Market research firm Indochina Research has started employing young Cambodians to canvas their family, friends and strangers for insights into contemporary youth culture and trends.
Karl Remoy, Indochina’s managing director, said the company used the “trend scouts” in its G:LAB project because information was easier to obtain through peer-to-peer conversation where trust had already been established.
“There are less problems such as, ‘Why are you asking that question?’, which is very, very quickly the problem when a professional interviewer comes to you and asks questions,” he said.
The trend scouts write up their findings and present them in video diaries that are then analysed and packaged into reports, the first of which was released earlier this year and concentrated on crime and civic engagement, global influence and technology.
It confirmed that Cambodian youth – even those in remote areas – were rapidly gaining access to a wider range of information sources such as television and radio channels and the internet, and that even indirect access allowed young people to become better informed.
“If you have a small village in the province and one person there has a smartphone with internet, we found [Cambodian youth] share information … so even if there’s only one smartphone, the entire village can know what’s up,” said Martien Van Dijk, Indochina’s research director.
More interestingly, the report found social media had allowed Cambodian youth to extend their networks, detach themselves from traditionally small social groups and develop their individual identities.
The trend scouts reported that young people often had more than one Facebook account and used an anonymous alias to experiment with individual expression and different types of communication.
“[This would] otherwise be very difficult, because it would reflect on you as somebody within a traditional group of people, and that’s quite a dramatic change in a Cambodian context,” Remoy said.
Sokhom, a trend scout working in Phnom Penh and Pursat, said: “People nowadays, they really feel free to share information, and they create fake accounts to share what they don’t like in a social context, not only for politics, but everything.”
In relation to political engagement, the report said respondents felt the population balance was shifting from the older generation, who had experienced war and would avoid it at any cost, to the younger generation, who had not experienced civil conflict and were less afraid of it.
On a lighter note, the report found that because writing in Khmer script on smartphones is difficult, a new language dubbed “Khmenglish” has been created by youth who communicate in Khmer phonetically using Roman script.
Standard abbreviations using Roman script have emerged, for example, the use of “pm” by youths in place of the Khmer word “pukmak”, meaning friend.
The next G:LAB report on youth trends is due for release in June and will look at youth and spending, family hierarchy and identity.
“The culture, what people want to keep and what they want to change, is the surprising question,” said one of the trend scouts, said Sady, a student from Phnom Penh.