I talked about Japanese youth and social media in terms of ‘audience engagement’ in the context of globalisation at University of Westminster, September 03, 20131. I demonstrated how Japanese youths strategically manage their use of social media to help them negotiate a more complex self-identity, one that is both at home in Japan and in larger global spaces, using data from my ethnography on youth and social media in Japan conducted between 2007 and the present. Here, I will discuss the possibility of ‘global’ social media such as Facebook and Line in the global world.
Facebook and Impression Management
In an earlier study on SNSs (Takahashi, 2010), I identified ‘bricolage’ (Levi-Strauss, 1966) as one of the most important dimensions of audience engagement with SNSs among young people. Through creatively rearranging and combining a variety of sources and images, Japanese young people create/recreate their self-identity by means of ‘impression management’ (Goffman, 1959).
It’s the same story of impression management on Facebook. Here, Japanese users upload many photos (and sometimes decorating them with stars or hearts by using the photo function of mobile phones), and by tagging each other in order to present themselves as active and popular. Hikari, for example, an eighteen year old female college student, told me that ‘I use Facebook to show “reajuu [I live life to the fullest]”. But then she added, “if I keep looking at Facebook, I feel depressed. I feel jealous because everyone looks happy, especially when I feel down’.
Some Japanese young people use Facebook as a means to connect with people in the wider world – managing impressions that help them extend beyond their locality, education and generation. However at the same time they feel uncomfortable writing their comments in such an open space using their real identity. They prefer to send messages or chat one-to-one rather than write comments on someone’s wall. They also create many different groups by means of the privacy settings of that the site provides, and communicate with each other inside these closed groups.
Line and Transnational Communication
They prefer to connect with their uchi (uchi means inside or intimate circle of friends) via a more recent form of Japanese social media, Line, where they are able to separately maintain different uchi and feel security within a bounded online community.
In November 2013 Line had three hundred million users in the world; 80% of users are outside of Japan. ‘Global’ social media such as Facebook and Line enable them to connect with non-Japanese people transnationally. The affordances of stickers and images of Line are helpful to go over their struggle against differences of languages and cultures which they may encounter in transnational communication.
In my interview, Mika, a 19 year-old female college student, for instance, communicates with her Syrian friend (who lives in Japan) and her Thai friend (who lives in Thailand) by using stickers in her everyday life.
Mika: The stickers are good because I can communicate with foreigners in Japanese and they are not good at Japanese. We can understand each other with stickers on Line more than by emails or other social media.
Researcher: Don’t you have miscommunication with stickers? They might interpret the meaning of stickers differently?
Mika: No. Because I choose only simple stickers, like a smile or angry face. Everyone can understand the meaning.
Researcher: I see. But then do you choose different stickers for non-Japanese from your Japanese friends?
Mika: Yes. I choose very different stickers.
As well as selecting words and languages, they use universal images in order to show their care and emotions to ‘distant others’. Sherry Turkle (2011) is concerned about superficiality on ‘digitalized friendships-played out with emoticon emotions’, however, I believe they do not just connect but also ‘communicate’ with each other with text, emoticons and images which enable them to create emotional bonds, thereby enriching online communication.
Social Media and Global Uchi
By frequently interacting with ‘distant others’ via social media, ‘others’ are gradually embedded into their local everyday life. Through these interactions a global uchi can thus emerge, just as a local uchi emerges through frequent face-to-face interactions with ‘local others’. In these contexts, social intimacy and emotional bonds with ‘others’ are developing, and ‘distant others’ are becoming ‘close uchi members’. The notion of global uchi which I have proposed may be a very small uchi but it may be an irreplaceable locus for its members. A sense of ‘global uchi-ism’ may constitute an ‘uchi membership’ wherein people have social intimacy, emotional bonds, ontological security and moral responsibility with significant members in their privatised global uchi (Takahashi, 2009). What I hope to have demonstrated is how social media, created by both Western and non-Western communication styles, have provided mutual communication time-space to create global uchi through constant transnational connectivity and emotional bonds beyond languages and cultural context. And that Japanese young people have reflexively created and recreated themselves and uchi through their constant engagement with social media in the global world.
Takahashi, T. “Audience engagement between local and global media worlds: Japanese youths and their social media”. Social Media, Transforming Audiences 4, University of Westminster, London, UK, September, 2013.
Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Harmondsworth: Penguin).
Levi-Strauss, C. (1966) The savage mind (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson).
Takahashi, T. (2009) Audience Studies: A Japanese Perspective (Abingdon: Routledge).
Takahashi, T. (2010) ‘MySpace or Mixi? Japanese Engagement with SNS (Social Networking Sites) in the Global Age’, New Media and Society, 12 (3), 453-475.
Takahashi, T (forthcoming) Youth, Social Media and Connectivity in Japan. In Seargeant, P. and C. Tagg (eds) “The Language of Social Media: Community and Identity on the Internet”. Palgrave.
Turkle, S. (2011) Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books).