A Journey Into the Social Media Lives of Teens

I've been on a philosophical tear lately. This time it's been friendship in digital space. I wonder if older generations, including my own, are only prone to the vexing issue of “what are friends if you've never met them?” because there's a normative divide between online and offline.[1]

I grew up in a rural setting but had internet access by ’98–’99. Even though I was a child during this time, my teenage experience doesn't map well to this description.

For teens, texts and snaps and video calls are real life, the equivalent of walking around in the mall for hours in the olden times, trying to catch the eye of a hottie in the food court. As much as technology has changed the way we talk, think, and do things, some key teen problems are as they’ve always been

I do appreciate this insight into why (some? most?) teenagers enjoy Snapchat, whereas most of the “#olds” find it impenetrable:

But the feature that sets Snapchat apart is that 24 hours after you post it to your story, it disappears. This significantly lessens the pressure for everyone. For kids who are taught about digital footprints from grade school on and are regaled with cautionary tales of exemplary students who lost scholarships or college entrance because of party pictures posted to Facebook, Snapchat is easy fun. Silly, even.

They are still children after all. Low pressure, playful environments are still necessary for the exploration of identity. No one should be expected to show up to a social network with a fully realised identity—even if the expectation is invisible and implicit normative pressure—and share perfectly manicured images/posts. I can't imagine what that would have done to my growth if Instagram and Facebook were the only options.

  1. One could ask whether this is only an issue for generations like mine, early to the Internet, yet not fully immersed. Presumably, my parents don't consider people they've never met in person as friends at all, with the exception of pen pals and letter writing clubs. ↩︎


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