Pi Attitude Zone: Connectivity & Drive

Brazil’s New Middle Class [4]: The Communication Explosion

Of the 12 million people living in Brazil's rickety favelas, more than 60% now belong to the new middle class.  Their early euphoria is wearing off, and few of them now seem particularly happy about  their social advancement.  In fact they are giving voice to their anger.   “The people have awoken” chanted the protesters on Brazilian city streets in mid-2013 -- and used their personal mobile devices to spread the word.

After the wave of upward mobility set in motion under Lula, its principal beneficiaries now feel the improvements in their lives have stalled.   (See the last two Pi blogposts in this series).  Says Jailson de Souza e Silva of an NGO called Favela Observatory, “It's great that people have more access to food and a variety of goods. But now people want a say in politics, a wider participation in decision-making".

Protests against endemic corruption in Brazilian politics and public life have been steadily building for over two years.  Back in 2011, protesters were already gathering outside government ministries and the congress in Brasilia, waving buckets and mops to symbolize the need for ‘cleaning house’. The demonstrations had no political party affiliation;  the target was bent politicians in general.  Many of the protesters in 2011 were students, and they organized the demonstrations via burgeoning social networking websites.

Brazil’s media landscape is changing much as other countries’ have, but later, and faster.  Well over 100 million Brazilians are now going online – that’s more than half the population, and three-quarters of them can access the web at home.  Internet penetration has leapt by 10% in a year;  online has become a mass medium rivaling the entrenched fiefdoms of television and print.  And in the vanguard of this communication explosion are the new middle class.  

Now the 2013 protests have escalated everything to a far higher pitch – and have brought more people onto the streets, notably the disgruntled new “Clase C”.  The 2013 demonstrations were almost entirely organized online, something that a few years ago would not have been possible, because internet access levels and personal communication device penetration were still relatively low in Brazil.  Faced with the blizzard of protest communications going through social media, blogs and websites, conventional channels like TV and newspapers were caught napping, and they fumbled the story.  Both were widely ridiculed by the protesters for their flat-footedness.

The whole thing is brought into focus by two quotes from the seminal Breakonsumers social research study by Limo Inc., titled “Upwardly Mobile - the Next Brazilian Revolution”.  University history professor Maria Helena Capelato commented that “The biggest shift [in Brazil] isn't about globalization or the economy;  the really mind-blowing change is in communications”.

And the consequences?  The last word should go to Cristina, a high-level São Paulo businesswoman:  “The privileged classes [in Brazil] need to watch out.  These days you notice aspiring middle-class people studying hard, struggling to get better transport, a nicer house... while the well-to-do folks won't even look out of their windows.  My kids will be competing for jobs with those people, people who fight for what they want in life.  You know what?  It's going to get quite tough!”

Zone: Connectivity & Drive Country: Latin America Product – Communications