Andra Siibak

Screening into the mindset of the “social media generation”

It has been argued (Colombo, 2011) that each generation grows up with a specific style of media usage and culture, all of which helps to differentiate between the media use and habits of different generations. Especially the experience with media and technologies during the formative years, which helps to shape long-term media habits, is noted to be relevant in defining generations and their media consumption cultures (Aroldi, 2011). Although some authors (e.g. Lumby, 2001) have argued against the whole idea of generationalism, the idea that there are common experiences that define an age cohort, empirical studies indicate (Murumaa-Mengel & Siibak, 2019) that media technologies and media use have become an important cultural glue within generations. Younger generations, in particular, have been noted (Siibak, 2009) to build their generational identity around the technology and platforms that they use.

For example, although, humans do not rely on digital technology in order to survive, digital technologies and social media have become almost inseparably tied to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Cao, et al. 2013), especially for the younger generations. Considering that social media provides distinctive “communicative affordances” (Hutchby, 2001), a number of different gratifications that drive individual social media consumption, research (Alutaybi et al., 2019; Throuvala et al., 2019) indicates that one may suffer from nomophobia, i.e. feel psychological discomfort when they are unable to access their mobile phone (King et al., 2013) or experience FoMO (Fear of Missing Out) when unable to use digital devices or access social media.

The talk with draw upon the findings of different empirical studies which provide an overview not only of the main practices and digital competencies of the present day young, but also offer a look into the mindset and dominant thought-patterns of the current young generation.

Relying on the social media detox diaries of 19-25 year olds students (n=67) I will provide an overview of the main affordances young people associate with digital technologies, and social media in particular (Murumaa-Mengel & Siibak, 2019). Furthermore, findings from an EU Kids Online survey (n=1020) will be used to map out the main online practices, digital competences and media diets of the present day youth (9-17 year olds) (Sukk & Soo, 2018). I will make use of the findings (Murumaa-Mengel & Siibak, forthcoming 2020) gathered through different focus-group interviews with the followers of micro-celebrities to illustrate what kind of online content do the young perceive to be interesting, and worthy of their time and attention.

Andra Siibak is a Professor of Media Studies and program director of the Media and Communication doctoral program at the Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, Estonia. She is also Head of the Board of the Center for the Digital Humanities and Information Society in the University of Tartu. Her main field of research has to do with the opportunities and risks surrounding internet use, social media usage practices, datafication of childhood, intergenerational relationships on social media, algorithmic workplace, new media audiences and privacy. She has published more than 70 peer reviewed papers in international journalsand edited collections on the topics surrounding young people’s practices online; e.g. self-presentation on social media; teacher/parental/sibling mediation of young people’s internet use; privacy strategies and imagined audiences on social media, touch-screen usage of toddlers, digital literacies, datafication of childhood, etc. In her most recent projects she has been working on analyzing young people’s reflections from social media detox, different digital parenting practices (e.g. tracking, sharenting), and topics related to the future of work (e.g. micro-chipped employees).  She has been a member of various international research projects and networks (e.g. EU Kids Online) and acted as expert consultant on Estonia for different projects initiated by the European Parliament, European Commission, European Council and OECD. She was awarded the Young Scientist Award by the President of Estonia (2015) and the Outstanding Young Person of Estonia (TOYP) award (2017). 


Aroldi, P. (2011). Generational Belonging between Media Audiences and ICT Users, In: Colombo, F., Fortunati, L. (eds.), Broadband Society and Generational Changes, Berlin: Peter Lang, 51-68

Alutaybi, A., McAlaney, J., Arden-Close, E., Stefanidis, A., Phalp, K., & Ali, R. (2019). Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) as Really Lived: Five Classifications and one Ecology. Paper presented at The 6th International Conference on Behavioral, Economic, and Socio-Cultural Computing. 28-30th October 2019. Beijing, China.

Cao, H., Jiang, J., Oh, L.-B., Li, H., Liao, X., & Chen, Z. (2013). A Maslow’s hierarchy of needs analysis of social networking services continue. Journal of Service Management, 24(2), 170-190.

Colombo, F. (2011). The Long Wave of Generations, In: Colombo, F., Fortunati, L. (eds.), Broadband Society and Generational Changes, Berlin: Peter Lang, 19-36.

Hutchby, I. (2001). Technologies, Texts and Affordances. Sociology, 35(2), 441-456.

King, A. L. S., Valença, A. M., Silva, A. C. O., Baczynski, T., Carvalho, M. R., & Nardi, A. E. (2013). Nomophobia: Dependency on virtual environments or social phobia? Computers in Human Behavior, 29(1), 140-144.

Lumby, C. (2001). Generation Panics: Age, Knowledge and Cultural Power in a New Media Era, In: Bennet, T., Cartern, D. (eds.), Culture in Australia. Policies, Publics and Programs, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 217-232.

Murumaa-Mengel, M. & Siibak, A. (forthcoming 2020). From Fans to Followers to Anti-Fans: Young Audiences of Microcelebrities. In: M. Filimowicz & V. Tzankova (Ed.). Reimagning Communication: Experience (vol 2). (xx−xx). London: Routledge

Murumaa-Mengel, M. & Siibak, A. (2019). Compelled to be an Outsider: How students on a social media detox self-construct their generation. Comunicazioni Sociali. Journal of Media, Performing Arts and Cultural Studie, 2, 263-275.

Siibak, A. (2009). Self-presentation of the `digital generation` in Estonia, Tartu: Tartu University Press

 Sukk, M.; Soo, K, Kalmus, V. Kurvits, R.; Siibak, A. (eds.) (2018). EU Kids Online’i Eesti 2018. aasta uuringu esialgsed tulemused. [Preliminary findings of EU Kids Online Estonian study of 2018],  1−66.10.13140/RG.2.2.32549.55526.

Throuvala, M. A. et al. (2019). Motivational processes and dysfunctional mechanisms of social media use of adolescents: a qualitative focus group study. Computers in Human Behavior, 93, 164-175.