Blog Post

danah boyd "Youth Generated Culture: Growing Up in an Era of Social Media"

Following is my unfiltered liveblog of danah boyd's talk: "Youth Generated Culture: Growing Up in an Era of Social Media".  I hope HASTAC folks will find this a useful synopsis. You can also find out more about danah at her blog:

danah describes her work primarily as ethnography, which occurred at many live sites around the country, plus she looked at 10K+ MySpace profiles and lots of blogs.

What constitutes a social network site?  First, the profile.  Misrepresenting age (only birth year, not birthday) and location on profiles is the assumed way among teenagers to remain safe or anonymous.  But that information can easily be gleaned via wall posts (wishing that person a Happy 16th Birthday), information such as high school and where their friends are located.  

Second is the friends list.  Teens often add anyone and everyone (all you know or interact with and those you don't, like celebrities), except parents.  danah considers the friends' list as an audience.  The "Top 8" takes this to an extreme by choosing from among that audience whom you want to portray as your absolute best friends.

The third is testimonials/comments/wall.  Adults often wonder why there is so focus on this when it produces so little; danah considers this "social grooming."  She argues that hallway conversations from day-to-day have about as much content.  Now that many adults are on Facebook, they don't use the wall in the same way, except for the yearly Happy Birthday wish.

Fourth are status updates, or microblogging.  Broadcasting what's on your mind or what you're currently doing is about awareness, primarily self-.  Twitter is the result of this; teens do use this, though not en masse.  The use by celebrities of Twitter is about cultivating the cult of celebrity, in a sense.  Teens often tirelessly send @replies to many celebrities, hoping for a response.

Regarding teen engagement, the ubiquity of social network sites means that for teens, "if you're not on it, you don't exist."  The parallel from danah's teenage years is the mall, where teenagers felt you "had" to be there to have any social value. Similar to the mall, that's where teenagers go to hang out; danah poses the question, "Why don't they do it in person?" She found that many of them are not allowed out of the house, due to perceived fears of crime, plus most teens don't live in walking or biking distance from their friends even if they are allowed outside and most of their time is structured.  There is a strong preference for "hanging out" in person, but online interaction is a substitute when that isn't possible.  

On privacy, teens often go online to find privacy, because they do not consider their homes a private space.  Certainly they do care about privacy, unlike the common assumption among parents.

Networked publics have many affordances: persistence of information and exists long after its creation.  This is great for asynchronous conversations, but not in other ways.  Also, replicability: content can be duplicated often, and there may not be an obvious distinction between the original and the copy (following the "copy-paste literacy" of new networked publics).  Searchability can be used against you if someone you don't want to find you or your data may be able to reach your information anyway. Scalability means that content can often be accessed through search, whether you want it to or not. How does a teen balance the desire for attention with too much or the wrong kind of attention?

The audience online is often invisible, both because they may not be there at the same time as the producer or each other, and that it's not always recorded when someone views what you produce.  Collapsed contexts entail the lack of boundaries that separate social contexts, like a wedding (danah's example) in which people from many spheres of your life are placed in the same room and (perhaps uneasy) interaction occurs. The blurring of public/private can be disrupted by technology, as well, with implications for all of these.  

Regarding danah's research on Facebook and MySpace, I invite you to see the videotape of her talk to get the full quotes from teens, but in brief there was a shift from MySpace to Facebook for some groups, leaving some to "stay behind." Notions of adultness, economic class, and maturity are also bound up in what is, for many, a conscious decision on which of these social networkss to occupy, rather than both.  Questions danah raises on this include: if college recruitment occurs on Facebook, who are they leaving out? If the New York Times declares "MySpace is dead" when numbers of members are still comparable, what isn't that reporter seeing?

Regarding learning, danah is arguing that technology and social media need to be part of the system that brings learning about learning to kids more often.  Technology is nearly ubiquitous in formal educational backdrops, but needs to go beyond that to every place that kids learn.  Young folks as a whole are unaware of Web 2.0 tools like but primarily are using "digital word-of-mouth" like IM.  Thus, opportunities exist to introduce teens to more, by, e.g., teaching with Wikipedia rather than against it (not exactly a new idea if you've been on the HASTAC site for a while).  In conclusion, danah asks for those opposing this technology to consider whether is it the technology itself, or the things that it makes visible that we may not want to see?  Also, we must look at these spaces as not only networked publics, but also as a series of publics rather than those that exist in vacuums.


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