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American Dream 2.

0: How the Internet Generation Defines and Pursues the American


Dream

Nicholas Young
Sonoma State University
Professor Sheila Katz
December 18th, 2009
American Dream 2.0: How the Internet Generation Defines and Pursues the American
Dream
Nicholas Young

The Internet generation are the group of individuals between the ages of 18 and 28 who

grew up with the Internet as an increasing presence in their life. The goal of this research is to

explore what the American dream means to this generation, as the Internet begins to take a

greater role in society. Ten Internet generation members were interviewed, five in-person and

five online, about their definition of the American dream, their Internet use, and their thoughts on

both subjects separately and how they interact. Their definition of the American dream focuses

on the separation of the “mass American dream” that everyone should follow that promotes

wealth, and the “individual American dream” which is different for everyone, but tends to

promote social welfare, helping others and making your own definition of success. Even as the

Internet becomes more vital to achieving the dream through information, education, and

opportunities, the actual dream becomes increasingly irrelevant.


Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Literature Review 2

Methodology and Data Collection 11

Analysis Procedure 13

Discussion and Analysis 13

Conclusion 28

Demographics Tables 32

Reference List 33
What is the American dream? It is possibly many things for many people, it may have

changed over time, it may be permanent as the world changes around it, it all depends on who

you ask, when you ask, and even how you ask it. That's the goal of this research, to explore what

the American dream is to a specific group of people, a sample of individuals from a group that is

moving towards becoming the top of the hierarchy, the Internet generation. This generation,

born in the mid 1980s until the early 1990s grew up in a time when technology was shifting,

television and telephones were in most homes and were very commonplace, but a new

technology was coming. The personal computer had been etching its place since the 1980s,

becoming smaller, cheaper, and easier to use as the technology got better. Along with this

personal computer evolution was the beginning of the Internet, an information superhighway.

This generation was the first to have the Internet in most of their homes from an early age, or

easy access to it in school or elsewhere. They grew up with and they have experienced it first

hand for the first time. This research seeks to understand how these men and women use the

Internet and how they view the American dream, a concept much older than the Internet but one

that could very well depend upon it for its continued existence.

There is no correct definition of the American dream, it is an ideology rooted in the past

that has changed over time to fit the needs of those who believe in it. However, what ever the

definition may be at the time, it still posses similar aspects of the ideologies. These aspects were

laid out in Jennifer Hochschild's (1995) book about the American dream and how it relates to

class, race, and gender. She called them tenets, but they are also aspects, and there are four of

them. These tenets are based on the American dream as success and they answer questions about

that success. The first tenet asks who may achieve success, which the answer is that everyone

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may pursue success and therefore pursue the American dream. The second tenet explains that

everyone may anticipate success, answering the question of what does one pursue, success. The

third tenet asks how one pursues success which is answered that success, and by extension the

American dream, is gained through one's own actions and efforts. And the final tenet defines

success as something that is virtuous and worth pursuing, answering the question of why. And

with this virtuous definition of success comes a sinful definition of failure.

When this research study was begun, the initial goal was to explore the relationship

between Internet use and the American dream, if either had an impact on each other. But as it

begun, the research began to change. There was no way to measure the relationship between the

two as it became apparent that the American dream lacked a cohesive definition among this

group in which to measure impact from. This is when the researched shifted to the subject of the

definition and pursuit of the American by this Internet generation. This group was showing that

defining the dream was something of a difficult task for them, highlighting the new goal, to

explore how and why this generation defines the dream the way they do, and how that definition

is ultimately pursued, if it is even relevant at all.

Literature Review

The Internet and the American dream are two ideas that have no been compared to each

other in sociological research or literature until this research. The Internet is very new, an infant

compared to other information and communication technologies such as the radio and television.

It has existed in some form since the 1980s, but the current version of the Internet, with its focus

on social media, personal connections, and a seemingly limitless free exchange of information, is

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a fairly recent phenomena. This new focus of the Internet means the sociological literature is

very limited to a basic understanding, but the field will soon discover its importance to the study

of society. That is the purpose of this review, to gather the limited existing research to create a

backdrop for this research, which hopes to put the sociological research in a new direction of

understanding.

There are two categories in which the Internet and the American dream intersect quite

nicely that are relevant to this research, inequality and identity. These two are so called social

implications of the Internet by DiMaggio, Hargittai, Neuman, and Robinson (2001).

Additionally a third category that is relevant to the American dream in the literature but only

related to the Internet via this current research, is the idea of education, specifically a college

education.

Inequality and the Internet

The Internet can be seen as a force against inequality because it provides access to all

information freely to all users provided they have access to the Internet, but because not all can

afford or gain access to the Internet, it also perpetuates inequality. The Internet is a subscription

service in the United States, requiring users to pay monthly fees for the service in their home.

This is comparable to other such services like cable television and telephone service, which also

have an inequality of availability, while services like radio and over-the-air television only

require a one-time cost of buying the receiver (DiMaggio et al. 2001). This creates an inequality

between those who can afford access and those who cannot, the digital divide.

The National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) published a

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report in 2000 that showed that while Internet access has grown in the United States, only 41.6%

of all households have Internet access. There is a further divide between income levels with

lower income households having access in 12.7% of households and medium income households

having access in 34%. The divide spreads to races, with African Americans and Hispanics

having 23% household access compared to whites who have 46% and Asians and Pacific

Islanders who have access in 56% of households. Over time there may be an increase in access

in all these households, but the trend seems to pointing towards a widening digital divide (NTIA

2000).

Despite the digital divide, the Internet is a potential source of empowerment for minority

groups when they are given regular access. When low income families were given free access to

a computer and Internet in their home, they used it in a way that was relevant to their current

situation, such as looking up information on buying a home, finding a job, and helping their

children with school (Mehra, Merkel, and Bishop 2004). They also gained valuable skills in

using the technology which could be used to get a job in addition to passing on the skills to their

friends and family through educating them about the use of the technology from their own

experience. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals found power on the Internet

through the distribution of information between rights organizations and mailing lists to develop

support networks. Through mailing lists these individuals could spread information between

themselves freely and easily (Mehra et al 2004). Finally, black women gain power through the

Internet by having a resource available to them in which to find information without relying on

the help of others. The Internet as an information tool for them acts as sign of independence

from librarians and such who may make them feel helpless. The Internet itself isn't the

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empowering source, instead the use of the Internet integrated into everyday life and combined

with social organizations can have an empowering effect.

Identity and the Internet

The key to understanding identity and the Internet is the concept of creating an Internet

identity. That is, an identity that exists online, a version of one's self that is used while on the

Internet. This identity may be the same as one's in-person identity or it may be different

throughout the different places one visits online. No matter how it differs between place to

place, an Internet identity exists and an understanding of this concept is necessary in

understanding why it is important.

In a study of individuals who visit an online community called Cybertown, it was

discovered that a community that was very similar to those found in the real world was

established online, in the same format of a small town (Carter 2004). While online, the residents

of Cybertown interacted with other individuals just like how they would in real life, creating

friendship and kinship-like bonds. This type of social interaction is seen as a positive by the

residents of Cybertown who felt like the interactions were based on intimate details of the

individual rather than visual cues such as appearance. To quote one resident, “I find that we

finally judge people for the content of their hearts rather than by the color of their skin, or other

social and/or economic standing” (Carter 2004:118). The Internet is seen as a safe zone for

identity creation and social interactions that are different than those in the real world.

This safe zone extends to those who cannot find a community in the real world, whether

because that community is exclusive and limited or that such a community would be seen as

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deviant and undesirable in the real world. Such is the case for an online straightedge community

and a community of self-injurers. With the straightedge community, a counterculture related to

punk that follows a drug-free lifestyle that opposes consumerism, finding community online is

the only option for some individuals who cannot find a real world equivalent, as the group is

fairly small and not very widespread (Patrick and Copes 2005). In the real world, the concept of

authenticity is easily shown through visual cues like clothing and tattoos, but without these

online, it is hard for individuals to prove themselves as belonging in the group. This leads to a

creation of an Internet identity that will allow them to interact with the individuals in this

community who share their viewpoints.

Some communities just don't exist in the real world because they can't exist without

complete anonymity, a community of self-injurers is one of those. Self-injury, the act of non-

suicidal harm inflicted upon oneself, is considered a very deviant act in the real world, making

such a community non-existent (Adler and Adler 2008). Instead, those who practice it turn to the

Internet as a place for community and support. While online they defy the label of deviant loner

and band together as a group who accepts each other and their problems and acts a support group

for one another. Online they are free to discuss their problem, their attempts at recovery, any

lapses and can share stories about their lives as self-injurers. These online discussions act as a

non-mediated group therapy session that many of them would not have access to without the

Internet.

Additionally there is the use of personal web pages and blogs as a presentation of self and

extension of identity while online. The early web pages were much more simplistic compared to

what people call their personal homes on the Internet, the Facebook or other social networking

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profiles. But the web pages achieved the same thing. Personal web pages of the past either acted

as a source of information based on the knowledge of the owner or were a personal hub for the

owner. The former, despite its informational nature, much of the time has a section dedicated to

the author where he or she describes themselves in context of the web page and give legitimacy

to the information they provide (Walker 2000). Even when focusing on providing information,

individuals online still set up an identity for themselves to present to the rest of the cyber world.

As social networking begins to take hold, personal web pages have become rarer.

However, there is still a form of the personal page that still exists, weblogs, or blogs for short.

These blogs are online journals which the user uses to post a variety of information relevant to

their identity, beliefs, or interests. One such blog type is the political blog which has gained

popularity recently. These political blogs are a combination of presenting an individual identity

via political opinions and a community identity based in the commentary that users provides on

the blog posts. This blogging leads to creation of a new community online for those who wish to

discuss political opinions freely that they may not have been able to in the past in fear of

backlash. But because the Internet can be anonymous, it allows a greater freedom and larger

community.

This idea of Internet identity is important to understanding the role of the Internet in a

sociological context. There is no way to research and study the Internet in this manner without

considering how identity plays a part. Even the previous idea of inequality can play into identity,

as many of those minority group can develop an identity online that allows them more power,

such as the LBGT groups who use the Internet to gather and distribute information about their

cause.

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The American Dream

There has not been any direct research comparing the American dream and the Internet

that has been found in compiling this literature review. Research on the Internet has been

limited, sociologically, and has been focused more on quantitative studies rather than qualitative,

which are not useful for these purposes. But there are similarities between aspects of both, two

of which have been covered on the Internet side already, inequality and identity. In addition

there is the concept of education and the American dream, one that was brought up during this

research which does not have a literature backing in relationship to the Internet, which is why it

was not covered in the above section.

American Dream and Inequality

The American dream and inequality go together very well in the research, with much

being done on this subject. The Hochschild book mentioned in the introduction to this research

focuses most of its time on the experiences of African Americans as they deal with the American

dream. Hochschild found key differences in the pursuit of the American dream and how much

they believed in the dream between classes within groups of American Americans. Poor African

Americans who were unable to achieve the dream would still pursue it with an earnest effort. In

contrast, middle class African Americans who are viewed as achieving the American dream in

many senses have become disillusioned with the dream, feeling it does not exist despite their

success (Hochschild 1995). There is an inequality in not only achievement of the dream, but

basic belief in the dream among these African Americans.

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Besides inequality in access to the dream, there is also discrimination that is detrimental

to the pursuit of the dream. This discrimination is evident in many minority groups, like

Hochschild's African Americans. But one group that has recently gained an increase in

discrimination, and by extension an exclusion from the American dream, are Middle Eastern

Americans after the events of September 11th. After the attacks, many Americans turned against

people of Middle Eastern descent as targets of their anger, labeling them as enemies to the

country much like the Japanese in World War II. Many Middle Eastern Americans already in the

country before September 11th were afraid that because of the attacks they would lose their

access to the dream, fearing being stripped of their rights based on their heritage (McKinney and

Marvasti 2005).

The Internet, as show previously, could very well eliminate this type of inequality. If the

Internet is used to empower minorities who are discriminated against, they can grab enough

power to begin the pursuit of the American dream once more. Whether this will happen is yet to

be seen, but it is a concept worth studying and one that is covered in this research in reference to

the Internet as an equalizer as compared to other aspects of society, such as education and social

services.

American Dream and Identity

The American dream does not require a singular identity in order to pursue it, rather it

requires bits of identity that fit the ideology and to have faith in the pursuit of the ideology. One

bit is belief in the American dream, such as the belief in the four tenets of the American dream

and the belief in the pursuit of success via one's own actions. This requires an individualist

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identity, one that many Americans do possess. White American workers believe that in order to

accomplish the American dream they must work hard and their success will be come from this

hard work (DiTomaso 2007), something that fits perfectly with the first two tenets of the

American dream as laid out by Hochschild and this research, that the dream can only be pursued

by the efforts of one's own actions and success will be gained if one works hard enough.

This individualistic identity seems to go against the community identity that pervades

many of the places on the Internet, such as the ones covered in this research. But despite these

examples, it is safe to assume that Americans hold onto their individualistic ideals when online,

bringing the individualistic identity that is perfect to achieve the American dream onto the

Internet.

American Dream and Education

The Internet and eduction, specifically the pursuit of higher education, is not something

that has been covered in sociological literature, at least none found for the literature of this

research. But the aspect of education and the Internet came up in this research and it is worth

looking at how the American dream and education are understood from past research on the

subject.

The importance of education to the American dream comes down to the idea of a

meritocracy. Because the dream is based on the belief that if you work hard, you will succeed,

then your success is based on your hard work and your abilities. You gain more abilities via

education, so education is key to accomplishing the American dream if it is believed to be a

meritocratic dream (Johnson 2006). The other idea the American dream hinges on is the idea of

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equal opportunity, but “given that we are born into different families with very different

backgrounds, the system must provide some way to balance our opportunities” (Johnson

2006:274) and that way of balance is providing education. So far education has made itself out

to be the most important part of achieving the dream. The literature shows this with ease and so

will this research. But how does the Internet play a role in all of this?

The literature hasn't gotten there yet, but this research hopes to bring it closer to that

point. In addition this research will hopefully fill some of the other literature gaps regarding the

Internet and the American dream, what the Internet is doing to the American dream, what the

American dream is doing to the Internet. Inequalities, identity and education are just beginning

to look at this wide topic.

Methodology and Data Collection

This research utilized qualitative research methods, specifically in-depth one-on-one

interviews. Ten interviews were conducted with participants between the 19 and 26 age range.

The sample was taken via convenience sampling of fellow students and acquaintances of the

researcher as well some snowball sampling from recruited participants. The interviews were

split into two different types. Five of the interviews were done in-person and the other five were

conducted online via instant messaging chat services. The in-person interviews were audio

recorded and then transcribed for data analysis, while the online interviews were logged by the

chat program and formatted by the researcher for analysis.

All of the participants were between the ages of 19 and 26 with a mean age of 22. There

were four men and six women. All of the participants had at least some college education, seven

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were currently enrolled in school, one had completed college and two others had left college

before completion. All of the in-person participants were located in California, two of the online

participants were located in Texas, one in Florida, one in Arizona and one in Oregon. Six of the

participants were employed at the time of interview. The majority of participants described

themselves as middle class. The full demographics in detail can be found in the tables at the end

of the research.

The reason for conducting the interviews in a split manner between in-person and online

was because of the subject matter. Online interviews provided a wider sampling of individuals

and by conducting the interviews online, the issue of the Internet became much more relevant. It

was safe to assume before the interviews that if the participant was willing and comfortable to

use the Internet to answer questions, then they would familiar and comfortable with using the

Internet. The interviews were done much the same way an in-person interview would be done,

the questions were asked and answered live, giving an opportunity to follow up on questions and

get more qualitative data. Not all of the interviews were done online because in-person

interviews are still the best method at getting qualitative information needed for this type of

research. As much as its relevant, online interviewing is fairly new and untested as a valid

research method. However, from this research it is safe to say that it is useful, though the

researcher would be better to recruit twice as many online participants as he or she would recruit

for the same study to be done in-person, as online interviews tend to fall short on the amount of

information that in-person interviews can provide. The text format has demonstrated itself to be

limiting on expressing the same amount of information someone could express via voice.

Qualitative methods were the only viable method for this type of research. Quantitative

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could potentially be used to gather Internet usage statistics and American dream opinions could

be gauged on a Likert scale, but there would not be as much depth needed to get at many of the

nuances of the American dream that were discovered via this research with qualitative methods.

Interviews are not the only way this could be done, however. An online qualitative survey could

potentially get as much information as some of the online interviews were able to provide.

While you lose the follow-up opportunity, there is possibly less pressure on the participants on

their answers nor is there as much difficulty in scheduling as there was for this research and

online interviews.

Analysis Procedure

All data was transcribed in some fashion, either from the audio of the interview or the

logs taken from the chat programs. These transcriptions were then coded by line-by-line coding

based on the participants answers and then focused coding. A grounded theory analysis approach

was taken when coding, following the techniques laid out by Kathy Charmaz (2006). A first

round coding was focused on exploring and discovery any and every facet of the data that would

be useful for analysis, this included very basic and broad categories and the beginnings of the

later step of coding. The next step was focusing the codes to be more in-depth and analytical,

using active codes such as “defining the dream” to create what are the sections of this final

version. This grounded theory approach was helpful in taking a lot of broad information that

was given in these interviews and focusing it down to something more manageable and pointed.

Discussion and Analysis

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The results of this research were an interesting look into a group of individuals who are

from a generation that knew the Internet since an early age. Not only was the Internet a factor in

their life, but they were most likely raised by parents who grew up in the 1950s or 1960s when

the dream was viewed as more relevant, at least from what the participants recall the 1950s to be

like, in their view. The American dream to them is a concept defined in many ways, but one that

is not as concrete as one would expect and very difficult for the participants to define. This is the

focus of this this research and these findings, on the difficulty of definition demonstrating a

decreasing relevance of the American dream as well as an look into how these individuals view

the dream. In addition to this is the possible impact of the Internet, but overall the use patterns

by these individuals and how they define and describe their use and the Internet use of others, as

they perceive it.

Defining the Dream: Beyond the “Um”s and “I Don't Know”s

The most consistent answer among all of these participants when asked what their

definition of the American dream was a mixture of pauses, vocal thinking, and admitting that

they didn't know followed by their actual answers. These answers developed as they spoke and

as the interviewed moved on. But this early answer colored the way the responses would go

throughout the interview and highlighted the key aspects of the American dream beyond

everything else that came after. Besides the consistent confusion on the definition, the defining

factor of the definition of the American dream was the word success. The American dream

meant success in some form or fashion and that definition varied by participant, the variation that

could possibly linked to their background. This definition of success fell into what I have

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labeled as facets of the dream, aspects of their definitions that highlight what success and the

American dream mean to the participants and this generation as a whole.

Facets of the Definition: The Husband (Wife), The Kids, and the Dog

Achieving the American dream came to the family many times. When describing the

dream participants would use words such as “having the perfect family,” “a really strong family,”

“1.5 kids, having a dog,” and the “atomic family.” Family came up in some form in all the

interviews, showing itself as a very important aspect of the American dream. To have a family

was to have happiness and stability, other important aspects of the dream. Having a family,

however, was not seen as much as a form of success as just something you did while working

towards success. The success came from the happiness the family brought rather than the actual

gaining of a family.

The traditional male-female marriage based family was not the only valid form of family

either. The queer family and other alternative families were also mentioned as parts of the

American dream. They were emphasized as new portions of the American dream, something

that has changed since the 1950s. The reason for the family is the stability that they provide.

Katie, a 22 women defined what she considered a stable household

“where, it can be one or two parent, it can be two moms, two dads, a mom and a dad. It
could even, like, a kid could live her grandparents if their parents are not around. As long
as they're in a good, nurturing, loving environment, you know there's, some sort of
stability for them. I think that's a good, normal, stable household.”

She compares to this to stability in the 1950s which may resemble this family, but certain

elements such as father beating the mother could exist and stability still be achieved. Other

aspects of the family dynamic have also changed since the 1950s, in reference to a woman's role

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in the family. Jess, a 25 year old woman, believes that in the 1950s “a woman would be happy

staying at home and taking care of her family” in opposition to today's world where “a woman

might be happy earning her living... outside of the home.” The idea of a job is another important

aspect of the American dream and one that lends itself more to success than family, which

focuses on stability and happiness.

Facets of the Definition: The Well-Paid Job

This facet of the dream is actually two, having a job and having money. These are the

two that directly play into the ideal of the American dream as success. Success is what the

participants feel is the definition of the American dream. It may not be their personal definition,

and it rarely is, but it is the definition they feel controls others' pursuit of the dream. In fact, the

dream that focuses on money and financial success is one that is viewed in a negative light by

some. Lilah, a 21 year old woman, feels the dream now “is being famous” which she thinks is

“stupid.” 21 year Will questioned why the dream needs to be focused on wealth and why things

like social welfare and helping out those in your community are ignored.

But a job and money aren't always negative. They are viewed as a way to provide the

stability for the family mentioned before. A well-paid job allows someone to provide for their

family and keep that family going, keeping them happy. The old adage is money can't buy

happiness, but in the case of the American dream, it can buy stability which is on par with

happiness in this sense. Melissa, a 22 year old woman defines success as “having a good job,

being able to support a family,” the two are intertwined deeply. So the conclusion that can be

made here is that when a job is taken in the hopes of providing for your family it is seen as good

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and part of the individual American dream. But when the job is taken for the sake of making

more money, to become wealthy or famous, it is seen as part of the group American dream which

is viewed as damaging to society and to the ideology of the dream. There is a conflict between

one's own definition of the dream and what one perceives as the mainstream definition of the

dream, something that will be covered later in this research.

Facets of the Definition: Doing Better Than The Old Ones

Another defining factor of the American dream is the desire to do better than those before

you, especially doing better than your parents. Some participants feel this is the dream that was

given to their parents, which was given to them, and they plan on giving to their kids. It is an

ancestral definition of the dream that changes with the times as what constitutes as better is ever

increasing. Education expectations was a key factor in this facet in 23 year old Melissa's

definition of the dream,

“Interviewer: Would you Say your parents did better in life than their parents did?”
“Melissa: Yeah, because I don't think that neither of my sets of grandparents even went to
college, so my parents both got an AA degree and so me and my sister are both going to
graduate soon with bachelor's and then I'm sure she'll go get her Master's, but then I'm
going to get my Master's.”

There is an escalation of goals that need to be met in order to better than your parents to

achieving that part of the dream. The reason for this, according to Melissa, is the need for more

education to get better paying jobs, harkening back to the job facet of the dream once again.

However, if your parents are already well off and you are self-described as being part of the

upper-middle class, like Lilah describes herself, doing better than your parents isn't as relevant of

a definition and the focus is doing at least as well as them, striving for possibly being better but

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that isn't the main goal.

Accomplishing the Dream: Bill Gates and Grandparents

When asked who they believed to have accomplished the dream, the participants

generally looked back into the past or pop culture. Their parents or grandparents had

accomplished the dream and possibly laid out a foundation for them do so too. Or someone rich

and famous has accomplished the dream, such as Bill Gates, who as one of the richest people in

the world seems like an obvious choice for someone who has accomplished the dream. The two

opinions that differ from this that are worth highlighting are of those of the oldest participant and

youngest participant. When asked who she believed has accomplish the American dream, the

oldest participant Jess responded that “most middle-class Americans and above have

accomplished the American dream. I don't think anyone who might fall into the lower-class or at

poverty level would see themselves as having accomplished their dreams,” this is in contrast to

19 year old Debra's answer to the question, “I don't think anyone has successfully achieved the

American dream. I can't think of a single example.” It is difficult to pinpoint a reason for this

difference, it could be a simple difference between an optimistic and pessimistic world view, or a

case of a member of the younger generation becoming more disillusioned of the dream as time

goes on versus the view of someone who has already graduated college and is working full-time.

But the difference is an interesting contrast between definitions of accomplishment.

How the American dream is accomplished is a different matter, but again certain aspects

became evident among almost all participants and even more so than the definition of the dream

are these aspects linked to one another. There was mentions of education, opportunities,

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motivation, support and hard work. Neither of these are mutually exclusive and in most cases,

they are intertwined.

Working Hard Towards the Dream

The phrase “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is one commonly associated with the

American dream. Some participants brought it up easily, or a variation and some latched onto it

after it was brought up in the interview. It is a widely understood concept deeply rooted in

Hochschild's (1995) third tenet of the American dream, success is achieved through one's own

actions. One must work hard to achieve the dream and they must have the drive and motivation

to continue on while working hard. The idea of motivation comes up most when referring to

those who come from the bottom to work towards the dream, especially immigrants and poor

minorities. Will spoke of his father who grew up in a poor predominately Hispanic area of Texas

who had the drive to get out of his environment and push to be better than that. Will comments

that because of his father's drive and struggle that he “get[s] to live the easy life.” So his hard

work was rewarded with his family being able to live comfortably, not in poverty like he started.

Additionally, Melissa's parents who are now able to support her and her sister as they go to

school, both started at a disadvantage to even getting the basic college education that they did.

The idea of hard work comes along with another important aspect of accomplishing the dream, in

fact it is the most important aspect from the participants interviewed here, as almost all

mentioned it, education.

Education to Achieve the Dream

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Education came up in practically every interview. This may be a case of all the

participants were college educated in some way and more than half were currently enrolled in

school that they may see the value of it. But despite this possible bias, it is still an important

aspect of the dream worth exploring. Education serves multiple purposes towards achieving the

dream. First it provides degrees which are needed to get better paying jobs, leading to more

success, which is the American dream. This is the meritocracy portion of the American dream,

which goes along with Hochschild's (1995) second tenet of the American dream, that everyone

has a chance at success. But not everyone comes from the same background, so how can they

achieve success? Because education acts as an equalizer. Everyone has access to education,

presumably, so now everyone has access to the dream. Melissa values education highly in her

vision of the American dream, the only way she feels she can really achieve it is through her

increasing higher education, from obtaining a Bachelor's degree now and a Master's degree later,

she is setting herself up for higher pay and more success. In reference to the increasing bar of

minimum education raising to a master's she states,

“I know right now everything's changing, it's still some jobs require only a Bachelor's,
but it's slowly changing to everything having to be a Master's, for high qualified jobs to
make the most money, to be able to afford everything, to have a house.”

Education is the key to her vision of the America dream, she spells it out clearly, the education is

needed for the job, which is needed for the money, which gets you the house, which gives you

the American dream. And no matter how you define the dream, education comes into play.

Katie holds a stability definition of the dream and feels education is what people need to gain the

American dream and because education exists, she believes everyone has access to the dream, as

long as they have the motivation and drive,

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“[I]f they want to get an education they might have a hard time doing it, or they think
they can't cause they don't have enough money. But, you know, there's ways to do it. If
they just really, if they really want to do it, they will find a way to get to school.”

Education is the equalizer one must pass through to get through an unequal started to an

equal chance at the finish. If anything is absolutely essential to the American dream, then

education is that. And with the advent of the Internet, education is starting to become easier to

obtain, possibly making the dream easier to obtain, which will be covered in detail later. But

what do these participants who value education so highly and define the dream as success think

of the dream? What do they think the dream has to offer society, is it something worth having or

is it a problem?

Opinions of the Dream

In general, the dream is seen in a positive light. It is something worth striving for, worth

working hard for, and worth the education it takes to achieve it. The American dream is a goal,

one that many can strive for depending on their definition of the dream. The dream is, as the

participants described it, “a sense of hope, something to strive for and “it keeps people moving

forward.” The process of following the American dream is following your dreams, Dawn

describes it as such,

“being able to dream, if you dream the further you'll get, if you're motivated, if you have
motivation from people, you're probably gonna wanna do something, like go out and do
something as opposed to like not doing it because you don't have motivation, and
nobody's telling you 'well you should do really do that because you're really good at it'
and nobody's there to tell you that and so I think that has a lot to do with it.”

The dream provides motivation to work towards a goal, which the goal is the dream. It's

a logical process, you want to achieve that goal and that want for achievement pushes you

21
towards the goal even more. And that's a positive feature of the dream, as it seems to be that the

participants feel that without the dream there as a goal, motivation is harder. Take Dawn's

example above, the dream is part of that person telling you to go out and do something, go out

and do what you like. If the dream wasn't there, that motivation may not be there. And when

you get there, you feel like you have accomplished something. That end point is the other

positive, as both Katie and Sam bring up, the feeling of accomplishment and the fact you are

now living a stable life is one of the goods of the American dream. But it does have its

problems.

The problems with the dream lay in its tenets, if everyone can anticipate success, what

happens if they can't achieve that success. There is barriers to the dream. The participants

described the dream as being most relevant to, the poor, are also those they describe as having

the biggest barriers between them and the dream. There is a sense of hope, but it is seen as a

false hope for some. The ones who have achieved the dream have also set a very high standard.

Lilah makes reference to a kids' television show titled “Jonas Brothers: Living the Dream” which

portrays the lifestyle of successful music artists as the perfect idea of the dream, that combined

with other Disney programming, Lilah remarks, “music is the only thing that a person can do and

be, like have that be worth it, its just, I don't know, a lot of kids' shows emphasize doing the same

things.” The media helps set up an unrealistic dream by “telling people they need glamor,”

specifically young people. This is an extreme case, but the dream is viewed as partially

unrealistic as a whole. The unrealistic nature comes with the idea of a mass dream, a dream that

is constant for all individuals, regardless of their beginnings or life paths. This is the type of

dream Hochschild covers with her book, but this isn't the dream that these participant believe in,

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for the most part.

Mass Dream versus Individual Dream

This is the dichotomy that exists in defining the dream. In the interviews it was

specifically asked what the participants' definition of the American dream. This may have been a

mistake and a better way of asking would be what they thought of when they heard the phrase.

But instead with this question, the idea of someone having their own dream separate from a mass

dream came up often. And more often than not, the mass dream was derided as unrealistic,

providing false hope, and even damaging to society. While the individual dream is seen as

something good, realistic and worth pursuing. The individual dreams are both things the

participants hold close to their hearts and hopes of what how they want the mass dream to

change and the type of dream they want to instill in future generations. Will makes the

distinction clearly, the mass dream is about pursuing wealth, while the individual dream and

what he hopes for the future is “people helping people, community, social welfare, stuff like

that.” Paul, a 21 year old man, has a similar vision for the future American dream that

emphasizes spirituality over everything else. The goal for the dream, for these participants, is to

have it be more personal, more helpful to society, in a way it is more society friendly than their

current vision of what the mass American dream means. This disillusionment with the mass

dream may be the reason why the American has become less relevant.

Decreasing Relevancy of the Dream

The “um”s and “I don't know”s that followed the question of what the definition of the

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American dream is speak more volumes than they do on initial glances. The American dream is

hard for this generation to define. Followed by the frequent mentions of the dream in the past

tense, reference to the 1950s dream, what it was and the current disillusionment opinions of the

dream leads one to believe the dream is no long relevant to this Internet generation. Specifically,

the idea a mass dream is irrelevant and an individual dream is the key. But if it is so

individualized, it is no longer the American dream, it becomes a goal or a personal dream. The

concept of the American dream relies heavily on everyone having it, but if this generation of

participants don't feel they need to follow the same dream as everyone else, it removes the

American aspect of the American dream. What remains of the American dream is the values that

are passed between generations. The current generation received a definition and values of the

dream based heavily on the 1950s and 1960s definitions, and judging by the opinions of these

participants, the values passed to the next generation will be much more individualized, less

mass American dream, and the possible impact of the Internet will come into greater

consideration.

Facebook: The Only Site On the Internet?

The Internet has become a highly social place as it has developed the past few years. The

birth of the social networking site was just a step in the social change of the Internet. Personal

web pages, chat rooms, instant messenger, all made the Internet a more social place. And now

social networking has become to main reason why the current generation uses the Internet so

much. The majority of these participants have Facebook accounts which was the first thing they

mentioned when asked what they do when they use the Internet. It has become an integral part

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of their life, many leaving it open even when not actively doing something on the website, just in

case someone wants to talk to them, as Dawn puts it. Facebook is such a prominent part of their

Internet use, that they are almost hard-pressed to come up with anything else they do while

online. Facebook comes first, then some thought, before finally settling on checking email, or

checking the school website for the students, or other basic things like looking up phone

numbers. Facebook is the Internet, everything that can be done online, for these participants, can

be done on there. And if not Facebook, another social outlet like MySpace or even YouTube.

There is some social use of the Internet, some go to chat rooms or use instant messengers and a

few play games. But both are sometimes the extension of what they do on Facebook. Only one

participant, Ted, didn't have a Facebook profile and instead spent a lot of his social time online in

a chat room or talking with people via instant messenger.

Facebook and other social networks acts as way for the participants to keep in touch with

those they no longer see physically, such as friends from back home or high school

acquaintances. Those that use instant messenger also talk to these same people, but some also

use it to make new friends. Melissa said she had a past in going to chat rooms and talking to

people she didn't know, making new friends. Sam, Ted, and Jess all have used the Internet to

meet and talk to new people, becoming parts of online communities that are populated by people

who have no connection in the real world, much like individuals mentioned in the literature such

as the residents of Cybertown (Carter 2004) or the regulars of the straightedge website (Patrick

and Copes 2005).

Learning with Information Technology

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The other important aspect of the Internet, not surprising for the college student

participants, is the advantage it provides to education. Both in pursuing higher education and the

use of the Internet to further ongoing education. Besides Facebook the college students

participants regularly used the Internet to do their schoolwork, visiting the school website's,

doing all their research online and not even bothering visiting the library, as Lilah explains,

“I don't have to go to the library because all the articles are on the Internet. So for the
school it makes it so much easier because I don't want to go to the library, because its
hard. Well obviously because I didn't learn how to use it, because we have the Internet.
So maybe it's not good. No, it doesn't even because I have my resources. I could use the
library if I wanted to. But, I use the Internet for research for school.”

The Internet provides an easier access to information. Rather than searching for a book

among the shelves or a journal article through a retrieval system, a few key words is all the

student needs and most, if not all, the information they need is right there for them. Anything

can be found online and these individuals know it from using it for so long. They know they

have more knowledge of the Internet than previous generations, lamenting about their parents

inability to do simple tasks online. The fact the Internet is there and they know how to use it for

education and gaining information puts this generation at an advantage for achieving the

American dream, if the dream is made achievable by education, then the Internet is can be vital

to the dream because of its now close connection to education. As Will puts it, “I suppose... it

can only help, it can't hinder, but I suppose it could only help.”

Internet and the Dream

Will's words sum up a lot of what can be said about the Internet in relation to the

American dream. It is at a point where it can only help the dream. There are negatives to the

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Internet, as pointed out by the participants such as the diminishing amount of privacy and those

that abuse the Internet via viruses and hacking, but these are not detrimental to the dream in the

long run. In some ways, the Internet is vital to the dream. At least two participants remarked

that without the Internet they really wouldn't be in school right now and that they learned about

higher education and university more from the Internet than anything else. Katie remarks that

the provided help in high school wasn't help at all,

“[I]f I didn't have access to the Internet I wouldn't have probably applied to any schools
at all, just because I wouldn't really know where to go. But the fact you can just look it
up online and its right there was really helpful. High school really didn't do much as, you
know, as a way of like helping people go to college. Like 'oh yeah you should go,' and
that was it, they didn't tell you like where to go to apply, how to get financial aid, or
anything. I had to figure it out on my own. And luckily the Internet helped me with it.”

And Melissa extensively used the Internet to find information about continuing her education

with a pursuit of a master's degree, using the Internet to look up information about schools and

programs. She did go the more traditional route at one point and “looked at a book that had a

bunch of colleges in the book and all the different social work colleges and stuff,” but found

using the Internet to be easier.

So much stuff is moving online, that to go about the American dream requires use of the

Internet. And if its not required, using it will only make achieving it easier. Which begs the

question if the dream is made easy does it lose its meaning? If one of the key parts of the dream

is to work hard for your goals, would taking the easy route make it less meaningful? Ted

believes one can be lazy and still be living the dream, citing a friend of his who has inherited a

comfortable lifestyle via his parents and who Ted feels is living his own definition of the dream.

So the dream obviously doesn't have to tie completely with the concept of hard work.

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The Internet is also a media form, and media forms tend to impact society-wide

ideologies like the American dream. Media like television and movies have an impact, they

shape the dream to be a certain way. The earlier example given by Lilah about the kids'

television show showing the dream as being a musician, or the bombardment of ads on television

and radio that Katie cites as affecting what the dream is and people's general opinions. So it

should be logical to conclude that the Internet, a new media form, also has an impact. In her

explanation of the impact of ads, Katie also mentions the Internet's impact, especially the ads on

Facebook which bombard her with messages of “how to look or what to do or how you should

be,” this shows the impact the Internet has, as a media form, on the American dream and society

as a whole. As the Internet grows as a media, its impact may also grow.

Conclusion

The Internet generation is one that grew up with the Internet as an available resource and

a large part of their lives. They spend a good portion of their day online in some fashion, usually

on Facebook. Their educational and social lives are linked to the Internet, some having trouble

conceiving how such things worked before the Internet. And by extension, their definition of the

American dream is also linked to the Internet. They define two dreams, a mass dream that

preaches monetary success and fame which is derided as unrealistic and a sense of false hope,

and an individual dream that motivates people to do better, both in terms of wealth and

education, but also in terms of helping society. Their definition of the American dream

emphasizes helping each other to achieve their goals via social welfare or personal help, utilizing

the Internet as a device to extend this help.

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But even with this hope of an individual dream, the current American dream is irrelevant.

In a way my title is both correct and a misnomer. There is a possible American Dream 2.0, the

hope for the individual dream driven by access to the Internet. But the old dream has become, to

use another computer term, abandon-ware. It is still out there and a few people still use it, but

it's become stagnant and no one is developing it anymore. Some still try to sell it, but few are

buying. The pull-yourself-up, house and family American dream are quickly becoming obsolete

while the social welfare, look out for your fellow citizen individual dream begins to take over.

The purpose of this research isn't to find flaws in the dream and propose policy

recommendations, but there is some things that can be recommended for change as a result of

this research. The Internet should be better utilized by social welfare institutions. Some already

use it, as Melissa pointed out some of the resources that the foster care program uses online such

as their own social networking site and online classified ads for cheap items. But all services

should have an online presence equal to that which is available over the phone or in their office.

Internet access should be encouraged and freely available to more people. If the Internet is

becoming such a vital part of being successful in life, it should be accessibility by a majority of

people. The digital divide should not be allowed to continue widening, it should not end up like

the telephone where households without it are stuck below poverty. Finland, among other

countries, has set an example by declaring broadband Internet access as a human right, and it is

at this point (Reisinger 2009). It is vital to living in our society, which means policy around the

Internet needs to be changed and sociology needs to look closely at it as a sociological concept

The research on the Internet is slowly growing, which is good to see. Sociological

research is beginning to move slowly towards qualitative methods of looking at the Internet. It

29
needs to be studied much in the same way media like television is, but with a new eye. It cannot

be compared to television or other traditional forms because of its increased interactivity. The

user actively participates with the Internet, while the television watcher simply passively absorbs

the information. This distinction needs to be made in any research. Additionally, the social

aspects of the Internet need to be researched. A symbolic interaction perspective on the Internet

would be a vital step in better understanding how the Internet impacts societal norms,

socialization, and social interaction. The world is becoming digitized, and that is where future

research also needs to go.

Future interview researchers should probe into the small activities people do on line.

Many will easily speak of using Facebook and email, but to probe into how they use search

engines, what they do to pass time besides Facebook, what information are they seeking out, and

other seemingly minute tasks can provide a great amount of insight into that person. There is a

reason advertisement companies develop tracking devices for online activity. What people do

online is a great way to get to know who they are and this is an approach researchers should take.

Not pry unethically like many of the ad corporations do, but help the participant think about

those things they do. If it is not sociologically of interest, at least it will help the participant

better understand what they do online, which provide them with better insights into their lives

and personalities.

This research is just a small stepping stone into a big pond worth of research worth doing.

The American dream is a concept worth studying and it will continue to be studied, regardless of

this research. But the Internet is the subject that needs a closer consideration. It has the

possibility to impact all areas of society, and all those possibilities must be explored, it is

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necessary for our understanding of society.

31
Demographics Tables

Gender of Participants
Gender
Men 4
Women 6

Education of Participants
Education Level
Some College 2
Sophomore in College 1
Junior in College 1
Senior in College 5
Completed College 1

College Major
Major
Sociology 3
Psychology 1
Human Development 1
Environmental Studies 1
Computer Sciences 1
Not Applicable (Not in College) 3

Employment
Employment
Employed 6
Unemployed 4

Socioeconomic Class
Socioeconomic Class
Upper-Middle Class 1
Middle Class 5
Working/Lower Class 4

32
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