Teenagers of today do not look at the latest technology with wonder and amazement as some of us who remember a time before the personal computer and the internet do. Our teenagers have been born into a world where technology has already impacted not just the way we communicate with each other, but the way we actually live and even the way society functions. To them technology is not something that has recently evolved, but something that has always been there and available for use.
Of course the biggest catalyst for change has been the internet and the devices that have been developed to make sure that we have not just ease of access, but also the ability to be connected at all times wherever we are. The internet has literally changed the way people communicate with each other within the time span of a single generation. Many teens use texting as their preferred way of communicating. Texting takes less time, is more impersonal and often less inhibited than voice chatting. Internet connected Smartphones also mean that teens are using internet based instant messengers like Skype, Facebook Messenger and others as a cost free alternative to texting.
Some psychologists are beginning to worry that excessive use of technology is damaging social relationships and producing a generation of isolated teenagers. Many teenagers now judge how much someone likes them by how often they text. One of the problems with this is that it can be very damaging to self-esteem when frequent texting turns into the “stony wall of digital silence.” The person not receiving the reply must interpret (often wrongly) the reason for the silence. Texting in anger is another problem because once a text has been sent there is no way to cancel or recall it. Some scientists think that 75% of what we communicate to our fellow human beings is non-verbal and therefore a text message cannot fully convey what we mean and misinterpretation is common.
Television has also become less important to teenagers as an entertainment medium. Instead they are turning to online media and internet TV services for entertainment. There is a whole range of digital media available online, including videos on YouTube, music from many different platforms and streaming television from some of the main TV catchup services like BBC Iplayer and 4OD. In many ways this is much more convenient because the availability of entertainment is not restricted by any sort of programming schedule. The internet has brought about a situation where people can watch what they want, when they want.
There is no doubt that modern teenagers prefer to spend much of their leisure time in front of a screen of some sort. A recent study of teenagers in the UK found that the average teenager is spending the equivalent of a working week in front of a screen. As technology progresses, the size of the device needed to carry out all of the communication and computing functions of a laptop or PC has been condensed to a point where it will fit in a pocket or a handbag. The take up of Smartphones and tablet computers by teenagers means that many of them are now connected to the internet 24 hours a day.
It is still too early to predict just how technology is going to impact teenagers, but it is safe to say that the changes are already starting to appear. In Japan where new technology has always been driven at a faster pace than here in Europe, there are already many people living a life completely isolated from personal contact with other human beings because they are able to meet all of their day to day needs via a screen and an internet connection. Waiting in the wings, we have the younger brothers and sisters of current teens some of whom have been able to operate modern technology since they were three years old.