In search of prosumption: Youth and the new media in Hong Kong
First Monday

In search of prosumption: Youth and the new media in Hong Kong

This study addresses three research questions that aim to describe the media use patterns of young people in Hong Kong. In particular, four dimensions of media use are taken as preliminary indicators to determine whether young people fit the popular stereotype of active Internet users. The dimensions include their reasons for going online, their initiative for information management, their production of content, and their collaboration and sharing activities on the Internet.

A self–administered semi–structured questionnaire was distributed to 649 sixth formers in 11 secondary schools in Hong Kong between December 2008 and February 2009. The survey found little support for popular claims that celebrate the active roles of participants in the new media culture. Despite growing up “digitally,” the young people in this study did not demonstrate markedly different characteristics in their media use. Indeed, instead of making the most out of the new media environment as “prosumers,” they remained passive consumers in most cases. These findings call for a more critical evaluation of terms such as “prosumption,” and of assumptions about generational differences in media use.


Prosumers and prosumption
The new media generation
Youth and the media in Hong Kong
Directions for further research



Prosumers and prosumption

It has almost become a cliché to assert that the new media have ushered us into a second media age that differs from the first in its interactivity and diversity (Holmes, 2005). It is often stated that new communication technologies offer greater flexibility in the production, distribution, manipulation, and consumption of data, which has given rise to a new category of “prosumers” who in turn proliferate a great many creative, cultural, and social practices on the Internet.

The term “prosumer” was first coined by Alvin Toffler in 1980. In Toffler’s original writings on “the idea of prosumer” [1], he made a distinction between “production for use” and “production for exchange.” Toffler argued that most people had been prosumers in the First Wave of society in what were essentially agricultural communities, as they consumed what they themselves had produced. There were two sectors of economic activities: “sector A comprised all the unpaid work done directly by people for themselves, their families, or their communities. Sector B comprised all production of goods or services for sale or swap through the exchange network or market.” [2] Toffler moved on to argue that in the Third Wave of society, the mega trend would see more people spending their leisure time producing goods and services for their own use, in effect marking a return to prosumption activities.

Three decades have passed since Toffler first discussed the idea of the prosumer, and with the advent of user–friendly communication technologies in the new media landscape the hybrid term has taken on new meaning. The word “prosumer” is now not only used to denote individuals who simultaneously play the role of consumer and producer (Humphreys and Kent, 2008), but also to “professional consumers,” which refers mainly to hobbyists who aspire to produce professional products in the pursuit of their hobby (Quinion, 1999). Both definitions imply that prosumers are taking part in a somewhat different form of media production and consumption, and that they are not ordinary media consumers but rather active participants in the media environment.

Tapscott and Williams (2006) used the word “prosumption” (production/consumption) to describe the activities of prosumers, and suggested that the mass collaborations of prosumers could bring success to business. In addition to business–oriented initiatives, prosumption practices, or “user–generated content,” abound in the new media landscape. Blogging, for example, has become a popular practice in which the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of ordinary people are expressed and exchanged (Kim, 2005; Dvorak, 2006; Blog Statistics, 2007). YouTube users upload copyrighted videos, create their own productions, or share “mash–ups” with anonymous others (Norris, 2002). These Internet users not only “democratize the entertainment experience” (Goo, 2006), but also exert an increasing influence on politics (Winograd and Hais, 2008). Viral videos are shaping a markedly different form of interpersonal communication, and are affecting the formation of public opinion or sentiment (Allossery, 2000; Kiss, 2006; Sender, 2007; Bachrach, 2008). Social media such as Facebook or MySpace are also promoting new forms of networking (boyd, 2008). These developments have prompted researchers to probe questions of civic participation in the new media age (e.g., Kahn and Kellner, 2004).

Although prosumption is generally associated with participation, there is no guarantee that participation is inherently desirable or beneficial to the formation of a civic society. Although advocates of participatory journalism and community media envision a new media culture that is by the people and for the people (Jankowski, 2002; Gillmore, 2004), which they believe will favor the development of democracy, skeptics lament the emerging “cult of the amateur” (Keen, 2007) and the increasing commercialization and trivialization of the Internet (Dahlgren, 2005).

The Internet phenomenon of prosumption is apparently more complex than the celebratory claims made in the popular press or commercial advertisements, and clarifications are needed so that an informed discussion can be initiated. The chief questions that remain unanswered include the characteristics that define a prosumer, the kinds of participation that are recognized as prosumption, and how we might evaluate the influences of prosumption. There has been a tendency to stress the power of users in the so-called Web 2.0 era (for example, Grossman, 2006), yet as van Dijck (2009) has argued, the potential of Internet users is rather limited. To better theorize user agency, she proposed the examination of all hybrid terms such as prosumers, produsers, and co–creators from cultural, economic, and labor relations perspectives, and reminded us of the many meanings that words like prosumer and prosumption carry.



The new media generation

Studies of generation are not new in sociology (Esler, 1974) and anthropology (Mead, 1970), yet the prevalence and dominance of the media has added new dimensions to the definition of generation. The “Net generation,” for example, is defined both by its demographic characteristics and its Internet usage. Other terms such as “digital generation” and “thumb generation” are also connected to media and technology use, which has become a key factor in the construction and self–construction of generations (Buckingham and Willett, 2006; Stern and Willis, 2007). Terms such as “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001) and “digital immigrants” (Ryberg and Dirckinck–Holmfeld, 2008) further suggest that the generational divide is now also a kind of “digital divide.”

New media are part of the lives of many young people today. New media may be “new” in the eyes of many researchers, but to the younger generation who literally grew up with digital technologies they are nothing extraordinary and may simply be mundane forms of communication and information retrieval (Buckingham, 2008). Empirical research has identified conflicting properties of the new media generation. Leung (2003) found that “Net–geners” are strongly principled and believe in the fundamental right to information; are emotionally open on the Internet; innovative and investigative; and are independent, confident, and preoccupied with maturity. Another study conducted by the Pew Research Centre (2007) found that “Generation Next” is a “look at me” generation that is the most tolerant of any generation regarding controversial social issues.

Discussions on youth and the new media are at times rhetorical. Tapscott (1998) argued that the Net generation is more intelligent than the baby boomers, because the former grew up with the Internet, which is active in nature, whereas the latter grew up with television, which is a passive medium. This dichotomy is celebratory in undertone, and thus underestimates the many downsides associated with the Net generation. Among the many problematic practices associated with the Internet, bashing and bullying are the most obvious tendencies in need of serious attention. As Herring (2008) warned, despite the presence of a generational digital divide, one should not forget that adults create and regulate the media technologies consumed by young people, and eventually profit financially from them. In fact, the everyday practices of young people on the Internet are not necessarily innovative and spectacular in nature. On the contrary, many lack the originality and creativity that are celebrated by keen advocates of the benefits of the new media (Chu, 2008).

Youth is often seen as a distinct generational cohort subject to common processes of socialization (Parsons, 1942) and identity formation. The notion of “youth culture” also implies a different set of cultural expressions and life experiences. There has been a long history of research on youth and the media, for example, there have been continuous debates over passive and active audiences (Morley, 1980; Radway, 1987; Gauntlett, 1995; Osgerby, 2004; Olsson, 2006) in media consumption. While it has been generally agreed that there are various forms of meaning–making activities in different modes of reception (Hall, 2001), the emerging concept of ‘prosumption’ is calling for a renewed understanding of these issues.

Over the last decade, several research projects have addressed the specific problems of youth and the new media (e.g., Livingstone, 2002; Seiter, 2005; Buckingham and Willett, 2006). The uses and gratifications approach is considered to be a natural paradigm for new media research (Larose, et al., 2001), and research has explored the various gratifications of the Internet. However, although these studies identify the major uses and factors that differentiate heavy and light media users (Korgaonkar and Wolin, 1999), they have given little contextualized detail about audience activities in general, and meaning–making practices in particular. It has become imperative to ask whether the emergence of the new media environment will lead to the cultivation of a distinctive type of youth culture. Considering the increase in so–called prosumption activities that are closely related to the Internet, it is also logical to ponder the roles that these activities play in the formation of a youth culture, if one does indeed exist.

Young people are often viewed as digital natives who are at ease with whatever arises in the new media environment, and they are considered to be “power users” who are the driving forces of change (Ryberg and Dirckinck–Holmfeld, 2008). Van Dijck (2009) aptly pointed out that the initiatives and freedom of Internet users have been overestimated, and could easily lead to the creation of a new myth about youth and the new media landscape. Once again, this highlights the need to gather updated and relevant empirical evidence on this topic.



Youth and the media in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is considered to be “one of the most sophisticated and successful telecommunications markets in the world” (OFTA, 2009), and the statistics lend support to this claim. As of January 2009, the household broadband penetration rate was 77.8 percent. When translated into actual numbers, this means that there are a total of 1,952,335 registered customer accounts with broadband access, a figure that does not include customers with dial–up access (OFTA, 2009b). According to Internet World Stats, Hong Kong’s Internet penetration rate ranks first in Asia and ninth in the world (Hong Kong Trade Development Council, 2007). By March 2009, there were 7,987 public Wi–Fi access points. In addition to connectivity to the Internet, Hong Kong also enjoys an impressive penetration rate for mobile subscription of 163.1 percent, meaning that there are 11.4 million mobile subscribers in a population of just seven million.

Hong Kong is also known for its high level of media saturation. As of the end of 2007, there were 44 daily newspapers and 689 periodicals, two domestic free television program service licensees, three domestic pay television program service licensees, 16 non–domestic television program service licensees, one government–funded public service broadcaster, and two sound broadcasting licensees (Information Services Department, 2008). The presence of mass media is more than prominent in Hong Kong: it is ubiquitous.

A review of past research on youth and the media in Hong Kong finds two main types of studies. The first type is concerned with the potentially harmful effects of mass media on young people, and are often conducted by youth centers (for example, Salvation Army Wah Fu Centre, 1992; Caritas Tsuen Wan Social Service Center, 2001, Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, 2005, Tai Kung Po, 2009). These studies tended to have a marked protectionist and moralistic undertone. In scholarly research of this type, media use is taken to be a key factor in the formation of a wide range of types of behavior or values, such as sexual behavior (Janhorbani and Lam, 2003), deviant behavior (Cheung, 1993), and civic consciousness (Cheung, et al., 2004). Although these studies aim to establish some kind of correlation between young people and their media use, they offer few details about the actual media use patterns of the younger generation.

The second type of research focuses on the collection of data in an attempt to understand the media adoption and usage patterns of young people. Leung (2003; 2007), for example, studied the use of mobile messaging in the everyday lives of college students and the gratifications of Internet use. The Commission on Youth conducted territory–wide surveys in 1992 (So and Chan, 1992) and 1999 (Leung, 1999) that provided valuable details on the general media use habits and preferences of local young people. Both studies found that television remained the most popular medium among young people. However, it should be noted that the most recent data were collected a whole decade ago when the development of the new media was not yet in full bloom. Thus, the specific information that is currently available on young people and their new media usage in Hong Kong is either outdated or irrelevant in the rapidly changing media landscape.

Despite the rather limited understanding of the actual media habits and preferences of young people, concerns about youth and the new media often make the headlines in mainstream media reports. In these reports, the young are perceived to be using new media in “wrong” ways that include taking part in cyber bullying, participating in “compensated dating,” announcing suicide attempts, browsing indecent and obscene material, and infringing copyright. There have been calls for governmental action and education programs to counteract these activities, and although such calls are justified, an updated, contextualized, and deepened understanding of youth and the new media is a prerequisite for both policy and action.




This study aims to update information about media usage patterns among young people in Hong Kong. The renewed understanding will provide a starting point for further explorations into the notions of prosumer and prosumption.

To begin, three sets of research questions are asked:

  1. How much time do young people spend on different forms of media, including interpersonal media, mass media, and the Internet?
  2. What do young people do with the new media? What are the characteristics of their Internet participation?
  3. In what ways are young people’s Internet practices related to gender and family background?

Furthermore, questions targeting at finding reasons for going online, initiatives for information management, production of content, and collaboration and sharing activities are asked. These four dimensions are taken as useful indicators for prosumption as all demand a certain level of activity and participation from the audience.

A self–administered semi–structured questionnaire was distributed to 649 sixth formers in 11 secondary schools in Hong Kong between December 2008 and February 2009. Due to resource constraints, this study could not afford to conduct a probability sampling of all 503 secondary schools in Hong Kong. A purposive sampling was used instead, which targeted to include all of the main types of local schools in Hong Kong (see Appendix I). All sixth formers in these schools were included in the study.

Sixth formers were chosen for this study for two reasons. First, most current sixth formers were born around 1991 and 1992, just before the first commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) emerged in Hong Kong in 1993 (HKTDC, 2007). Since then, the media environment has undergone constant and rapid change, and these sixth formers have literally grown up digitally. How these digital natives report their own media use patterns should thus be of high relevance to this study. Second, under the present education system in Hong Kong, secondary school students have to sit the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination in Form 5, and about 30 percent secure places for further studies in Form 6. Hence, sixth formers are a select group of young people with proven academic abilities, and it is justifiable to assume that they are more ready to explore new initiatives in the new media environment. In addition, having just sat an important public examination, sixth formers are likely have more free time to spend on the various media.

The survey was conducted in class on a regular school day. Teachers distributed and collected the questionnaires within the same class period, which may explain the high response rate of 90 percent for most of the question items.




Youth and media use

The respondents were asked to evaluate whether they spent more or less time on 13 forms of media than a year ago, and to write down a rough estimate of the time that they spent on each medium. Table 1 provides a summary of the data in response to the following question:

“The following table lists different media. Please compare the time you spend on each of these media with last year. Do you spend More/More or less the same/Less time on them? Please tick in the appropriate box. Please also provide a rough estimate of the average time you spend on each.”


Table 1: Self–reported changes in the amount of time spent on different media.
Note: N = 649.
Amount of time/Medium More (%)Roughly the same (%)Less (%)Never use/Seldom use (%)Time spent per day(M/SD)
Fixed line telephone11.442.843.416.20.56 hr/0.64
Mobile phone (Voice)30.544.513.610.60.76hr/1.32
Mobile phone (SMS)3532.812.618.5NA
Facebook/social networking40.720.327.418.50.7hr/1.41
Online chat16.640.521.9200.99hr/1.31
Online forums12.532.418.535.90.58hr/1.07
Online games6.618.824.549.20.47hr/2.94


Grouping the media into different categories, it becomes apparent that the respondents spent less time on traditional mass media (television, radio, and magazines), with the exception of newspapers. Mobile phones were used more often than fixed line phones for interpersonal communication. The trend for online communication, however, was mixed. Although the respondents claimed that they spent more time on social networking sites such as Facebook and on e–mail communication, they spent less time participating in online chat, online forums, and online games.

These trends are even more marked when the figures for the “never use/seldom use” category are considered in isolation, as highlighted in Table 2.


Table 2: Media that are seldom used or never used.
MediaNever use/Seldom use (%)
Online forums35.9
Online games49.2


Although these figures confirm the general impression that traditional mass media such as radio and magazines are fading in popularity, they defy the popular speculation that the younger generation actively participate in online forums and online games.

Youth and online activities

Reasons for going online

The increased amount of time that young people spend on the Internet begs the question of the activities that they engage in when they are online. The survey asked the respondents to state their main reason for going online in a simple question: “What do you go online mainly for? Please state one reason).” There were no pre–determined categories for the respondents to choose from, and hence the answers were volunteered, rather than elicited. The responses were categorized and coded, as shown in Table 3.


Table 3: Reasons for going online.
Note: N = 649.
Main reasonFrequencyPercentage
Kill time/overcome boredom355.4
Search for information18027.7
Connecting with friends13020
Audience activities
(watching videos, listening to songs, reading news, reading comics, visiting forums)
Production activities
(writing blogs, making Web pages, sharing photos)
Searching for pornographic material20.3
No answer385.9


The three most cited reasons for young people to go online were entertainment, searching for information, and connecting with friends. If killing time and tackling boredom are included in the entertainment category, then the figure for this category rises to around 36 percent. This suggests that the Internet is seen to be a major source of entertainment. Meantime, 27.7 percent of the respondents stated that they used the Internet to search for information, which they used for homework or to satisfy their curiosity for knowledge. Twenty percent of the respondents went online mainly to access e–mail, instant messaging, or social networking sites, which shows that the Internet is also a major platform for communication among friends.

Forty–eight of the respondents stated that they went online to watch videos, listen to songs, or read the news. In a way, these respondents were consuming the same content that is produced and presented in traditional mass media, yet in a different media environment.

Despite the increasing popularity of Web 2.0 technologies, only seven of the respondents stated that they went online mainly to produce content. It strongly suggests that it is still uncommon for the young to engage in the Internet as content providers and/or producers.

Ways to organize and use information

To further identify the ways in which young people organize and use information, the survey asked the respondents about the first page that they visited when they went online, whether they used RSS, whether they read online news, and which news Web sites they visited most often.

Again, the respondents were free to provide whatever answers they had in mind without any hints. Of the 577 respondents who answered the question “What is the first Web site you visit when you go online?”, 478 (82.8 percent) said that they had made Yahoo! their first page. Other choices included a blank page (N = 25), Google (N = 24), Facebook (N = 18), Hotmail (N = 11), Xanga (N = 11), and (N = 10).

In contrast, the question related to RSS reflected a remarkable uncertainty. As the acronym of Really Simple Syndication, RSS refers to a form of Web feed to which Internet users can subscribe to obtain timely updates from sites that they frequently visit. RSS is basically a mechanism that helps users to organize information on the Internet, saving them the trouble of going to specific Web sites for updates by alerting them of changes in one standardized format and in one place, often an RSS reader. The use of RSS implies a more active user who employs these widely available tools to organize the ever–expanding Web universe.

Table 4 lists the responses to the question “Do you use RSS?”


Table 4: Use of RSS.
Note: N = 649.
Use of RSSFrequencyPercentage
I don’t understand the question37157.2
No answer162.5


The total figure for respondents who did not use or did not understand the question is 88.7 percent.

The survey also asked the respondents whether they read online news. In total, 66.1 percent stated that they did and 31.9 percent stated that they did not. Table 5 shows the news Web sites visited most often by the respondents who did read the news.


Table 5: Most visited news Web sites.
News Web siteFrequencyPercentage
Wise News446.8
Apple Daily152.3


Yahoo! is classified as a news site, although it is generally considered to be a Web portal or search engine. Once again, it received far more mentions than specialized aggregate news providers (e.g., Wise News) and news organizations (e.g., Apple Daily and Mingpao). These results indicate that the young people in this sample favored Yahoo!, a popular portal, as their home page and that most also relied heavily on it for news, but that the knowledge and use of RSS was minimal.

Producing content on the Internet

To further identify the nature and level of prosumption among the respondents, they were asked specific questions about their participation in blogging and YouTube. Table 6 summarizes the findings.


Table 6: Prosumption activities.
Note: N = 649.
 YesYes but I do not update oftenNoNo answerUpdate frequency(M/SD)
*(for those who answered Yes only)
Own a blog228 (35.1%)233 (35.9%)180 (27.7%)8 (1.2%)7.2/12
Upload videos to YouTube or other video–sharing sites47 (7.2%)110 (16.9%)484 (74.6%)8 (1.2%)26/78.6


Seventy–one percent of the respondents kept their own blogs, yet 35.9 percent stated that they did not update them frequently. When it came to uploading videos, however, the trend was reversed, with 74.6 percent of the respondents never having uploaded a video to a video–sharing site such as YouTube. For both practices, the frequency of updates was rather low, with average intervals for blogging and uploading videos of 7.2 days and 26 days, respectively.

A follow–up question asked the respondents about the types of videos that they uploaded to further determine whether such practices could be considered prosumption activities. Table 7 presents the findings.


Table 7: Types of videos uploaded.
Note: N = 166.
Types of videosFrequency
Videos taken by me or by my friends using a video camera48
Videos taken by me or by my friends using a mobile phone53
Videos forwarded from other Web sites46
Videos recorded from TV programs or movies on VCD/DVD7


The number of videos produced by respondents or their friends outnumbered those forwarded from other Web sites or copied from other media, although the actual number was small compared with the overall population.

To conclude, the respondents took part in the production of content in the form of blogs or videos, yet the frequency with which they engaged in these activities suggests that they had yet to become regular practices.

Collaboration and sharing activities

Two questions in the survey solicited information about activities related to collaboration and sharing. First, the respondents were asked whether they had ever contributed to Wikipedia or engaged in other similar activities. The results show that out of 619 valid responses, 182 of the respondents (29.4 percent) answered yes, 321 (51.9 percent) answered no, and 116 (18.7 percent) did not understand the question. Young people in Hong Kong do not appear to be active collaborators in knowledge construction.

The second question asked whether the respondents shared photos on the Internet, and the responses were less one–sided. Of the 639 valid responses, 272 of the respondents (42.6 percent) answered yes, 352 (55.1 percent) answered no, and only 15 (2.3 percent) did not understand the question.

Factors influencing online activities

To decide whether factors such as gender and family background influenced whether the respondents engaged in prosumption activities, the researcher ran an independent sample t–test and cross tabulations for five specific items, that is, the average time spent watching television, the average time spent on the Internet, the use of RSS, owning a blog, and uploading videos to YouTube.


Except for uploading videos to YouTube, a significant difference was found between the participation of boys and girls in the five activities. The average time spent watching television for the male respondents was 1.52 hours (SD = 1.45), whereas the female respondents watched television for 1.8 hours daily (SD = 1.25). A t–test confirmed the difference between these figures to be significant [t(541) = -2.37, ρ<0.05].

In terms of the daily average time spent on the Internet, there was also a significant difference [t(610) = 4.45, ρ<0.001] between the two genders, with the male respondents spending an average of 3.53 hours (SD = 3.47) online each day and the female respondents spending only 2.48 hours (SD = 2.4). These figures indicate that the female respondents spent more time on television and significantly less time on the Internet than their male counterparts.

Further gender differences were found in the use of RSS and blogging. The number of female respondents who chose the answer “I don’t understand the question” to the questionnaire item about RSS far outnumbered that of the male respondents (female N = 235; male N = 134). The percentage of respondents who did not know what RSS was also differed by gender, with χ2(2, N = 628) = 19.62, ρ<0.001.

For blogging, the trend was reversed, with the percentage of girls owning a blog exceeding that of boys (77.2 percent versus 65.8 percent), χ2(1, N = 634) = 10.15, ρ<0.001.

Family background

The respondents were asked to rate the economic status of their family along a four point scale, where 1 denoted “difficult”, 2 was “so–so”, 3 was “middle class” and 4 indicated “rich.” A significant relationship was found between family background and time spent on the Internet, as summarized in Table 8.


Table 8: Family economic status and time spent on the Internet.
Family economic statusNMeanStd. deviation
Middle class1533.092.95


The respondents from “difficult” families spent considerably more time online than the respondents from other economic categories. An ANOVA test found that economic status had a significant effect on time spent online, F(3, 599) = 6.22, ρ<.001.




Changing patterns of media use

This study addresses three research questions that aim to describe the media use patterns of a group of young people in Hong Kong and to discuss whether their online activities can be considered prosumptive. It also attempts to identify the factors that influence such activities. The summary findings from the foregoing section show that despite providing some evidence of the emergence of a “convergence culture” (Jenkins, 2006), the survey study found little support for popular claims that celebrate the active role of participants in the new media culture. Despite growing up digitally, the young people in this study did not demonstrate markedly different characteristics in their media use, and instead of making the most of the new media environment as “prosumers,” remained passive consumers in most cases. These findings suggest caution in making overstated claims that the new media is characterized by user–generated content, participatory culture, and collective intelligence.

The first research question aimed to detect the patterns of media use among local youth. Based on self–reported estimations, the survey found that the respondents spent less time on traditional mass media, with the exception of newspapers. The majority of the respondents claimed that they had read more newspapers in the year of the survey, which may be due to study requirements. The use of mobile phone communication, social networking sites, and e–mail communication was on the rise, yet the respondents reported spending less time participating in online chat, online forums, and online games than in the previous year.

When Goldhaber (1997) proposed the concept of “attention economy,” he argued that attention, but not other material resources, was the truly scarce commodity in the new media age. Attention is inevitably tied to physical time, and given that there are only 24 hours in a day, the competition for our attention is bound to be a zero sum game. In this study, the Internet notably captured more attention than other media.

Given that the data were self–reported, and may have been inflated or deflated, they should not be taken at face value. In fact, when adding up the amount of time that the respondents claimed to spend on each media, the total is 7.61 hours. Although this may suggest that young people are heavily immersed in media in their everyday lives, it may alternatively imply that they engage in multitasking, and pay attention to various media simultaneously.

This limitation notwithstanding, the findings do indicate changing patterns of media use. The most recent territory–wide survey of youth and the media in 1999 found that young people spent an average of two to three hours watching television (Leung, 1999). Although it is hardly a comparable dataset, the present survey charts a drop in the average viewing time to 1.68 hours. In the 1999 survey, the respondents spent an average of two hours on the Internet every day, whereas the figure in this survey was 2.93 hours. These two sets of figures suggest that there has been an apparent shift from traditional mass media to the Internet.

Passive consumers versus active prosumers

The advent of Web 2.0 technologies has prompted many observers to envision the emergence of a “participatory culture” (Burgess and Green, 2008), with new terms such as “produsers” and “co–creators” (Bruns, 2008) and the already established term “prosumers” reflecting the high expectations of the potential of the new media environment. The explosion of “town hall discourses” on the Internet during the recent U.S. presidential election has led many to hope for the creation of a more civic–minded younger generation (Levy, 2008). However, contrary to these optimistic analyses and forecasts, this study finds that although there have been more diverse forms of participation, there is little evidence that young people are actively exploiting the potential offered by the new media.

This study examines four dimensions of media use to determine whether young people in Hong Kong fit the popular stereotype of active Internet users. The dimensions include their reasons for going online, their information management, their production of content, and their collaboration and sharing activities. About one–third of the respondents stated that they went online for entertainment purposes, whereas only seven respondents out of a total of 649 claimed that they went online to produce content. The Internet is clearly treated as a source of entertainment, and in this regard is little different from other traditional media outlets. By the same token, Internet users are no different from traditional audiences or consumers.

A substantial percentage of the respondents (27.7 percent) cited “searching for information” as their primary reason for going online, yet given the findings on RSS, first Web page visited, and most–visited news websites, it is highly unlikely that they were familiar with information management tools and related skills.

In terms of the production of content on the Internet, which is an important indicator of prosumption activities, the results give a mixed message. Blogging was found to be a common practice, although many admitted that they did not make frequent updates, but sharing videos on YouTube was even much rarer. Among those who did share videos on the Internet, the videos that they uploaded tended to be productions from their own video cameras or mobile phones. Yet the number remained to be small that it lent little support to the claims of prosumption here.

The same conclusions can be drawn regarding the much celebrated activity of collaboration on the Internet, as exemplified by Wikipedia. Again, the majority of the respondents had never participated in such collaborations, although the trend was reversed when the focus was the sharing of photos. The respondents were clearly much more used to participating in photo sharing, which is more about communicating about the self than producing new content for use or exchange.

Contrary to the common rhetoric about Web 2.0 technologies and youth culture, the survey found that passive consumers, rather than active prosumers, still constitute the majority in the supposedly participatory new media environment. The evidence for a remarkably different “digital generation” is also scant in this particular sample of Hong Kong youth.



Directions for further research

This study was designed to collect updated data on the media use of youth in Hong Kong and to identify the defining characteristics of groups such as prosumers and produsers. The findings are therefore mainly descriptive in nature and only manage to suggest a few possible indicators for prosumption. Future research should aim at recruiting young people who do engage in such activities for more contextualized perspectives about prosumption.

This limitation notwithstanding, the study has found strong relationships between gender and media use patterns and participation in online activities. Female young people spent more time watching television but less time on the Internet than their male counterparts, and the chance of boys not owning a blog was higher than that among girls.

It is also noteworthy that economic status was found to be a factor influencing media use, with respondents reporting facing difficult financial situations at home spending considerably more time online than respondents from other economic backgrounds. This may be due to the limited choices that these respondents had to engage in other activities, as Internet surfing is less costly than many other extracurricular activities. If young people from poorer families do stay online longer than their better–off counterparts, then it would be worthwhile to identify the implications and consequences for youth and education policies.




The most recent territory–wide survey on youth and media use in Hong Kong was conducted in 1999. In the ensuing decade, the media environment has undergone a rapid and almost unimaginable alteration. Among the many changes that have occurred, the emergence of a great many opportunities for users to participate, collaborate, and create in the new media environment is often celebrated. These opportunities are often viewed as catalysts for change in creative and cultural practices, business development, and civic society. This optimism is at times greeted with skepticism or pessimism, and hence there is little consensus about what the new media will bring. Both sides are in need of empirical evidence to initiate an informed debate.

This study targets a group of young people in Hong Kong. The focus on young people is a direct response to frequently made statements that cast young people as digital natives and members of a new media generation. By identifying four related dimensions of media use, this study attempts to refine the concept of prosumption and concludes that, contrary to popular rhetoric, young people are far from active users or prosumers in the new media age. Instead, they go online mainly for entertainment purposes, are not familiar with information management tools, and tend to rely on Yahoo! for information and news. They blog infrequently, but rarely take part in the sharing of videos on sites such as YouTube, and are more used to sharing their personal images than collaborating with others to share knowledge. In other words, there are few signs of active prosumption among young people in Hong Kong.

Although one cannot reject the notions of the old and new media generation solely on the absence of active prosumption, there are certainly grounds for guarding against the tendency to overstate the agency of youth in the new media. More effort should instead be put into identifying the forces that favor or hinder young people from making full use of the otherwise promising brave new digital world. End of article


About the author

Donna Chu is Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong.



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Appendix I: List of participating schools.
Name of schoolSingle sex/Co–edMedium of InstructionLiberal Studies Subject
Queen’s CollegeSingle sex (M)EMIYes
Ying Wah Girls’ SchoolSingle sex (F)EMINo
Kowloon Technical SchoolSingle sex (M)CMINo
True Light College (Aberdeen)Single sex (F)CMIYes
Po Leung Kuk Lee Shing Bik CollegeCo–edCMIYes
Po Leung Kuk Centenary Lee Siu Chung CollegeCo–edEMIYes
Po Leung Kuk Mrs. Ma Kam Ming Cheung Fook Sien CollegeCo–edCMINo
Ho Fung CollegeCo–edCMINo
Buddhist Wai Yan CollegeCo–edCMINo
Fanling Tin Ka Ping CollegeCo–edCMIYes
Tuen Mun Tin Ka Ping CollegeCo–edCMIYes



Editorial history

Paper received 3 December 2009; accepted 25 January 2010.

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“In search of prosumption: Youth and the new media in Hong Kong” by Donna Chu 製作,以創用CC姓名標示-非商業性-禁止改作 3.0 香港 授權條款 釋出。

In search of prosumption: Youth and the new media in Hong Kong
by Donna Chu.
First Monday, Volume 15, Number 2 - 1 February 2010

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