It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens by danah boyd

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked TeensIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout danah boyd’s “It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens”, I’m very satisfied with the level of sophistication of boyd’s research and unbiased point of view in her writing.  Her tone is academic, professional and at the same time, approachable.  The three areas that most concerned me during my reading are boyd’s research on the digital divide, online teen behaviour of sexual exploration and her plea for the redefinition of crimes associated with online bullying.

I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with Marc Prensky’s phrase “digital natives” (2005/06) and I am reassured by boyd’s acknowledgement of her own awareness and skepticism of this blanket term.  boyd (2014) talks of social networking as a type of literacy and warns that “It is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed.  It is also naive to assume that so-called digital immigrants have nothing to offer.” (p. 177).  boyd also goes on to say that since teens are in many cases left to fend for themselves in networked environments, that their exposure to becoming fully literate depends on many factors.  She references Henry Jenkins and his thoughts on the subject:

Yet, talk of “digital natives” may also mask the different degrees access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities” (2007).

This paragraph amplifies my own worries that this simple term has excused the education system’s lack of action in lessening the digital divide.  I’m certain that we still promote the use of technology in the classroom as a tool of engagement, rather than seeing becoming proficient with technology as a fundamental requirement for graduation.

In the Ontario curriculum, at least, there is no single mandatory place where students are given a number of digital strategies for studying success, although we know there are consistent issues in any student’s level of preparedness.  Again, in Ontario, technology is not a mandatory part of the elementary curriculum and so students come to secondary with an almost insurmountable range of disparities in their digital backgrounds based on the interest and abilities of their elementary teachers and their home environments with varying degrees of hardware support and exposure.  Along the same lines of boyd’s concerns, Jenkins (2007) goes on to say:

Talking about digital natives also tends to make these changes all about digital media rather than encouraging us to think about the full range of media platforms which shape the world around us or for that matter, the complex set of relationships between old and new media that characterize convergence culture.

This sentence has been the basis of my learning in the TLDL program at the U of A, where I now understand that the crux of my position is to raise the bar for transliteracy for both staff and students. (King, 2014)

A large part of the digital divide that I know teachers are having trouble improving is the use of networked communities to help students.  In many ways administration fears of privacy and legalities have closed the networks for their possible misuses, meanwhile eliminating all possible positive ones.  Although I have concerns for all of our students, I have a particular worry about the LGBTQ population that are getting their information from unreliable sources when they desperately need support as they renegotiate social spaces.  The anecdotes from boyd’s research reassured me that LGBTQ teens are finding each other online and developing supportive communities.  However, boyd warns that “They are grappling with battles that adults face, but they are doing so while under constant surveillance and without a firm grasp of who they are.  In short, they’re navigating one heck of a cultural labyrinth” (p. 53).  I wish that the education system could find or create places, possibly in tandem with social support structures, where teens could create networks to reliable information.  I wish there was a way we could better support this.  I’m not sure what the answer is.

One of boyd’s research topics that particularly affected me is cyberbullying and the complexities in these cases.  Within boyd’s Chapter 5 on Bullying, she references the journalistic research work of Emily Bazelon who covered the case of Phoebe Prince, a teen victim of suicide and reportedly, cyber-bullying.  After linking to Bazelon’s extensive reporting on this case, I found that the law is responding with a variety of consequences to cyber-bullying and that because of the after-school, non-geographic locale of this bullying, that school boards have very little to offer to victims and bullies.  One of her final reports on the case revealed that in the case of Phoebe Prince, none of her aggressors were met with serious consequences.  Bazelon (2011) says:

After more than a year of covering this case, it’s hard for me to square that duty with the way these cases unfolded. “If you bully someone to death, that’s murder,” explained Joseph Kennedy, a criminal law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when I called him earlier this week. “But if you bully someone, and then they kill themselves, and that’s not something you anticipated, that’s not a crime.”

The digital divide is not just between economic classes and about developing transliteracy skills.  Boyd has revealed that the digital divide also includes how living and working as educators in this era of social networking we are not prepared for the consequences of these networks; and we are currently unable to model how to use social networks effectively.

References

Bazelon, E. (2011, May 25). It’s Over: None of the six teens charged in connection with the suicide of Phoebe Prince will go to jail. Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/life/bulle/2011/05/its_over.html

boyd, D. (2014). It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven, MA: Yale University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2007, December 5). Reconsidering digital immigrants… [Blog post]. Retrieved from Confessions of an Aca-Fan website: http://henryjenkins.org/2007/12/reconsidering_digital_immigran.html

King, A. (2014, April 13). Transliteracy and the teacher-librarian [Blog post]. Retrieved from Threadbare Beauty website: https://threadbarebeauty.com/2014/04/13/transliteracy-and-the-teacher-librarian/

Prensky, M. (2005/2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4).

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The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

When Nicholas Carr wrote the infamous article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (2008), he made waves in the education community who had bought into the Marc Prensky vision of today’s students as “digital natives” (2005).  While making impetuous decisions about technology integration in schools, Carr halted everyone into thinking maybe we should be a bit more skeptical about technology’s long term effects on the brain.  Essentially, Carr asks if our depth of thinking has been doomed to ‘the shallows’ with the advancement of digital technology.  He cautions that society has lots of breadth in the sources we have available to us to skim and scan, but that we are losing our ability to read deeply.  Using himself as a research subject, he argues that his behaviour in reading digital material appeals to his need for instant gratification, but has caused to become more easily distracted and more susceptible to the control of information corporations.

I really appreciate how Carr maps out in history how the very nature of reading has changed with advances in technology.  Carr (2011) says: “it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think. They are our most intimate tools, the ones we use for self-expression, for shaping personal and public identity, and for cultivating relationship with others” (p. 45). The argument of the publication’s power has existed since the invention of the printing press … what are we going to publish and with whose voice?  Who is being left out of publishing and at what cost to society?  It’s possible to question this same problem of equity if we admit that “reading and writing are unnatural acts” (Carr, 2011, p. 51) and are shaped by parents, environments and school.  My concern is that in public education in a G8 country, that we need to try to level that playing field so that every student has an equal opportunity to learn.

I read a lot of news and magazine articles from my iPad which I control the flow of information using an app called Zite.  It allows me to turn on or turn off subjects of my interest and filters in my favourite writers, and filters out writers who I deem unworthy of my attention.  I love that every time I connect that there is a magazine filled with articles just for me.  Yet I’m turning into one of those people at parties who can’t talk about anything other than books, school libraries, chiweenies and the humble kitchen garden.  I read a lot but what I read doesn’t represent my renaissance upbringing.  It represents what Amazon has recommended for me based on my past choices, or what my filters have chosen for me in Zite.  However I don’t think that I’m reading any less deeply. I’m able to make big leaps in my intellectual logic, because I’m able to make room in my brain for bigger ideas than the quick facts that I can Google.

In contrast to Carr’s premise, Jim Collins (2013), Department Chair at the University of Iowa, argues that in order to get past “the debate between the defenders of traditional literary experience and the celebrants of digital culture…we need to distinguish between a delivery system and a medium.”  I’m still choosing to read a breadth of material on deep topics, but my reading has definitely changed in that I’m able to now metatag and share my reading with others in a way that I never have before. Collins (2013) also argues that “Reading literary fiction on an e-reader is not a gateway drug that leads to the hard stuff of digital culture — become psychologically dependent on that e-reader, and you’ll find yourself in an alley somewhere with a cell-phone novel written by promiscuous Japanese teenagers sticking out of your arm.”  Although I may be juggling a lot of new information (Carr, 2011, p. 139), I’m also making connections in new and interesting ways. Instead of tapping into a culture of fear about the internet’s potential for corruption, we should be using it to further our culture of reading into something more participatory.

Although Carr wrote The Shallows in 2011, his vision of libraries (p. 98) doesn’t represent my reality in 2014.  In 1994, the main floor of my library was converted to an open computer lab that could accommodate two classes at once and the books were relegated to a new lower level.  We’ve just made a major overhaul in moving the desktops out, the books back upstairs and doubling our computers by using cheaper, lighter mobile devices.  The emphasis isn’t on computers or books…it’s on learning.  Which makes me question once again Carr’s opinions on how schools should scaffold the use of technology?  I am more concerned that students in my community are missing out on technological advances, than if they’re indulging in technology for self-gratification.  Where is Carr’s research on the digital divide?  Does Carr believe as the United Nations does that access to the internet is now a fundamental human right? (Jackson, 2011).

While Carr has some valid arguments, especially those steeped in the rich history of language that he outlines in detail, I don’t want to believe him.  I want to believe that we are in a cultural infancy and that while we may be sacrificing some skills, that new ones will emerge.  Someday I believe that society will use the power of the global internet to solve the world’s problems rather than spending it playing Candy Crush Saga…unless each candy crushed will somehow eliminate poverty and hunger.

 

References

Carr, N. (2008, July 1). Is Google making us stupid?: What the internet is doing to our brains. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

Carr, N. (2013, April 20). The death of deep reading [Blog post]. Retrieved from big think website: http://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/the-death-of-deep-reading

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Collins, J. (2013). Reading, in a digital archive of one’s own. Publications of the Modern Language Association, 128(1).

Jackson, N. (2011, June 3). United Nations declares internet access a basic human right. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/06/united-nations-declares-internet-access-a-basic-human-right/239911/

Prensky, M. (2005/2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4).

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