Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, discusses the various reasons as to why adults view teenagers’ online interactions as addictions in “Chapter 3: What Makes Teens Obsessed with Social Media?” What stuck me most about this chapter in particular was the section on “Growing Up with Limited Freedom.” Boyd discusses how “today’s teenagers have less freedom to wander than any previous generations” and how “even in suburban enclaves where crimes are rare, teens are warned of the riskiness of wandering outside” (86). This restriction on movement, both imposed on parents and self-imposed by some teens themselves, coupled with the reduced amount of free time some teenagers are forced to deal with, leaves many teens longing for some type of social connection. As a result many teens “turn to…asynchronous social media, texting, and other mediated interactions” to reclaim sociality (90).
Not only are teens less free as they had been in previous decades, but many are also coming to age without agency. Boyd discusses G. Stanley Hall and his mission to “define adolescence in order to give youth space to come of age without having to take on the full responsibilities of adulthood” (94). While beneficial in many respects, this has also “lead to…contemporary youth also facing state-imposed curfews, experiencing limitations on where they can gather, and getting parental approval before they engage in a host of activities.”
When still in high school, I recall vividly the feeling of being trapped, both by my well-intentioned mother at home and outside of the home with the enforcement of curfews; reading Boyd reminded me of that time. Because of the restrictions placed both on my friends and me, I ended up watching a lot of movies and going online to chat vs. going outside and hanging out. One of the films I watched was Miranda July’s 2005 film Me, You, and Everyone We Know. July’s film, made when the Internet and was still fairly new in the lives of teens, focuses on several sets of characters: a single father with two confused children; a struggling artist and the depressive art gallery curator who she’s courting for a showing; and two randy teenage girls who befriend an older male neighbor with a perverted streak. While all the characters are very different, the main theme binding them together is that all want human connection and communication. However, in this film July shows how far some will go for this connection and the darker side of this need, reminding me of the parental fears Boyd discussed in her book. At the same time, July’s film shows the fractured nature of modern life, for both adults and teens, and how these characters attempt (in somewhat absurd ways) to mend those fractures. This can be seen most profoundly in a chat scene in the film, where two brothers who’s mother just left their family, are chatting online with an older woman. At the end of the day, as Boyd discusses and July shows, teens (and adults) just want human connection.