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Are the Kids Alright? Examining the intergenerational Discourse on Social Networking Services and Smartphone-Related Harm in Contemporary Japan

Kimberly Hassel, University of Arizona

March 2, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 302 Frist Campus Center

East Asian Studies Program

A talk from Kimberly Hassel (University of Arizona)


In this talk, I introduce the intergenerational discourse on Social Networking Services (SNS) and smartphone usage in contemporary Japan, with a focus on perceived danger and risk. I first introduce examples of media representations of accidents and incidents to illustrate the fraught boundaries between “sensational” coverage and “actual” risk. I then highlight the role of Japan’s public health infrastructure in promoting digital safety, featuring government initiatives that wield the language of anzen anshin (safety and peace of mind) to promote “good” use of digital technologies. I then draw upon conversations with youths and parents during my fieldwork in Japan to highlight the differences and intersections within concerns vocalized by users of different ages. While parents focused on “addiction” and the disruption of life rhythms, youths centered cyberbullying and mental health. Youths’ discussions of the use of smartphones and SNS as mediators in sociality were accompanied by great reflexivity on what these devices can and cannot do—along with what these devices should and should not do. Concern is thus not limited to parents, and youths are not necessarily unsuspecting victims of these technologies. I conclude my talk by arguing that in examining intergenerational dissonance, we must consider context. In the case of Japan, this context includes the economic downturn of the 1990s, the subsequent dissipation of previously “stable” life course patterns, the erosion of ibasho (places of belonging), and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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