For years, Third Culture* and Cross Culture Kids* have offered a unique example of growing up in a culture outside of that in which you are born. These two groups of kids—defined by a series of scholarly research and published accounts—have often remained niche, having been the result of their family’s circumstance, careers, and lifestyle choices. However, in recent years, a culmination of internet culture, individuality, and fluidity between the physical and virtual worlds, has caused the growth of a new youth culture—and it isn’t as niche as you’d expect.
When Millennials embarked on their use of the internet, they attempted to make it an extension of who they are through websites, forums, and (later) social media. This paved the way for the notion of “living online” where kids spent free time in virtual spaces; it also created digital social groups. Years of this becoming normalized has given Generation Z the opportunity to feel at home online.
As we now watch Generation Z grow up, we’ve followed their use of the internet, including hoarding user names on platforms as digital currency, the emergence of platforms specifically designed for their generation, and their always-on global perspective. As Gen Z grows up, they are paving the way for Gen Alpha’s internet experience in the same way that Millennials changed the internet for Gen Z.
All of this is leading up to a unique crossroads in culture, where kids are not only adopting and associating themselves with the culture of their surroundings—but also with a culture they are creating online. The notion of a Virtual Culture Kid is one in which the person creates their culture, associates their persona with that culture, and fluidly uses it online and offline.
We’ve seen the rise of V-Tubers: streamers who never show their real identity and engage with audiences through a virtual avatar. This is creating a new familiarity with avatars, where the audience accepts the content creator as their virtual identity rather than who they are as a real person. It is in that notion that the essence of a Virtual Culture Kid emerges. In plain language, it’s the acceptance and acknowledgement of the idea that the virtual presence is, indeed, the culture, persona, and identity of the person they are watching.
Beyond identity, Virtual Culture Kids are also immersed in their own language, dialect rules, and imagery that combines image macros, memes, and stream speak—and they’re using it offline in their real-world communications, as well. A myriad of terms once rooted in online gaming communities, social media, and digital content are now being spoken rather than typed.
All of it makes you wonder…as they assimilate their online characters, which identity becomes the more real?
As the internet continues to evolve and grow, youth culture’s rapid assimilation to integrating virtual culture into their identity has gone from borrowing elements of the internet culture to integrating internet culture into daily life. The separation of online persona and offline person is diminishing, creating a new hybrid culture that exists in-the-moment, and is inclusive of everything but the human element.
* Third Culture refers to children who are influenced by the culture of their parents as well as the culture in which they are being raised. While frequently tied to heritage or the children of first-generation immigrants, it can refer to any type of culture.
*A Cross-Cultural Kid, known as a CCK, is generally an adult who lived within two or more cultural environments while growing up.