For Youth Today, the Physical and Virtual Worlds Are Merging

The world teens and young adults live in today is “inline” – virtual and real, online and offline, all at once.

Teens and young adults are growing up in a hybrid world. Constantly connected, they’re no longer offline or online: they are both, simultaneously, all the time. The world they live in is “inline” — virtual and real at once.

One empowering aspect of the “inline” world is no matter where they happen to live, youth are finding support in like-minded communities via the Internet. As an example, we interviewed Millie, a 23-year-old Sydney native who’s involved in a Los Angeles-based girl gang movement centered around style and fashion. Typical of the “inline” trend, this community combines multiple elements: feminist dialect, creativity, wearing what you want, saying what you want, and being who you want. From across an ocean, Millie is part of what would otherwise be a local movement in California.

It’s not all positive, however. As teens and young adults create super-confident online avatars for public view, their interior lives sometimes tell another story. As 24-year-old Fernanda from Mexico told us, “This new generation at the junior high school, they seem so happy online and so brave … but in real life, they look sad, angry and so shy.”

In culture at large, Coachella, the annual music and arts festival in California’s Colorado Desert, is prominently on the radar of the youth we interviewed. This multi-day event merges tech and real life seamlessly by mixing up brands, celebs and music in new ways and using digital initiatives to tie them together. Last year’s festival offered many options for connecting digitally — such as the ability to “attend” from home through virtual reality, carefully curated Snapchat stories, and even “bionic hearing,” which allows listeners to control and alter their musical experience using special in-ear headphones.

The Internet artist and rapper Yung Jake is another example of the “inline” trend in action. Describing himself as “born on the Internet,” he loves to play with his IRL and online identities – in fact, he claims his online presence is the basis of his identity. He has said, ““I think structure is evil. I want people to question rigid structures and change them.” And this sentiment is one we’ve seen reflected in many of our conversations with youth around the world.