Releasing the Image: From Literature to New Media

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We then move to the topic of cell phones, describing data on the prevalence of their use and the activities for which they are used. A selective overview of adolescent media use is presented in Table 1. Note: The study did not include texting and talking on a cell phone in the estimate of total time with media. Some numbers have been calculated from data tables, and some forms of media studied have been omitted from the table.

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But it also affords a chance for youth to create and distribute their own messages. Sixty-four percent of online teens aged have created and posted content on the web, ranging from having a personal webpage to blogging and posting artwork, photos, and videos. Indeed, the most popular online activities among youth are social networking accounting for 22 minutes of use , game playing 17 minutes , and visiting video websites e. As with traditional media, black and Hispanic youth spend somewhat more time with most of these activities, relative to white youth.

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Facebook is currently the most commonly used social networking site on the Internet, with half a billion current users. In , researchers found that half of online teens 55 percent used social networking sites; 65 percent did so in a survey. Older girls aged are the most likely to have a social networking site.

About half of all youth reported playing a video game on the day preceding survey participation. Most of that time is spent on a game console attached to a television 36 minutes , 30 and 77 percent of teens own a game console.

Releasing the Image From Literature to New Media

Although the use of these platforms is less social than online gaming, most teens 76 percent report playing games with others at least occasionally. Videos are both downloaded and posted on the Internet, offering opportunities for participation and media creation, as well as exposure.

Twenty-two percent of Americans have shot their own videos, and 14 percent of those users have posted them online. Young adults aged years and men are the most active users of online video 70 percent and 53 percent of users, respectively. They more often receive video links, send video links to others, watch videos with others, rate them, comment about them, upload them, and post links online.

Fifty-seven percent of online teens aged watch video online, and 14 percent have posted videos online. Although the use of other sites, most notably Hulu which allows users to view television programming from all but one of the major networks, as well as other sources , is growing, 40 percent of all online video-viewing is attributable to YouTube and only 2 percent to Hulu. Other online activities are less common.

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Use of email has declined among teens over the past few years. The overwhelming majority, 73 percent, still use it, but only percent use it daily, 33 , 68 and it accounts for only 6 percent of time spent with computers by youth. One of the newer online social media platforms is Twitter, a social networking and blogging service that allows posts of only or fewer characters.

Currently, few of its users are youths: Seven percent are to 24 years old and fewer than 4 percent are 17 or under. It boasts only 20 million recent visits across age categories, less than a fifth of the number of Facebook visitors. Thirteen percent of girls aged years report using it. Nearly 90 percent of all Americans are mobile cell phone users. In general, more teens use their cell phones for talking than texting.

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Increasingly, cell phones are also being used to access email and the Internet. The number of persons who did so daily last year was about 22 million. A number of lessons emerge from these data. Among them is the finding that television content still dominates the media landscape. While new media combined are taking up more and more of teens' time and television programming is increasingly being viewed on platforms other than a traditional set, television is still, by far, the most central aspect of adolescents' media lives.

No other activity comes close in terms of time spent with a particular form of content or a particular platform. In terms of time spent online, YouTube, game playing, and social networking sites are the key activities and are equal-attention grabbers for youth, though as we will note below, they have not been equally attended to by researchers. Cell phones are increasingly the platform of choice: When time spent texting and talking is included in estimates, teens spend more time with them than with computers and use them for a full range of activities.

Cell phones are used for listening to music, watching television content, and playing games when combined more than for talking. Text messaging is not yet the preferred mode of phone communication for the majority of youth, but among those who use it, it is vastly preferred over talking. Though largely expected, some other patterns are also apparent and should be emphasized.

Second, platform and content are increasingly independent. A large amount of "television" is watched on something other than a set. As the technology and software to use the Internet on television sets becomes available, 70 shifts may occur in this direction as well, such that televisions become the preferred mode of listening to music, browsing online, or communicating with friends.

Thus, it will be critical to think about both platform and content in exploring media effects and developing interventions related to sexual health, and to make no assumptions about how or where a particular form of content will be consumed. As with traditional media, the rates of many forms of new media use are somewhat higher in the minority groups that are at higher risk for teen pregnancy and STIs.

Thus, there is much potential to reach these groups with interventions, as well as some potential for negative effects of exposure.

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Little is yet known about the effects of these trends on sexual socialization and development, but there is reason to believe that there may be differences in the effects of new versus traditional media. Content creation that involves portraying oneself in a sexual manner may have different effects on subsequent sexual activity than exposure to sexual content as an audience member. For example, we can speculate based on psychological theory that creating sexual content may more directly influence self-perception e.

Because sexual postings and messages may result from perceived peer or other social pressures, or are intended to be funny but not always perceived as such , 71 the materials that teens post and the messages that they receive may be inconsistent with prior sexual experience and sexual intentions. That is, a sexually inexperienced teen may post a sexual message to appear mature or to make a joke.


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Once he or she observes his or her own actions, and particularly if other people's reactions reinforce the teen's sexualized behavior, the teen may shift to see him or herself as sexually mature or as a sexual object. Ultimately, this could accelerate sexual activity or lead to more casual or risky activity than might otherwise take place. Some Internet-based media e. One can be any gender, race, age, or level of physical attractiveness online. It leads us to speculate that, if youth use this opportunity to try on sexualized identities, social media use might result in youth making or receiving more offers of sex than would be the case if the same time were spent passively viewing sexual materials on television sets or in film.

We can also speculate that differences in the effects of new versus traditional media might result from variations in the content and manner of use.

The specific content that a person is exposed to may vary by platform e. As noted above, the key platforms for new media are cell phones and the Internet. The Internet affords adolescents easy access to sexual information in a context of anonymity, and the content is largely free.


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Cell phones provide a particularly portable method of engaging with content. They can be taken everywhere and used throughout the day. Thus, they give youth access to media at every waking hour and, like the Internet, can give youth the perception of anonymity. They also make youth particularly accessible for interventions to address sexual health needs. With cell phones, youth can seek information and assistance in real time as issues and questions regarding sexual health come up, and conversely, youth can be reached easily with reminders about sexual safety.

Thus, we might hypothesize that new media results in more exposure to sexual content, more privately, at more times of the day, and in more contexts than does use of traditional media. While there is reason to believe that the effects of new media may differ from those of traditional media, there is little empirical evidence on this issue.

Indeed, few studies of new media effects have been conducted. However, there are studies describing how these media are used by adolescents and the types of new media in which sexual content is known to reside that speak to this issue. Below, we review these studies and the limited available evidence regarding new media influence on adolescent sexuality.