While certainly the youth of today is much more connected with technology and thus often use it to communicate with people even when, as is seen as a problem in the household, other people are sitting right next to them, it isn’t simply texting or even direct messaging (DMing) that these adolescents are doing with the technology they all have handy. In fact communicating through technology certainly isn’t a new concept (ex: emails, AOL Instant Messaging or AIM). Yet, social media isn’t just for keeping in touch and communicating with others, especially not for teenagers. Social media is indeed a whole other platform to test out their identities and social status; it’s where teenagers can do the same thing they’re supposed to be doing at school but with more control over how they wish to be portrayed. It is a second self, as Amber Case a cyborg anthropologist describes it.
With social media such as Facebook, adolescences must essentially go through the adolescent stages of development more than once—one time in person and another time through the digital realm. For this reason, social media brings a lot more to the table for the stages of growing up than just a venue for constant communication.
Social media in its various forms essentially has “three features—profiles, friends, traversing friend lists—[that] represent the core, defining characteristics of SNS” or Social Networking Sites (Ahn 1437). It is through these features that teenagers are finding new avenues to fight the social battles of the awkward teen stage. These young adults, whether off- or on-line, are still attempting to figure out how to either
be with the “in crowd” or at least not completely shunned from it, how to make meaningful friendships, how to navigate romantic relationships, and how to determine a sense of self. In some cases, traversing friendships and growth within those has become harder by the invention of social media and its constant tracking of “friends”.
Back when MySpace was still really big, it “introduced its Top 8 function, where users designated their top friends on their profile, [and] it set off a firestorm of social drama among teens” (Ahn 1437). Social media and real life do not separate themselves from each other and what happens in one affects the other. In this case, a function that’s supposed to be super cool and hip has caused chaos among friend groups as the ninth person is left out. Being left out of a silly list on social media, much like when one person in a dating couple doesn’t update their relationship status, causes a great deal of trouble and questioning in a teenager’s real life about where they stand with others and themselves.
With personal devices constantly on, even making it to the dinner table, the overlap of social media and real life is much heavier than perhaps anyone thought it would be. As such, as it has often been thought, these sites regularly bring a new way for youth to develop their personal and social identities, even if their online version is much more of a perfectly placed identity and not one that’s grown into.
In some instances this is good; young people can test out different identities and ways of which they wish to be seen. In other ways it seems much more dangerous; one wrong move on social media and a friendship could be insulted. The feel of permanency with wall posts being forever on display across the internet is one that doesn’t sit well when a teenager feels shamed by his/her internet friends. Thus although teenagers are given a new platform in which to explore themselves and their identity, a great deal of social stress can come from social media for teenagers who already have constant social stress while at school.