The Internet and Youth Culture
Gustavo S. Mesch
ince the internet and other media have been adopted and integrated into the daily lives of an increasing number of young adolescents in Western countries, scholars and commentators are debating the impact of these new media on the activities, social relationships, and worldviews of the younger generations. Controversies about whether technology shapes values, attitudes, and patterns of social behavior are not new. In the recent past, the rapid expansion of television stimulated similar discussions of its cultural and social effects. In this essay, I will briefly describe the sources of the debate and its specific arguments regarding the role of the internet in youth life. Then, I will describe some important trends in youth activities, attitudes, and behaviors. The literature on the internet and youth culture presents different views regarding the role of technology in society. Two major perspectives are technological determinism and the social construction of technologies.
The technological deterministic view presents the internet as an innovative force that has profound influence on children and youth; technology generates new patterns of expression, communication, and motivation. In this view, various terms have been used to describe this generation of youth, including “Net-generation,” the “millennium genera -
tion,” and “digital natives.”
These labels attempt to identify a large group of young ado
lescents who grew up during the expansion of the internet and from early childhood have 1
Marc Prensky, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1,” On the Horizon
9.5 (October 2001): 1–6;
Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation
(New York: McGraw Hill, 1998).
Gustavo S. Mesch is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Haifa, Israel. His research is directed to understanding the effects of information and communication technologies on youth social behavior, parent and youth intergenerational conflict, and communication channel choice. He is currently the Chair of the Communication and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association. 51
been immersed in a media-rich environment, using computers, playing online games, constantly communicating and connecting with their friends by electronic devices. These youth create and use digital spaces for social interaction, identity expression, and media production and consumption.
Supporting this perspective, scholars of media consumption have described adoles -
cents’ lives as being characterized by media privatization in a multimedia environment. 2
In Western societies, young people’s cultural consumption includes a large number of media artifacts such as television sets, VCRs, landline and cell phones, video games, compact disc players, MP3 players, and computers. Over time, households tend to acquire more than one media item. Adolescents appropriate the media, and more and more media tools move from the public spaces of the household to private places, from the living room to the bedrooms, accumulating in the
teenager’s room. Youth are described as having created
a bedroom culture that facilitates their media consump
tion without parental supervision or limitation.
Acting in a media-rich environment and a bedroom
culture, the Net-generation or digital natives express
different values, attitudes, and behaviors than previous
generations. These digital natives are described as opti
mistic, team-oriented achievers who are talented with
technology. Immersion in this technology-rich culture
influences the skills and interests of teens in important
ways. According to this view, they think and process information differently from their predecessors, are active in experimentation, are dependent on information technologies for searching for information and communicating with others, and are eager to acquire...