For the new generations, living is increasingly synonymous with being in front of the screen, connected to the network and having a virtual presence on the Internet.
According to the National Institute of Statistics, in Spain, in the year 2021, almost 100% of minors between 14 and 15 years of age frequently used the internet through their smartphones.
Just like eating or sleeping, screens are present in your day to day life. They use them to socialize, in class and in their leisure time.
The myth of the digital “native”
Two decades ago, the American writer Marc Prenksy introduced the term “digital native” to refer to anyone who was born surrounded by this technology and learned to use it intuitively.
Over the last few years, we have assumed that young people, because they are “digital natives”, already know how to use and manage digital technology. However, the reality seems to be quite different. Recent research has shown that young people do not possess this critical and responsible capacity for the use of screens.
A new life, life ‘onlife’
Interactions between young people arise indistinctly through their favorite social networks or through face-to-face interaction. The time off (offline) that any group of young people spends in the square of their neighborhood, also becomes a time on-line because they are at the same time looking at their screens.
While they interact face to face, their social networks can also be filled with interactions (likes, comments, mentions…). Upload a reel Instagram or TikTok have naturally become a means of socializing peer groups.
For these new generations the border between the worlds on-line Y offline is very diffuse, so much so that it hardly exists: they live a life on life. Screens and connection are nothing more than an extension of the virtual and physical world.
Once we understand that screens are here to stay, the question that arises is whether young people are really prepared to manage the use of screens. How does this continuous digital existence affect the construction of their personalities?
A fully digitized identity
Young people give meaning to their identity through leisure spaces and popular culture. These places are today both physical and digital.
Analyzing the real and current situation of the digital identity of young people and proposing possible ways of understanding and educational action is the objective of our CONECT-ID project.
The results of this research show that 54.6% of young people spend more than three hours a day in activities that involve the use of screens in their free time. The main reason young people use screens is for plain old fun.
On the Internet, 41% of adolescents admit that they share their personal information such as location, photographs and hobbies, even though they are aware that this can pose a risk. In this case, it is usually the girls who share the most personal information. However, they state that they use several profiles on the same social network to select the personal information that they share privately. This was stated by one of the girls who participated in this study:
“I have a public profile and a private one, but because the public profile is where more people follow me, anyone can follow me, and the other is like more for my friends, closest friends, and there I upload more things, things mine”.
against the filters
A fact that breaks with the results of previous research is that 80% of young people and adolescents prefer to use real photos, without manipulation. They claim to prefer to show themselves as they are, without filters and without hiding behind false identities. This data could indicate that social networks are ceasing to be spaces for experimentation of a different identity and seek to be a continuation of the non-digital physical identity.
The young people interviewed recognize that their connection time is excessive, but they do not consider that they need help to manage the time of use. This was stated by one of the boys who participated in this study:
“It’s like two hours go by and I say: “Well, I want more.” And so on all the time, and an entire afternoon goes by and I’m on my mobile all the time.“
The results of this study have allowed us to identify a profile of young people with a high risk of dependence on the use of the Internet, which coincides with that profile of young people who say they feel isolated if they cannot be connected.
Precisely, the young people who say they feel socially isolated if they do not have access to the Internet are those who do not perceive the risks associated with the use of social networks and the Internet.
Are time limits useful?
Education in digital identity formation has so far focused on developing best practice guides and limiting time spent online from the physical world. But how effective can this be if young people do not separate these two worlds?
It is necessary to differentiate dependency from belonging and show the new generations that knowing how to use technology means being aware of the influence that screens have on us.
It is important to learn to live in a world where the border between on-line and the offline it becomes more and more diffuse.
Aware of the role of screens
The new generations must be fully aware that the use of screens influences our daily lives. By using them as a communication and leisure tool, our decision-making, including what we can feel, is mediated by screens.
From education we must generate strategies so that young people and adolescents use technologies in a healthy and responsible way. The screen, and what’s behind it, is your living space. It makes no sense “to put doors to the field”.
But we must accompany, mediate and teach how to live in that open field, with its opportunities, but also its risks.
We are facing a new conception of space and time on which people are made, where they must weave their freedom, autonomy, responsibility, creativity, critical sense, etc. And it is there where education, and not technology, nor the screen and its networks, must take “the leading voice” and channel and guide the identity development of young people.