“I’d rather “, says Philippa Grogan, 16, ” give up, like, a kidney than my mobile. How did you manage before? Carrier pigeons? Letters? Going round each other’s houses on BIKES? “Cameron Kirk, 14, reckons he spends an hour, hour-and-a-half on school days” hanging out with his 450-odd Facebook friends; maybe twice that at weekends. “It’s actually very practical if you forget what that day’s homework is”.
Emily Crystal, 16, recalls a Very dark moment: ” “We went to Wales for a week at half term to revise. There was no Smartphone, no Television, no Wifi. We had to drive into town just to get a signal. It was really hard, knowing people are texting you, writing on your wall, and you couldn’t respond. Loads of my friends said they’d just never do that.”
For a decade, the Pew Internet and American Life Project has researched the internet’s impact on the lives of 21st-century citizens. This is what the Project sats about the way teens communicate in an age of Facebook Chat, instant messaging, and unlimited texts.
First, 75% of all teenagers now have a Smartphone. Almost 90% of Smartphone-owing teens send and receive texts, most of them daily. Half send 50 or more messages a day; one in three send 100. In fact, in the last years, texting has established itself as, comfortably, “the preferred channel of basic communication between teens and their friends”.
But Smartphones do more than simply texting, of course. More than 80% of phone owing-teens also use them to take pictures. Sixty percent listen to music on them, 46% play games, 32% swap videos, and 73% access social networking sites, mostly Facebook— 50% more than three years ago. The Smartphone, in short, is now the favored communication hub for the majority of teens.
There’s a very straightforward reason, says Amanda Lenhart, a Pew senior research specialist. ” Smartphones and social networking sites make the things teens have always done a whole lot easier ”
Flirting boasting, gossiping, teasing, hanging out, confessing: all that teen stuff has always happened, Lenhart says. It’s just that it used to happen behind the bile sheds, or via tightly folded notes pressed urgently into sweating hands in the corridor between lessons. Social media and mobile phones have simply made it much easier.
But what do teenagers make of this newfound freedom to communicate? Philippa reckons she sends “probably about 30 ” text messages every day, and receives as many. Like most of her peers, Philippa wouldn’t dream of using her phone to actually phone anyone, except perhaps her parents. Calls are expensive, and you can’t make them in class (you shouldn’t text in class either, but “lots of people do “). Philippa also has 639 Facebook friends, and claims to know ” the vast majority”.
Sometimes, though, it ends in tears. Everyone has witnessed cyber-bullying, but the worst thing that happened to Philippa was when someone posted “a really dreadful picture of me”, then refused to take it down. It’s quite easy, she thinks, for people to feel ” belittled, isolated” on Facebook.
There are other downsides. “Privacy’s a real issue, ” says Emily. “I get friend requests from people I don’t know and have never heard of. I ignore them.”
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