Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

An Exploratory Study on Adolescents' Experiences of Using ICQ (I Seek You)

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

An Exploratory Study on Adolescents' Experiences of Using ICQ (I Seek You)

Article excerpt


Face to face communication can be regarded as the most direct and effective way to exchange feelings and ideas. However, a new mode of communication is emerging in Hong Kong's adolescent culture which does not include seeing faces and hearing voices, but instead consists of sharing their views by typing on a keyboard and reading each other's minds by reading text on a computer monitor. This popular cyberspace communication is I Seek You (ICQ). We were interested in how the dense living conditions of Hong Kong and relative lack of privacy might also influence adolescents' use of ICQ.

The Internet has changed the lives of citizens (Kraut, Patterson, Lundmark, Kiesler, Mukopadhyay, & Scherlis, 1998; Singer & Singer, 2001; Weiser, 2000). Such technological advancement has had both positive effects (Breakthrough, 2004; Dornan, 2000; Katz & Rice, 2002; Leung, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004; Rollman, Krug, & Parente, 2000; Singer & Singer; Suler, 2004; Tappscott, 1998) and negative effects on its users (Laurence, 2003; Leung 2001, 2003; Widyanto, 2004). Using the internet allows for better social relationships, provides entertainment, enhances education, improves information retrieval, and increases the skills and confidence of computer users (Kraut et al.). Little is known about Chinese adolescents' views of ICQ. In the light of this knowledge gap, we conducted this multiple case study to explore the rationales and the contents of messages of Hong Kong adolescents who use ICQ, and their relationships with their peers, family, and strangers. We utilized a qualitative inquiry method, multiple case study, which we hoped would reveal the meanings of their experiences and provide a socio-culturally specific understanding of it.

Overview of ICQ

ICQ could be defined as a kind of Multi-user domain (MUD) (, and a text-based virtual reality game on the Internet. Users communicate with each other directly in real time via text messages, screen graphics, or icons that other players can see (Leung, 2003). When using ICQ, people immerse themselves in a world of textual representations. For example, users can redefine themselves, pretending to be the opposite sex, for example, or being very talkative where in real life they are not. ICQ allows them to present themselves as different people when interacting online (Leung). This "fluidity of identity" gives them a feeling of status and modernity, which might bolster their self-esteem (Dornan, 2000).

E-mailing, web surfing, and using ICQ are three of the most popular Internet activities for adolescents in some local adolescents' lifestyle surveys (e.g., Breakthrough, 2004). E-mailing is the transmission of messages through the Internet. It is like communicating through letters, but the delivery is much faster, requiring only a few seconds to deliver an email. In order to send and receive email, users have to click buttons and remember email addresses. This is not convenient when compared to ICQ. Web-surfing is simpler and large amounts of information can be gathered at one time. However, there is no interaction involved, especially when users must wait a long time for a reply.

Americans spent over 16.5 billion minutes, or 105 million hours in 2003, logging on Instant Message Services such as ICQ. Today there are nearly 110 million ICQ users all over the world, and there is one new registration every second (IANXXI, 2004). The use of these instant messenger services could accelerate the process of globalization because it allows people to communicate beyond geographical boundaries (Barry & Yuill, 2002). Such rapid technological changes, including the invention of the home computer, video games, and the Internet (Dacey & Kenny, 1997), affect adolescents' daily life (Santrock, 2001). For example, their communication methods have shifted from face-to-face interaction to emailing.

ICQ in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong government promoted home computers and the Internet through electronic trade and identity registration. …

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