Has the Internet Damaged Youth Culture?

June 5th, 2015 § 0 comments

photoIn the days before the internet, experts dictated our cultural landscape. These reclusive authors or respected critics were regarded as ‘qualified’ and had an untouchable air.

The internet changed all that. Today, anyone with something to say has access to the cultural conversation and can contribute either via a creative project, such as a blog or video, or be a critic, posting reviews on sites like Goodreads or YouTube.

The internet has made the conversation two-way, immersive and immediate. Old-school thinkers believe this devalues the conversation, taking it away from its established ideals, and horror of horrors, allowing the barbarians through the gates.

In the last decade this flood of youthful ideas into the mainstream conversation has forced traditional institutions to change how they think about production and presentation. Take theatre as an example.

When we visit the theatre we expect to find our seats, the lights dim, the audience goes quiet and the show begins. Watershed, a cross-artform venue in Bristol, is home to the immersive theatre group, Punchdrunk, that encourages audience participation, making them part of the production.

‘It’s amazing how regimented we have become in our cultural habits,’ said Dick Penny, director of Watershed, in an interview with The Guardian. ‘Companies such as Punchdrunk have turned those conceits on their head. Rather than devaluing the traditional approach, it just shows there is another way of doing it.’

Technology has changed creative presentations by lowering production costs. Now, anyone with Internet access can set up a blog, website or video channel. All it takes is a little knowledge, persistence and an ability to connect with an audience.

However, the internet has created an audience that is fragmented and fickle. The typical Generation Y adult or Z kid is subscribed to numerous sites and has a short attention span. But, is fiercely loyal to the brands they connect with.

Instead of feeling disempowered like generations before them, the Internet Generation understands that not only do they get to contribute to and shape conversations, they also get to decide what’s cool irrespective of what critics say. The 50 Shades phenomenon is an example of this.

One organization that has tapped into this audience is Vice Media. Set up as a print pop culture magazine in the 90s, Vice has become one of the most influential online broadcasters attracting more than 150 million users each month.

Vice was named Media Company of the Year at the 2014 British Media Awards, with the judges citing its ability to ‘disprove the myth that digital content needs to be short-form or throwaway to be successful.’ VICE proves the internet is a forum for hard news.

Vice’s co-founder Shane Smith told The Guardian: ‘Young people, who are the majority of our audience, are angry, disenfranchised and they don’t like or trust mainstream media outlets. They’re leaving TV in droves, but music and news are the two things that Generation Y in every country are excited about and interested in.’

Music demonstrates how the internet has changed our listening habits and tastes. A pre-internet music fan had a collection of albums that strictly reflected his preferences. Today, the average tween can have thousands of songs stored on their phone with access to thousands more via Spotify or YouTube.

‘My son has grown up with access to any music he chooses and has an encyclopedic knowledge. If he finds a band he likes, he will trace all their influences and listen to all those bands too. There is a library of culture that is readily available to young people, which my generation just didn’t have,’ said Penny in the same interview.

With so much information out there, the internet has spawned a new type of critic, who is more of a curator that zones in on books, films or products that he or she loves. The explosion of book reviewers on YouTube is an example of this.

Others become brand advocates such as 24-year-old Zoella, who runs a make-up channel on YouTube that has an audience 26 times the size of British Vogue and is what advertisers call a ‘crowd-sourced people’s champion.’

To say that the internet has damaged or devalued youth culture is to miss the point. It’s done nothing to dampen the fundamental urge to create but it’s changed the way culture is shared and talked about. It’s made us all part of the conversation.


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