This essay shamelessly attempts one of the most common fads of our time: that is, taking the Internet and stuffing it into one singular box with one singular framework and thus one singular effect. Most probably, that one singular “The Internet is…” conclusion will never emerge. I justify this cliché attempt because I believe this perspective on the Internet is noteworthy. I also hope that this scope will one day leave the ivory towers and become tangible for non-academics to apply and see it applied every day.
Overlooking interracial marriages, did you know that “due to migration and differential birthrates, non-Hispanic Whites will account for less than 50% of adolescents in the US by 2040?’” (Larson, 2002) The changes taking place in adolescence and identity formation today are in direct correlation with the influx of heterogeneous societies. Whether one is an immigrant adolescent herself/himself or a non-immigrant who lives in this society—who will necessarily come into contact with immigrants on a regular basis—this issue still holds relevance.
Adolesence, “The inescapable developmental task of prepar[ing] themselves for adulthood,” directs the future of any society (Larson, 2002). Adolescence, however, is no longer a singular “natural” process common to all societies. “With the onset of the 21st century… [we] observe the emergence of a new, more global and pluralistic view of adolescence, one that sees this life stage as socially constructed as a product, often a byproduct, of larger societal forces” (Larson, 2002). Two macro-scale global forces important to this phenomenon are the spread of technology and increased population mobility around the world. In immigrant-receiving countries, e.g. the USA, there exists a “confluence” of various types of adolescences (Larson, 2002, p. 2). The effects I would like to explore are not only relevant to the immigrant communities who relocate, but they also bear relevance to the non-immigrant or (more) “native” populations in immigrant-receiving countries. As Larson (2002) aptly points out, “adolescents … occupy a critical position in shaping whether relations between groups become more harmonious” (2002, p. 11).
An integral notion that develops through adolescence is that of identity. In the increasingly mobile nature of populations today, adolescents exposed to immigration in any way experience complex processes for adaptation and development of multi-cultural identities.
Given the decisive role of interpersonal and mass communications in identity construction (Kim in Elias & Lemish, 2009), it is fair to include that the Internet is a major platform on which this developmental process unfolds. New technologies, history attests, “do not enter a vacuum; they are adapted into the pre-existing social order… Information and Communication technology is no different.” The Internet, as a resource for preparing for adulthood, and its adolescent-users’ experiences are both “moving targets” in this increasingly fluid demographics of our world today (Larson, 2002).
As globalization increases the variety of cultures to which we are exposed, forming a cultural identity involves a more complex process whereby we “consciously decide” on our affiliate cultural communities (Jenson, 2003). This process, many scholars attest, is no longer a subconscious development; rather, it is a conscious decision for individuals (Mitra, 1997; Larson, 2002; Elias & Lemish, 2007, 2009). The Internet, as a forum for empowerment of marginalized communities, serves adolescents and youth quite well. Adolescents and youth are a marginalized group in society (Larson, 2002)—often ignored, underestimated or limited by social norms. In this way technology gives a wider arena to youth’s choices for preparing for adulthood.
The Internet is …. [drum rolls please] a significant arena for identity development For a growing adolescent, the internet is as consequential in forming an adult identity as all other non-virtual components of society because of the increasing time they spend in it.