Rapidly shifting technologies are challenging assumptions about access to the Internet as communities viewed as “marginalized” are finding their way to social networking sites and other forms of online connection. This article draws from a 2014 survey of 135 street-involved youth aged fifteen to twenty-four in three British Columbia, Canada communities and shows that their use of digital technology and social networking sites is approaching the ubiquitous and persistent use by their housed peers. The vast majority of street-involved youth are using Facebook to stay connected (94%) and they are negotiating physical space and social relationships to have computer access through public libraries (64%), friends (55%), and drop in centers (51%). Youth are also strategically using free wifi (89%) to access the Internet. While cell phones have become a vital communication and entertainment device, their ownership is transitory and fractured—56 percent of youth surveyed had two or more cell phones in the year and 37 percent carry debts to previous cell phone providers. The social inequities that bring youth to the complex and risk-filled world of the street may exclude them from integral parts of society as they are viewed as different and outside the norm. This exploratory research suggests that street-involved youths’ online expression and communication may be a key means by which they source out social inclusion by negotiating and, temporarily, transcending the challenges of their daily lives.
|Keywords:||Street-involved Youth, Cell Phones, Digital Divide, Social Networking Sites, Social Media, Social Exclusion, Social Inclusion|
PhD Candidate, Social Dimensions of Health, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada