Digital Rites Management


For some the phrase "rites of passage" summons up images of indigenous tribesmen dancing, or a solemn ceremony in a medieval Catholic church, or awkward height mismatches on the dance floor at one of the many absurdly-themed bar mitzvahs they attended in their younger years. But rites of passage exist in every society -- which logically means they exist online too, in some form or another.

The most obvious ones are imposed by authorities, albeit lamely: For instance, when you're 17 you have to lie to look at porn, but when you're 18, you don't have to lie anymore.

Others result from transitions we make during our personal and professional lives: emailing people from your email address at a new job is sort of a rite of passage, a moment that allows (and prompts) you to explain what happened at your last job, what's been going on since then, etc.

Anyway, what about the increasingly well-documented phenomenon of age segregation across social networks, best summarized by the conventional wisdom -- apparently true -- that "teens don't tweet." It was recently confirmed again by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which found in 2009 that while 73% of online teens were members or interacted with social networking sites in 2009, and 37% of people ages 18-29 use Twitter, just 8% of teens ages 12-17 use Twitter.

All kinds of speculative explanations for this have been offered (not by Pew, but others): For example, maybe teens are around their friends more often than adults, so they don't "need" Twitter to keep up with each other.

But I'm skeptical, considering teens' increasingly frenetic schedules, the growing number who make online friends in other places, and the general enthusiasm for texting, which is also a form of remote communication. Anyway, whatever the reason, it seems safe to assume that there will be a natural, organic process whereby teens eventually "graduate" to Twitter, and that more generally there will be a similar process for people moving into age-specific social media and networks as they get older.

Ten years from now, or maybe less, there will be teenage girls on Facebook who have been involved in some kind of social media as long as they can remember, beginning right now with Zwinky Cuties, which targets girls "6 and up." As they graduate to new social networks over time, there must be a psychological process at work determining the timing and nature of each "step up," almost certainly mediated through peer interactions. If that's the case, the norms and customs of this process of moving between age-appropriate stages are being formed right now; they're certainly not set in stone, because by my guesstimate there has really only been time for one "step up" -- the generation of teens who began on MySpace and then added Facebook (back when you had to have a college email address to be a member).

My question then is this: When will the people who are currently teens start using Twitter, and why? What sparks the decision to start Tweeting, that wasn't present before? When, how, and where will they be recruited?

Anybody? Bueller? Bueller? Anybody?

1 comment about "Digital Rites Management".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Bill Battle from Freelance, February 9, 2010 at 10:12 p.m.

    If today's teen is not tweeting in large numbers, they very well may never make the move, at least not in the way more traditionally social way Facebook attracts them. Perhaps the decision will be sparked when teens are asked to use Twitter for purposes other than interacting with friends - following topics of interest, job hunting, education (research, interaction with teachers, fellow students), group notices.

    The majority of my Twitter interactions are not within a "familial" social circle, they are with people I am learning from and topics I am interested in. I don't know the majority of them. That's just not where a majority of teens are at.

Next story loading loading..