How interesting! They say that today’s young people are individualists. However, if young people aren’t drawn to collectivism, how do we explain their extensive involvement in social networking sites such as MSN, Facebook and Twitter? Studies conducted on Gen Xers and Ys reveal that our young people have never had so many friends! Okay. The notion of friend is somewhat diluted in the sphere of online communications and truthfully, we’ve often made fun of this new friendship concept. However, we now realize the true value of these social networking sites. In fact, they are the forerunners for authentic interpersonal relationships because they facilitate the initial contact that can eventually lead to a real, person-to-person, face-to-face meeting.
Young people’s infatuation for social networking seems to me quite instructive. Perhaps young people aren’t as individualistic as we’ve heard. And if the younger generations are hard to find among our agricultural cooperatives, perhaps it is not for lack of interest but rather because they don’t have the time to keep up with our activities, they have complicated schedules and very little room to manoeuvre. Truthfully, I can’t imagine agricultural cooperation being of no interest to them.
Although time passes and generations move on, cooperatives have always adjusted. They take on the meaning and shape their members confer to them, so that everyone can find what they need. In the beginning, back in the first half of the last century, were the founders of agricultural cooperatives: they discovered a very concrete way to pull themselves out of hardship all the while respecting the Church’s values advocating fairness and social justice. Then along came the baby-boomers, a generation often described as idealists with a pressing need to be fulfilled and recognized. They found, and are still finding, opportunities for personal development. Generation X followed, a generation that values its independence (not to be confused with individualism). In agricultural cooperation the latter generation could essentially find a means of taking charge that would keep them from becoming dependent on merchants who don’t share farmers’ interests.
And finally, the most recent generation to take the stage: Generation Y. Sociologists tell us that these young people express their loyalty to the people they meet rather than organizations. They have a highly developed team spirit. It is also said that they have a desire to contribute and want their ideas to be taken into consideration. Come to think of it, these character traits are perfectly suited to the organizational framework proposed by cooperatives.
In the last issue of the Le Coopérateur agricole, Diane Parent, professor and researcher at the Université Laval, presented the results of a study conducted with young farmers that emphasized the social isolation experienced by many. It would be wrong not to be concerned. All in all, maybe the real challenge for our cooperatives will be to provide young people with a platform for real discussion, a place where they could, at a time that is convenient for them and without having to leave the farm, contact their cooperator friends – not only those from neighbouring communities - but members from cooperatives from all over the world?
During last November’s network conference intended for women cooperators, a young woman casually mentioned that she talked about our conference on Facebook and how much she was looking forward to attending it! I thanked her for the free advertising and thought to myself that this was obviously an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. However, to take advantage of it, we’ll have to stop thinking about the Internet as a disembodied waste of time! Other days, other ways. And that’s the way life goes.