Social media: is it curbing teenage rebels and road use? Bear with me on this one…

by Stephen Tall on October 2, 2012

We all know social media is changing the way we view the world yadda yadda. But a couple of articles recently have led me to wonder quite how much and in what unexpected ways.

The BBC’s Mark Easton poses a theory here that it is, in part, an explanation why (despite the Daily Mail headlines) “teenage rebels are not what they were”, drinking less, smoking less, inhaling less:

Could it be that teenage rebellion needs to look different to what your mum and dad did? Smoking, boozing, dropping pills and hooliganism – that’s so Generation X. These days, perhaps, adolescent identity is defined more by the use of social media rather than the use of illicit drugs. It might be that texting and messaging, Facebook and Bebo provide the exclusive amity once provided by gangs and musical sub-cultures.

Now to my (equally speculative) theory… that social media is also contributing to the decrease in driving in the developed world recently highlighted by the Economist:

… in the rich world the decades-long link between rising incomes and car use has been severed (see article), and miles driven per person have been falling. … Young people … are falling out of love with cars. All over the rich world they are getting their licences later, and they use other forms of transport more than the young did a generation ago.

Years ago, I guess the car was the most exciting must-have gadget around, a way of promenading in front of your friends that you’re a dude. Today you can do that via Twitter, Facebook etc, and reach a much broader audience. Take a look around any bus or train carriage: every other person, and almost every single young person, will be on their smartphone. The idea of going for a drive these days seems seems so isolationist, divorcing yourself for hours on end from the immediate reality of interacting.

Well, that’s my theory anyway. Does it make sense? And is there any evidence to back it up?