DAVID GREENE, HOST:
NPR News and Youth Radio have been taking a look at the shifting relationship between young people and the automobile. Today we're turning to Youth Radio to find out how social media is changing how teens get around. It's almost impossible, and very expensive, for teens to get a car from the major rental companies, and they're still excluded from short-term rental services like Zipcar, and without a credit card they're shut out of taxi apps like Uber to get a quick ride.
Instead, many teens turn to Twitter, Facebook and Craigslist, seeking more informal car sharing that costs absolutely nothing. As Youth Radio's Bianca Brooks reports, these ad hoc systems can actually delay young people from making their first car purchase.
BIANCA BROOKS, BYLINE: Back in the 1970s, my mom turned 18 and got her dream car.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I got a Super Beetle, silver, with red and black racing stripes and a sunroof with the cassette, AM/FM, in the dash. And you really couldn't tell me much after that.
BROOKS: My mom grew up in the height of American car culture, a time when the way you expressed who you were was by what you drove. And car-themed songs were number one on charts.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAR WASH")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Cars back then meant freedom. And being raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the '70s, when there weren't many boundaries on anything, and I really mean no boundaries as far as sex, drugs, rock and roll, I mean that's where it came from, cars were just like the biggest tool that you had to exercise your freedom to go.
BROOKS: Really, mom? Maybe it's because I've never owned one, but to me cars have always simply been something to get me from point A to B. I take cars for what they are, transportation, and when I try to imagine my dream car, I draw a blank. And then I reach for my phone, because I get my rides through Twitter and Facebook.
EARL BARKLEY: I'd wake up, say, 7:45-ish and say, oh man, I missed the bus, how do I get to school?'
BROOKS: That's my friend Earl Barkley in Atlanta. He used to arrange rides to school using Twitter.
BARKLEY: I tweet, Can anyone give me a ride to school? I'll buy you breakfast. I've done it with strangers and I've done it with friends.
BROOKS: This is how my generation gets around. We call it ridesharing. What do your parents think about you doing this?
BARKLEY: My parents don't really know.
BROOKS: Well, parents, surprise. Lots of us are using Twitter and Facebook to find rides, and not just to school. Now that it's summer, we cyber-hitchhike even more because rides are scarce and parties are plenty. It's awkward to call a friend and ask for a ride, and half the time they'll say, sorry, my car is full. But with Twitter, you just tweet #AshleysPoolParty and look for other people heading the same way.
It may sound risky, but many teens stay within their own social circles to find rides and don't branch out beyond friends of friends when asking on Twitter. For me, I only rideshare with people I know, but to some young people, especially those taking longer trips, stranger danger is less of a concern.
JULIET SCHOR: I think the digital connection of young people is really key.
BROOKS: That's Juliet Schor, sociology professor at Boston College. She studies what's known as the sharing economy. It's popular among young people.
SCHOR: Because younger generations grew up sharing things online, sharing files, sharing photos, sharing music, so they've been very used to sharing.
BROOKS: The sharing economy got big during the recession. It allows people to access more goods and services using technology, while also allowing them to share costs. And that technology, for me, is what the car was for my mom, a gateway to more freedom. It's like my friend Earl says.
BARKLEY: The symbol of freedom isn't the car anymore because there's technology out there that could connect you to a car.
BROOKS: According to the researchers at the University of Michigan, 30 years ago, eight in 10 American 18-year-olds had a driver's license. Today it's six in 10. So it's not that surprising that on my 16th birthday I wasn't rushing to get a license. All I wanted was an iPhone. Professor Schor knows people my age love being connected.
SCHOR: One of the other important things about driving for young people is it means they have to disconnect from their technology, and that's a negative. So if they could sit in the passenger side and still be connected, that's going to be a plus.
BROOKS: To me, another plus is ridesharing represents something much bigger than trying to save money. I see it as evidence that people still depend on each other. My generation shares their cars and apartments the way neighbors used to share cups of sugar. For the system to work, some of us still need our own cars. But until I get my own version of the silver Super Beetle, you can find me on Twitter. For NPR News, I'm Bianca Brooks.
GREENE: And Bianca's story was produced by Youth Radio. Now, when it comes to social media, okay, we're not car, but you can use Facebook and Twitter to catch a ride with us. MORNING EDITION is, of course, airing on our public radio stations. You're listening to us on one of them right now. But you can also find us at the MORNING EDITION Facebook page and we're on Twitter @MorningEdition, @NPRGreene, and Steve Inskeep is @NPRInskeep.
Speaking of Mr. Inskeep, he's away on book leave right now, but I promise you he will be back here in this studio very soon.