – genuinely caring – for and about people. No wonder young people buy cellphones and flashy cars; they can afford those but can  never afford an apartment of their own.

“No wonder young people buy cell phones and flashy cars; they can afford those but never an apartment of their own”

A study of more than 3,000 respondents shows that following family problems, it is the gangs that most often steer young people towards violence. Do you see violence as a local problem?

K. M. – Bullying is a major problem amongst Macau’s young people (Macau is one of the worst here, despite a small improvement in the last four years); cyber bullying is a significant problem – no wonder, when per person internet penetration is so high in Macau and when you see what children and their parents watch and do: fighting games and film, television and online violence and lording power over people; of course it’s going to have an effect.

“Bullying is a major problem amongst Macau’s young people; cyber bullying is a significant problem”

Compared to Hong Kong

Studies show that these young people express little desire to move to China, even working in Macau (Great Bay Area). What does this say about them?

K. M . – It depends on values; some would argue that they prefer an easier life in Macau, with easy access to jobs and avoiding competition and high demand, and where they might not be successful in competitive access to employment. Others would say that the young people are more discerning, taking cognizance of the implications of a one-party state, ease of information access, closeness to family, and a preference for the culture of Macau. Lazy, smart, or both?

Young people in Macau are very different from those in Hong Kong – it is often heard. Do you agree? Can you explain?

K. M. – At the risk of unfair generalization, and there are many exceptions, I have found Macau young people to be less selfish, less arrogant, less self-centred and self-absorbed, less appearance-conscious, more sociable, more amenable, less aggressive, less self-opinionated and more modest, self-effacing, tolerant and humble. Explanation? Well, if I had 100,000 words I could give you some hints, but I don’t; it has many, many strands reaching in a deep-seated cultural psyche.