Technology as Necessity

At yesterday’s conference presentation on the Cybernetic Teen, Jason Cranford Teague used the word “necessity” when talking about technology for teens today. He provided an interesting comparison between a teen’s tech use in 1987 and a teen’s tech use today. He also provided a definition of the word “necessity” which made sense within the context of his presentation. And it got me thinking about whether or not I’d agree that certain technology is a necessity for teens today. Because it was on my mind, I talked it over with several people today and found that we all seem to be divided on the issue.

Teague said that a teenager in 1987 would have been unlikely to have a home computer, especially one with Internet and that a personal mobile phone for teens then was possible but highly unlikely. (He also noted that they’d be using a Walkman for music and playing a Nintendo Game System for fun.) Then he argued that today it’s a necessity for kids to have a computer with Internet access at home and that it’s almost a necessity for them to have a cell phone. (He also pointed out that they all have iPods and that they’ve got a choice between three different game systems, all of which are about as complex as their computer would have been in 1987).

His definition of necessity for making this argument was that more than 60-70% of their peer age group has one. He said that when a supermajority of your peers has a tool of communication, you become essentially incapable of proper communication with them in the way that communication is defined for your group. (Well, I paraphrased that a little, but that’s essentially what he was saying, I think.)

By this definition, it makes sense to me that he was saying these things are necessities. But in a general context, do I think that’s true? I do believe that a home computer with Internet access is a necessity for a majority of kids in a Western World today. (Teague did note that he was speaking about Western countries, but he didn’t differentiate between urban and rural teens and I believe that the argument could be made that teens in some rural areas don’t currently meet the minimum standard for the term “necessity” to be applicable. I don’t have the numbers on that handy, though, so I could be wrong.) Although I believe that his definition probably accurately describes the cell phone as necessity for teens, I’m not sure that I think it’s truly a necessity. I believe that teens today could appropriately communicate with their peers through IM and social networking sites without the use of their cell phones and not be “out of the communication loop”. But of course the underlying assumption for that is that I believe the home computer and high speed Internet to be “necessities”.

So I asked some other people what they thought about the issue and found that it’s something that people didn’t agree on. (In fact, there was something of a heated debate going around the lunch table today.) Everyone did seem to agree that Teague’s definition of “necessity” and the point that he was making seemed essentially to make sense. However, the whole topic took off on another tangent about whether this stuff is really necessary for teens. To me, it’s just a given that a teen in America today who is going to move forward in life is going to require Internet access at home. But I was surprised to find that even at a tech conference there are people who disagree with that. Based on the conversation, I’d even say there were some budding Luddites in the room today!

What do you think – is technology like in-home Internet a necessity for teens today?