Saturday, 11 October 2014

It's Complicated by Danah Boyd

This morning during my non-fiction reading session I finished It's Complicated by Danah Boyd.
 Books are like buses, three all arrive at once.

I enjoyed this book but I'm sure it is of very little interest to anyone who does not work with teenagers using digital media literacy.

The book is basically a research dissertation in whch the author interviewed a considerable number of American teenagers about their use of social media.  Some of the chapters were particularly American, such as the chapter on race and gangs, so didn't really relate to my understanding of networked teens.  However, quite a few chapters were useful and provided some compelling insight into teens' behaviour online.

The overarching conclusion was that to today's teens social media is a public space like the mall or the park.  It is the place to go to meet people, to take risks, to assert independence from adults and to cultivate and develop an identity.  Adults, trying their best to protect teens from online predators and potential future embarrassment, try to regulate and monitor teens online activities, yet the teens themselves will always find a way to bypass these protective measures.

Are teens more at risk online then they were at the park? Are teens more cruel and more likely to bully online than in the school corridors?  Boyd's conclusion was 'not really' although she acknowledges that there will always be some teens who are more at risk than others. She also believes that many of the behaviours we see as risky and potentially embarrassing may simply become rites of passage that this generation consider normal and don't take too much notice of.  Time will tell if she is right or not - in the meantime I will continue to teach about online safety and the digital footprint.  What use the teens make of that information is then up to them.

The chapter which was the most interesting to me was the once considering whether today's youth are, in fact, digital natives.  Boyd concluded that the term was misleading and that kids today, even those born since 1999, who have never known a time without the internet, still need teaching how to understand digital media.  In fact, she believes becoming digitally literate is one of the most important skills they will need (good - keeps me in a job!).  They are not born knowing what to do with a computer and many of them still have limited access to online connectivity.  More important, though, is understanding how the content they see and read and watch online is mediated, how it is biased, how it serves the interests of a few interested in making money.  In other words interpreting digital media is just as complicated, just as necesary and just as compelling as the media has ever been.  Power is still in the hands of the media producers and now that anyone can be a media producer understanding their messages is vitally important if teens are not to be at the mercy of that power.

Overall, a great book for me but unlikely to be much fun for anyone else.

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