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 deep reflections 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 argue that in examining intergenerational dissonance, we must consider context. In the case of Japan, this context includes the early development and use of mobile Internet technology, the economic downturn of the 1990s and the subsequent erosion of ibasho (places of belonging), and the COVID-19 pandemic. I conclude my talk with a discussion of the digital’s potential in instilling change in Japanese society.
Kimberly Hassel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona. She is an anthropologist and digital ethnographer specializing in the intersections of digital culture, youth culture, and identity in contemporary Japan. Her current book project examines the relationships between Social Networking Services, smartphones, and shifting notions of sociality and selfhood in Japan, especially among young people. Her book also delves into questions and themes associated with digital ethnography, such as digital ethics and digital mediation in pandemic times. Hassel’s examination of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on digital sociality in Japan and ethnography has appeared in Anthropology News. Her work on digital activism among Black Japanese youths has appeared in “Who Is The Asianist?” The Politics of Representation in Asian Studies. Her examination of instabae (Instagenic) culture as an extension of historical and ongoing forms of gendered socialities in Japan is forthcoming in Mechademia. Hassel holds a PhD in East Asian Studies from Princeton University. She was the recipient of the Princeton University Marjorie Chadwick Buchanan Dissertation Prize and a Japan Foundation Japanese Studies Doctoral Fellowship.