Teen trends and technology

Paul Golding

Sunday, June 10, 2018

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“Recently, I thought of deleting my Facebook account and start using Twitter, but realised it's not easy. Facebook has become like the boyfriend I no longer like but am scared to dump because I've invested so much time in the relationship.” — Manasa Rao Saarloos, author

ON Thursday, May 31, 2018, the United States-based Pew Research Center — a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world — published an authoritative report entitled Teens, Social Media and Technology 2018. The following day several international media houses reported on these Pew findings, including the British Broadcasting Corporation and The Guardian. The Pew research found, among other things, that YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat were the most popular online platforms utilised by US teens.

The College of Business and Management at the University of Technology, Jamaica, recently conducted the first comprehensive national survey on Jamaican teens' use of digital technologies, including social media. This research will be published in the autumn of this year; however, preliminary results can be juxtaposed with the Pew study to determine how Jamaican teens' use of social media compare with the US. The UTech and Pew surveys were conducted at around the same time during the months of March and April 2018. The definitions of teens are comparable, with UTech referring to teens as ages 13 to 18 and Pew 13 to 17.

As it relates to access to the Internet, smartphones are the device of choice in both countries. Seventy-four per cent of Jamaican teens use smartphones while, in the USA, its use is almost ubiquitous, with 95 per cent usage. Access via desktops or laptops is more dichotomous between the two countries, with only 44 per cent using these devices in Jamaica, while in the US usage exactly doubles the amount, at 88 per cent.

Higher levels of mobile connections in the US appear to be fuelling more persistent online activities according to Pew. Forty-five per cent of US teens say they are online almost constantly, while 83 per cent of Jamaican teens spend between one to three hours online daily. A focus group discussion with Jamaican teens revealed that the comparatively low time spent online is due to the unavailability of Wi-Fi. According to one teen, if he had Wi-Fi he would be online 24/7.

The higher access rate in the US is reflected in general higher usage rate of social media platforms. Among Jamaicans teens, Instagram is the most popular, with 59 per cent usage, followed closely by Snapchat, 58 per cent; then Twitter, 57 per cent; Tumblr, 48 per cent; Facebook, 47 per cent; and YouTube, 21 per cent.

In contrast, the popularity of social media platforms among US teens were:

YouTube, 85 per cent [ranked 6th by Jamaican teens];

• Instagram, 72 per cent [1st in Jamaica];

Snapchat, 69 per cent [2nd by Jamaicans];

Facebook, 51 per cent [5th by Jamaicans];

Twitter, 32 per cent [3rd by Jamaicans]; and

Tumblr, nine per cent [4th by Jamaicans].

An evaluation of the data indicates that the same set of platforms is used in both countries with variations in persistent usage rates as mentioned earlier. The social media landscape, once dominated by Facebook, is a lot more diffused. Facebook is ranked fifth by Jamaican teens and fourth by USA teens. YouTube, which is the highest-ranked social media platform in the USA, is not generally viewed as a social media platform, but more as a video-sharing platform. This could contribute to its low ranking in Jamaica.

Instagram and Snapchat are highly regarded in both countries. It must be noted that Instagram is owned by Facebook. In 2013 it was reported that Facebook tried to purchase Snapchat for US$3 billion to boost its appeal with younger users, but was rebuffed. It is alleged that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's owner, has since positioned Instagram as a Snapchat 'fighter brand'.

Twitter and Tumblr usage between the two countries makes an interesting contrast. Twitter and Tumblr are ranked third and fourth, respectively, in Jamaica, while in the US it is ranked fifth and sixth, respectively. The reason for the popularity among Jamaica teens will be further interrogated in the final report. Jamaican teens may be on the forefront of a trend as the importance of Twitter continues to grow in politics and popular culture.

WhatsApp was not mentioned in the Pew report, and anecdotally is expected to have high popularity levels in Jamaica; however, among teens only 20 per cent of the respondents rated the platform highly. Google, which was the most popular app among Jamaican teens, had near-ubiquitous usage, with 94 per cent popularity. OK, Google.

The final report on Jamaican teens' usage of digital platforms will explore several other factors, including privacy, handling online problems, online stress, fake news, sexting, bullying, technology at school, and online dating. The report will be published during the months September 2018 to October 2018 and will be the first comprehensive study to take a snapshot of what Jamaican teens are doing and thinking, to get a better understanding of how network technologies are affecting their daily lives.

Professor Paul Golding is dean of the College of Business and Management, University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or,jm.

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