By KumKum Dasgupta

Twenty-year-old Abhinanda Lahiri has 2,000 friends on Facebook. She usually logs into the networking site more than once a day. She is not on Twitter yet, but 90% of her friends are. FB is a great way to keep in touch with friends. But that’s just one part of the story. I also use it to keep in touch with industry seniors and contact possible mentors,” said the second-year student of Indian Institute of Craft & Design, Jaipur.

According to the HT-MaRS Youth Survey 2013, 46% youth in India log onto the networking sites daily. In 2012, 35.1% of the respondents had said that they accessed the internet at least once a day.

Interestingly, this year’s survey shows that when it comes to accessing social networks, there is not much gap between the percentage of users in metros and non-metros. It’s Pune (59%) — not Delhi (52%) or Bangalore (55%) — that tops the table in this segment. Even Ranchi and Indore are at a healthy 40% and 48.6% respectively.

It’s a positive thing that Internet access is growing in small towns. For young people in these places, it has always been more difficult than for their counterparts in metros to access certain kinds of information, or to share their own experiences and opinions with the wider world, said Anja Kovacs, project director of the New Delhi-based Internet Democracy Project.

With growing access, they are no longer in a disadvantaged position when it comes to accessing and sharing material on matters that are important to them in a fast-changing world — whether they want to learn more about love and relationships, are looking to further their career prospects or education, or are fighting to improve government service delivery in their towns”.

While parents feel that social networking has offered the young a unique pathway to connect with a larger world, they warn that an overdose is bound to lead to problems.

Billions of bytes are being exchanged every day on social networking sites in addictive youthful frenzy. It is easy to be a slave of technology and almost impossible to rule it wisely,” said Abhinanda’s mother Nilanjana Lahiri, a professor of English in Delhi.

Will the growth of social media make traditional media lose its Gen Y readers? In the 2012 survey, only 27.8% of the respondents said they read newspapers or magazines daily for 30 minutes or more; in 2013, the figure has inched up a bit to 29.3%. In 2012, 17.2% said they read newspapers or magazines for 15 – 30 minutes daily. In 2013, it is 36.1%.

In this segment, Kolkata tops the table (39%) among the metros. The traditional media seems to be alive and growing in the non-metro towns thanks to its youth. Some reader samples: Jaipur and Patna (both 33.3%) and Ranchi (28.3) is way above Mumbai (21%) and Pune (22%).

The traditional media is not a two-way media, hence the popularity of social media among the youth who can express themselves online and also exchange opinions on an issue in real time,” says Praneesh Prakash, policy director of the Bangalore-based The Centre for Internet and Society.

But what worries him about popular platforms like Facebook and Google+ is that they are detrimental to users’ privacy and that they monetise data shared on the network.

While the young are ready to invest time effort and money on the web, they seem averse doing the same when it comes to physical fitness even though there are enough warnings on the Internet itself that too much of technology can affect health.

According to the 2013 results, only 22.5% of young Indians exercise daily. While Bangalore (31.3%), Ranchi (30%) and Lucknow (30.7%) are at the top-end of the list, Mumbai and Chennai are a dismal 16% and 14% respectively. Delhi is at 28.3%. A 2012 study by the Centre of Nutrition and Metabolic Research had warned that waistlines of young India has been widening and the reasons, no surprises here, are lack of physical activity, increasing socio-economic status and excess use of technology.

Originally published in Hindustan Times.