The focus of this article is on how young people, ages 12–19, in the early 21st century use information and communications technologies. The wide and diverse nature of the landscape, composed of multiple platforms and applications in continuous change, necessitates a broad approach. Information technologies are now bundled with communications capabilities and vice versa, making a focus on one and not the other virtually impossible. Furthermore, one of the difficulties in studying ICT use among children and teenagers is that statistics and studies are still limited, even within digitally privileged countries. Ironically, while research in this area has focused on the educational use of ICT, young people overwhelmingly use it for personal reasons. This article, therefore, looks at ICT through a wide angle and offers a snapshot of the role of ICT in the lives of young people in the early days of the 21st century, suggesting in broad terms where the emerging issues and trends may lie.
Youth have traditionally been the early adopters of digital ICT, forging new patterns of information and communication behavior. The next generation of ICT users, those born after 2000, will move with even greater ease among the emerging information and communications technologies. This generation will enter their teen years never having known a world without personal computers, the Internet, cellular telephones (more commonly called “cell phones” in North America and “mobile phones” in the UK), and personal digital assistants. While the Net Generation’s first experiences on the Web, and with ICT in general, were typically asynchronous and tied to a physical location, namely the home or classroom, young people who are now entering their teens increasingly find that information and communication technologies are accessible anywhere, anytime, and anyplace. Cell phones are quickly becoming personal digital assistants, providing a broad range of information services beyond basic voice capabilities. Portable hardware such as MP3 players and the “podcasts” used to deliver content from the Internet to the device have helped move the Internet beyond the desktop and into the street. The onset of Web 2.0 — the social Web — has further enhanced the immediacy of the experience.
For many young people living in digitally privileged societies, ICT represents a world of entertainment, the most popular activities being communicating with friends, online gaming, and downloading music (United Nations, 2003). ICT now rivals home and school as a “space” for socialization and identity development. While opportunities await technology-savvy educators and marketers — reaching young people “where they live” and in a language they understand — these same opportunities can turn to manipulation and threat in a technology-rich, media-saturated world that is sometimes disconnected from the worlds of parents and other adults significant in the lives of teens. Whether young people will be at risk in this world, or will adapt to and even shape it, is a question to consider.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Instant Messaging (IM): A text-based method for communicating one to one or in groups in real time over the Internet using standard IP protocol.
Podcast: A method of publishing audio files to the Internet. The term is a combination of the word “iPod” and “broadcasting.” Podcasts are often distributed through RSS feeds.
Personal Digital Assistant (PDA): A handheld digital device that combines the functionality of the telephone with computing and networking. It can operate as a cell phone, a Web browser, an e-mail terminal, digital camera, and personal assistant.
Web 2.0: The so-called second generation of the Web. A suite of Web-based services where users control the content by contributing, collaborating, and sharing. Sometimes called the social Web , Web 2.0 architecture is dependant on the participation of its users.
Social Software: Software tools for computer-mediated communication. Includes instant messaging, text chat, blogs, wikis, and Internet forums. From these have arisen new areas of collaborative knowledge building such as folksonomies, social bookmarking, social citations, and knowledge bases.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT): Technology that enables the handling of information and facilitates different forms of communication.
Social Networking Web Sites: Web sites that facilitate the development of online social networks and collaborative knowledge building through the use of social software.
Text Messaging: Short text messages received by and sent to a mobile, handheld communication device such as a cellular phone, a personal digital assistant, or a pager. Text messages can be also sent from the Web, either through the Web page of the cellular service provider or through some Web sites that offer to send text messages free of charge. Also called texting, short message service , or SMS .
OECD Countries: The member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OEDC) include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.