Business Week has a close look at what it calls the "MySpace generation"--a youth culture based increasingly on online social networking. It's a long article with too much info to summarize adequately here, but it's worth reading through, especially if you're at all involved in youth ministry.
Among other things, it points at a fundamental difference in the way that young people and adults approach the internet:
Although networks are still in their infancy, experts think they're already creating new forms of social behavior that blur the distinctions between online and real-world interactions. In fact, today's young generation largely ignores the difference. Most adults see the Web as a supplement to their daily lives. They tap into information, buy books or send flowers, exchange apartments, or link up with others who share passions for dogs, say, or opera. But for the most part, their social lives remain rooted in the traditional phone call and face-to-face interaction.
So adults tend to use the internet as a tool to accomplish particular finite goals, whereas for young people the web is a big blurry social network that's integral to their everyday life and relationships. Judging by the almost weekly unveiling of new social-networking internet tools, I'd say this trend isn't going to slow down anytime soon.
I suppose adults have always felt this way when observing youth culture, but the speed at which social systems like MySpace, xanga, flickr, and so forth are being unveiled and adopted is downright dizzying. The days of the monolithic, text-with-pictures personal webpage are long gone; nowadays there are countless ways to relate to other people online. Even blogs are feeling a bit passe these days.
Reading the article, I'm also left a bit unsettled by the extent that commercial marketing plays a role in these social networks. Of course, it's Business Week magazine, so one would expect the business angle to take center stage. But still....