Today's American teens live in a world enveloped by communications technologies; the internet and cell phones have become a central force that fuels the rhythm of daily life.
The number of teenagers using the internet has grown 24% in the past four years and 87% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are online. Compared to four years ago, teens' use of the internet has intensified and broadened as they log on more often and do more things when they are online.
Among other things, there has been significant growth over the past four years in the number of teens who play games on the internet, get news, shop online, and get health information.
Not only has the number of users increased, but also the variety of technologies that teens use to support their communication, research, and entertainment desires has grown.
These technologies enable a variety of methods and channels by which youth can communicate with one another as well as with their parents and other authorities. Email, once the cutting edge "killer app," is losing its privileged place among many teens as they express preferences for instant messaging (IM) and text messaging as ways to connect with their friends.
In focus groups, teens described their new environment. To them, email is increasingly seen as a tool for communicating with "adults" such as teachers, institutions like schools, and as a way to convey lengthy and detailed information to large groups. Meanwhile, IM is used for everyday conversations with multiple friends that range from casual to more serious and private exchanges.
It is also used as a place of personal expression. Through buddy icons or other customization of the look and feel of IM communications, teens can express and differentiate themselves. Other instant messaging tools allow for the posting of personal profiles, or even "away" messages, durable signals posted when a user is away from the computer but wishes to remain connected to their IM network.