Immigrants’ Internet Use and Identity from an Intergenerational Perspective: Immigrant Senior Citizens and Youngsters from the Former Soviet Union in Israel

Immigrants’ Internet Use and Identity from an Intergenerational Perspective: Immigrant Senior Citizens and Youngsters from the Former Soviet Union in Israel

Nelly Elias (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2211-1.ch016
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Abstract

This chapter analyzes how the need to preserve ethnic identity and affiliation with one’s homeland is expressed and fulfilled through Internet use by two distinctive groups of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union in Israel: Immigrant youngsters aged 12-18, and immigrant senior citizens aged 65 and above. The aim of such simultaneous examination is not to identify the obvious intergenerational differences in Internet use but rather to increase our understanding of the Internet roles for different groups of immigrant users, irrespective of age. The findings are based on two recent studies: A study conducted in 2006 with 70 immigrant adolescents and a study conducted in 2009 with 32 seniors. Both studies reveal important similarities that shed light on the Internet’s role in maintaining connection with one’s country and culture of origin and preserving homeland identity among different generations of immigrants.
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Introduction

Immigration to and integration in a new society are among the most dynamic and complex processes in an individual’s life, characterized by numerous discoveries, confusions and challenges that eventually lead to significant personal changes. According to Maines (1978), one may distinguish between two different paths of immigrant adaptation, body and self: The first addresses instrumental aspects, such as finding suitable housing and employment, while the second entails establishment of new social contacts, long-term socialization to new values, norms and codes of behavior and new identity construction alongside preservation of the original one.

Hence, immigrants’ evolving identity necessarily combines identification with one’s new home with longing for the old one; looking around at the new environment but also looking back at life in the faraway homeland (Sreberny, 2000). Moreover, in the era of ethnic renaissance, youngsters with immigrant backgrounds also feel the need to reconfirm and reinforce their ethnic identities. Such youth face a particularly multifaceted and complicated identity task, as they experience cultural adaptation at the same time as preservation and reaffirmation of their homeland identity (Portes & Rumbaut, 2001).

In this sense, media offer immigrants a variety of resources helping them in their ongoing adjustment to a new society and maintenance of their ethnic identity (see e.g. Bailey, Georgiou, & Harindranth, 2007; Elias, 2008). Recent studies also noted that alongside preservation of certain aspects of the original identity, immigrants renegotiate and modify this identity through interaction with homeland media content perceived and interpreted through the prism of local reality. Furthermore, over the past decade, the Internet became a major medium that provides immigrants with a variety of tools, resources and technological platforms that may be used in their attempts to maintain their original identity and to strengthen their affiliation with homeland and with compatriots in other countries. Hence, the Internet facilitates creation of digital diasporas that share a common cultural background, a common set of symbols and a common history, thus preserving a distinctive ethnic identity (Ding, 2007; Elias and Shorer-Zeltser, 2006; Everett, 2009; Yang, 2003).

Accordingly, this chapter analyzes how the need to preserve ethnic identity and affiliation with one’s homeland is expressed and fulfilled through Internet use by two distinctive groups of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) in Israel: Immigrant youngsters aged 12-18 and immigrant senior citizens (hereinafter: “seniors”) aged 65 and above. The aim of such simultaneous examination is not to identify the obvious intergenerational differences in Internet use but rather to increase our understanding of the Internet’s potential for preserving original cultural identity among different groups of immigrant users, irrespective of age. The findings are based on two recent studies: A 2006 study of immigrant youth that included in-depth interviews with 70 immigrant adolescents (Elias and Lemish, 2009) and a 2009 study of older immigrants that included 32 in-depth interviews (Khvorostianov, Elias, & Nimrod, in press 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Immigrants’ Transnational Lifestyle: Exploits cultural and economic advantages of both home and receiving countries and employs various strategies for successfully managing immigrants’ mobile lives in two different societies.

Diasporic Identity: Typical of most migrant populations that retain objective components of a coherent ethnic identity, such as a shared history, language and culture, and in some cases, diasporic identity also contains a powerful link (imagine or real) to the territorial homeland.

Digital Diaspora: A virtual community of people from the same country of origin that share through the Web a common cultural background, set of symbols and common history.

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