Youth and the Internet - Observations from INETī98

[appeared in Kyouiku Katei Shinbun September 1998 ]

In July the Internet Society (ISOC) ( held its 8th annual conference, the INET'98 (, in Geneva, Switzerland with about 1800 participants.

Although nowadays we find a lot of specialised events in the field of internetworking, INET still has some attractive characteristics. It combines a broad range of topics, including network technology, social, legal and regulatory politics, new applications, user centered issues, educational matters, electronic commerce, networking in developing countries, globalisation, health etc.
At this conference you can meet Internet pioneers from the early days as well as new users from all over the world. It's probably this particular atmosphere that attracts many people to this huge social event.
Also regularely colocated with INET there are a lot of other events like the K12-workshop, a developing countries workshop, or meetings of the Asian Pacific Networking Group APNG (

One of the most interesting events this time for me was the panel "Youth on the Net: visions for the 21st Century". It had been initiated by the 20 year old Finn Toni Alatalo with his paper "Surfing the Tidal Wave!", and Laura Breeden as the moderator brought together 6 young people, aged 16 to 21, from different cultural backgrounds for a discussion about their Net experiences and perspectives.
Two girls from the US reported about their responsibilities as hosts on an AOL youth chat channel. This includes keeping the discussions going smoothly, watching the participants' netiquette, or calming down emerging quarrels. They said they did not use the Net a lot in their freetime.
A young man from Ghana explained the liberating experience of being taken seriously as an individual on the Net, whereas in his native culture young people just have to accept what the elders say. He hopes that Internet technology will help his country to catch up economically.
Toni Alatalo explained how he had be growing up on and together with the Net since the age of 12 and how free time, study, work and business had taken place there simultaneously ever since:
"For us the net is not about surfing but a cozy place where we like to be. Home. It is not at all exiting or fun but totally normal, just necessary. The world outside is wild and exotic, perhaps scary, but full of adventures!" (cf.

Of course all panelists had different life styles and future plans with respect to Internet use, but none of them thought content filtering was necessary to protect young people. They also were very aware of inequalities of access and problems of constant computer use like damaged physical health or possible loss of face to face communication abilities.
In the second part of the session Vint Cerf, one of the famous old Internet engineers, joined the discussion and seemed to be very impressed by these thoughtful representatives of a new networked generation.

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Last modified: 1999-10-20