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Our interviews suggest that part of the appeal of chatrooms for the young lies in the opportunities that they provide to experiment with extended or alternative identities.
Ricki Goldman Segall (1998) has shown how this use of computers appeals particularly to teenage girls, who can use the computer to explore and extend their interests in fashion and appearance in intimate and novel ways.
Webcams vary from rather static landscape views (our university has one which is pointed at the sky for weather enthusiasts) to sites apparently managed by young girls who adopt provocative poses and post lists of presents they would like to receive.
The trend seems to be increasingly for such sites to become participative and interactive, Anyone can keep a Weblog—and anyone can read it and respond.
Many of the girls we have interviewed have told us how their interests in the Internet grew from the Web sites which promote pop music and fashion — at the time of the study this particularly involved sites that promoted boy bands, many of which contain links that lead them into chatrooms and related sites.
These chatroom sites provide opportunities to try on alternative ways of looking and being in interaction with others, who share similar interests and who appear to take you at ‘face value’; a face you can manipulate for effect without fear of detection.
Such conversations in the dark allow us to be reaffirmed in the images we have of ourselves rather than being constrained by our consciousness of all the shortcomings that others might see in us.Some of the practices adopted by these young people are surprising and counter to the conventional advice given by official authorities.The Internet — both a public good and a danger to children Experiments with identity Advancing the argument through case study Katerina’s story Rania’s story Stefanos’ story Dimitra’s story Fivos’ story Mary’s (Dafni’s mother) story Discussion The Internet and the young Drugs and technology Harm minimisation and Internet safety?And while some Web cams invite voyeurism, others allow you to interactto choose which clothes someone should wear that day from their wardrobe, for instance.Katerina, Rania, Stefanos, Dimitra and Fivos are young people living in Athens.
The fact that in chatroom interactions nothing can be taken for granted, when taken to an extreme, creates a Wonderland that can be compelling.