Only four decades removed from the devastation of the American War and two decades since the US officially lifted its trade embargo, Vietnam has made impressive strides towards rebuilding and integrating itself into the global world. Aided in its remarkable turnaround is the equally incredible rise of the internet, propelling the country’s development well beyond many people’s expectations. The worldwide web and particularly social media have become integral parts of Vietnamese people’s lives, with the average person spending 24.7 hours a week, or 3.5 hours a day, on the internet. In a country of approximately 90 million people, a 44% internet penetration means that there are almost 40 million active internet users.
The biggest factor in being one of the fastest growing countries in the world in terms of internet growth is accessibility. Dispersed throughout Vietnam’s major cities and even smaller towns, ubiquitous cafés are essentially free hotspots for the internet. It’s not uncommon to find people spending hours in coffee shops either working on their laptops or mobile phones. Further, affordable smartphones and even more affordable mobile data packages have made the internet available at the tip of your fingers.
With internet use expected to continue its rise, albeit at a lower rate, how exactly has the internet impacted Vietnam and its people?
Consumption of information
For better and for worse, many Vietnamese people have moved away from traditional news outlets such as newspapers and TV and shifted towards the ease and convenience of the internet. This can be a cause of concern, as more people, especially the young, utilise social media as their main source of news. While this has allowed them to access information that was not available in Vietnam before, it also makes them susceptible to reading inaccurate information. This is particularly disconcerting for the institution responsible for regulating and filtering information.
Influx of foreign pop culture
There has been growing concern among the older generation that young Vietnamese are losing their culture and replacing it with a global pop culture. Contributing to this is the fact many young Vietnamese spend countless hours watching Western and South Korean movies and listening to Western music. While movies have been playing on TV and in cinemas for some time already, they have often been limited or censored. The internet has removed this barrier and given young people full and easy access. Whether the concerns of the older generation are warranted or not, one can easily see the influence that foreign pop culture has had on Vietnam’s youth.
Vietnamese people take pride in the fact that they are a close-knit community based on camaraderie and relationships. An introduction or knowing the right person can essentially give your career a boost. Prior to the rise of social media in Vietnam, having access to people with power and influence was seemingly impossible. However, with over 34 million Facebook users in the country, almost everyone is on the platform and actually quite accessible. In fact, based on my own personal experience these people are more likely to reply to you on Facebook than answer your call or emails.
Extending the entrepreneurial spirit
If you’ve ever strolled along the streets of Vietnam and seen the vast number of shops and vendors you would see that the Vietnamese are inherent entrepreneurs. This entrepreneurial spirit has helped families last through hard times and helped many others obtain great success. While many young people would now hesitate going into the family business, the internet and social media has helped to extend the entrepreneurial spirit among the younger generation. Facebook has become the new cho (traditional Vietnamese market) for Vietnamese, with a multitude of ads selling everything from homemade food products to electronics and cosmetics and even ‘special services’. Further, tech startups are also on the rise, fuelled by the global phenomenon of Flappy Bird. The internet and technology will further propel young people to transition away from traditional jobs but still retain entrepreneurism in the country.
As Vietnam continues along its path towards global integration the internet will continue to change and shape the country. The digital age is inevitable and upon us already, and it will be interesting to see to what extent Vietnam allows itself to transform.
John Hung is the author of ‘John đi tìm Hung’ (John finding Hung), an account of his journey through Vietnam in 80 days, equipped with only the bare necessities and no money, relying on the kindness and hospitality of strangers he met along the way.