by Thu Van
An annual report by Google has shown that nine out of Vietnamese top 10 searches in 2015 were related to movies, music and celebrities. The song "Vo nguoi ta" (Wife of Another Man), which describes the broken heart of a man after finding out his beloved is getting married to another, was the top trending search in the country, even though it only surfaced on the internet in late October, according to the "Year in Search 2015" report.
Many say they're concerned about this, adding that this revealed a sad fact: young Vietnamese people don't care at all about "big issues" in the world, and that the country's level of literacy is so low they feel "embarrassed".
This may have been based on the fact in the same report, the top searches in Singapore were on environmental pollution, the death of former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew and the SEA Games, while Japan's top searches were about IS and typhoons.
But this might be a hasty conclusion.
The top Google searches didn't represent Vietnamese people in general because they were based on the numbers of key words searched, not the numbers of people searching for key words on Google, and Viet Nam has a young population with 36 per cent people aged between 15 and 34, who account for 77 per cent of internet users.
The report did not represent the country's literacy level either. According to Indexmundi, a website that contains detailed country statistics, charts and maps compiled from multiple sources, Viet Nam ranks 118 out of 215 countries in the world in terms of literacy. In terms of knowledge on maths and basic sciences, Viet Nam ranks 12th in the world.
In 2014, when China illegally placed an oil rig in the waters of Viet Nam, many young people took to the streets in protest. In 2015, when Ha Noi planned to cut down more than 6,500 trees in the city to make space for a sky train project, many young people voiced their objections.
Last June, when the US Supreme Court legalised same sex marriage, Facebookers across Viet Nam changed their profile pictures in an act of support for the decision. When the attack in Paris happened, netizens in Viet Nam also expressed their deep concerns and condolences to the Parisian people.
In specific groups of searches on Google in 2015, local people also showed interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the conflicts in Syria, the Nepal earthquake and the SEA Games, according to Nguyen Phuong Anh, Google's head of marketing for Viet Nam.
Such examples showed that Vietnamese people didn't miss out on important global events.
However, while it shouldn't be concluded that Vietnamese literacy is low, the Google report did say something about what many young Vietnamese people care and don't really care about.
The website commented "While the differences between the Asian regions' search habits can be explained in part by web restrictions and varying degrees of press freedom, the lists do give a snapshot of the collective mindset of Asia's populations".
From my observations, when Vietnamese people speak out about a social issue, domestic or international, it's normally "seasonal" or "trendy". Concerns for such issues only last for a very short time before they are forgotten. Whether they truly care for such issues remains to be seen. How many of them search for facts about Viet Nam's island dispute with China? How many search for the origin and developments relating to the IS?
Look at top searches from Japan and Singapore. People from these countries who search fpr key words like "IS" or "Lee Kwan Yew" probably want to learn more about what they hear, or read, about the nature of the issues they care about.
So how about young Vietnamese people? Do they feel like they need learn more?
It seems to me many don't.
Other figures of the country's publication sector released late last month seem to prove my point. In 2015, the publication sector's revenue reached VND2 trillion (US$88 million), mainly from books and newspapers.
In comparison, the amount of money Vietnamese people spent on alcohol was VND63 trillion (US$2.75 billion), 31 times higher than the amount spent on books and newspapers.
Chu Hao, director of Tri Thuc Publishing House, said the passion for reading among different social classes was no longer evident.
Hao said it was because Viet Nam's education system had not encouraged students to read books and was mostly based on "cramming".
"Even books that hold important literary value don't sell more than 2,000 copies," he said.
Statistics provided by the Ministry of Information and Technology's Department of Publication said that each year, Vietnamese people read 2.8 books and seven newspapers.
Some might say they don't need to actually read books – they might be reading online. Then you might want to look at the Google's top search report.
Charlie Tremendous Jones, an American motivational speaker and author of motivational and personal development books, said: "You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read".
Entertainment is cool, anyone needs music and movies to relax before going back to study or work. But I think, in order to go as far as Singapore or Japan, young Vietnamese people need to care more for other things rather than just music and movies. They need to change their mindsets by starting to accumulate knowledge.
Be it ebooks, online newspapers or print media, searching for knowledge is the only way a country can develop. Young people are the future of the country. If you don't like politics, search for news about sports. If sports aren't your thing, delve into the business world. Even if you're only interested in famous singers like Son Tung MTP, you might think about searching for how to become as successful as them. It's all about key words. — VNS