The Brief: For young people, social media is embedded in nearly every aspect of their lives, making it an important thing for all of us to be able to understand.


The internet and everyday life are becoming increasingly intertwined, especially for young people. Millennials spend over 200 minutes online and Gen Z internet users spent an average of 250 minutes on their mobile devices every day.

For better or for worse, social media is changing the way people – particularly Millenials and Gen Z-ers communicate. Under the umbrella of communication, digital media is shaping how young people meet, date, party, vote, laugh, commiserate, and understand themselves. Social media is not only moving communication from online to real life, but it’s blurring these distinctions altogether, building a world where the URL and IRL cannot be separated.

Language & Speech: URL ↔ IRL

Over the past several years, Merriam-Webster has added internet and pop culture terms to their dictionary including cringey, throw shade, and facepalm. Attempts to track where certain social media slang terms originate reveal just how convoluted their meanings can be. The internet allows for the formation and combination of unique aspects of language and even the creation of new language.


95% of internet users have sent an emoji at some point and over 10 billion emojis are sent each day. Pre-literate toddlers are even using emojis to express themselves. Emojis often have nuanced and ever-changing meanings, definitions, and connotations. As they are introduced into written – and occasionally spoken – language, they are making for a complex, new form of communication, both inside and outside the digital realm.

Memes: More Than Just Funny Pictures

Memes are so commonly shared that, according to Google Trends, “memes” is becoming a more popular search term than “Jesus.”  More than just simple image macros, memes are becoming an increasingly pertinent tool of comedy, self-reflection, and communication. Memes can make it so that people all around the world can simultaneously obsess over something, laugh at the same jokes, react to the same movie, or even cook the same stew. In this way, memes can serve as a chaotic form of mass-communication, in which fleeting trends can draw the attention of millions before the next one catches on.

Wholesome memes and memes relating to mental health are an example of how meme culture goes beyond joke-making, becoming a method for self-expression and a reminder to people that they are not alone in the world.

Memes are not always about relatability. They can be created and shared to express an opinion or to argue a viewpoint. Political memes, although they are often shared with like-minded audiences, are an increasingly relevant tool for political discourse, social movements, and political campaigns.

Politics & Social Engagement

Through memes, flop accounts, apps like Amino, and more, young people are using digital media as a way to learn about politics and to share their own opinions. Movements such as #blacklivesmatter and #metoo rely heavily on social media in order to engage the public, spread information, and make change.

Social Interactions: Dating, Friendship, And Community Building

The rise in popularity of Instagram parties illustrates how social media and traditional interactions are becoming one. As teenagers use an app to organize parties and vet their guests and then share photos and videos from the party online, the party exists both online and off.

As illustrated in the HBO documentary Swiped: Hooking Up In The Digital Age, social media, texting, and internet culture are significantly changing what dating looks like, feeding into hookup culture, and altering romantic/sexual social dynamics. The rise of terms like ghosting, orbiting, breadcrumbing illustrate some of the unique phenomena that have risen from the culture around casual online dating.

Young people can use social media as a way to meet new people randomly, based on interest, or based on location. These methods of socialization come with risks – stranger danger, cyberbullying, and more. They also allow people around the world to communicate in ways they never have before.

Shaping The Self

As the term self-ie indicates, smartphones have an impact on how people understand and present themselves. Every time someone takes a selfie, they are replicating an image, a version of themselves, which they can then share with the world via social media. The dichotomy between Rinstas and Finstas suggests that there is a gap between how young people present themselves online publicly versus more privately. As social media communication affects how people view each other and themselves, these effects should not be ignored.

The rise of social media also means that the vision of “the media” solely as the mainstream TV and print media, is an incomplete definition of media. Media is everywhere and, as users spend more time online it’s almost everything: games, social media, apps, memes, and much more.

Although social media is becoming less and less “social” in a traditional face-to-face manner, online interactions can be just as impactful as IRL ones. In order to understand and communicate with those who spend a significant amount of time and energy online, it is key to understand how technology and digital media are shaping almost every aspect of their lives.

Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with the internet and social media. Because of this, Gen Z-ers are fluent in such technology, but also completely immersed in it. Media literacy works both ways. Yes, young people must learn to navigate media and the internet safely, but parents also need to learn how media works in order to better relate to, understand, and teach Millenials and Gen Z-ers.

We hope that StayHipp can be a resource to help you better comprehend these trends, new words, cultures, technologies, and methods of communication.