Read This: It’s Complicated, by danah boyd

danah boyd really understands how teens interact with technology.

danah boyd really understands how teens interact with technology.

If you are a parent, teacher, or anyone who may come into contact with kids you need to read It’s Complicated by danah boyd (she leaves it lowercase intentionally). danah is a principal researcher at Microsoft, a professor at NYU, and one of the few voices of reason out there when it comes to kids and technology. She spent several years travelling the country and interviewing teens before writing this book. The aim of her research is to to see how teens are integrating  technology into their everyday lives, and how doing so shapes their interactions with the outside world.

Far too often you encounter reports about the dangers of the internet today. Many of the fears that are voiced – those regarding bullying, addiction, and online predators for instance – while serious, are far from the epidemics they are often described as. boyd is able to create numerous talking points regarding teens and the internet without resulting to such sensationalist tactics.

“Teens are passionate about finding their place in society. What is different as a result of social media is that teens’ perennial desire for social connection and autonomy is now being expressed in networked publics.” (8)

One of the first concepts boyd introduces is that of the networked public. She essentially argues that the places where teens socialize change over time as technology and society introduce or force new ways for them to network. When she was teen the mall was the primary location where teens networked, but due to changing social norms, parenting, and outright fear-mongering kids today don’t have the same level of freedom as she once did. On the most basic level, kids are really not that different than they were 20, 40 or even 60 years ago. They crave a space where they can carve out their identities, test boundaries,  build friendships, and socialize.

However, boyd points out that teens movements today are more restricted than ever before – by parents, legally imposed curfews, and even mall policies. These restrictions, coupled with the availability of online tools, push teens to create news forms of networked publics. She breaks down the issues surrounding this shift into 8 clear chapters, which can be read sequentially or on their own. As I saw it, the crux of her argument is best laid out in her own words:

“…the mere existence of new technology neither creates nor magically solves cultural problems.” (156)

The key here is that teens’ use of the internet should not be demonized or ignored. The internet is no panacea, but it can hardly be seen as the source of all that ails society. Instead, the internet and teens interactions with social media serve as a kind of bellwether, reflecting troubling trends that already exist in society. We, the adults in these teens’ lives, should use their interactions with this technology to create entry points into talking about real-world issues. When we see teens struggling online we should pause and look at the other issues which may have led to this point, rather than taking away their phones or disconnecting the internet.

If you’re intrigued, I highly encourage you to either read the book or listen to boyd discussing this on a podcast (link below). boyd addresses all of these issues in far more detail than I do in this post, but I don’t want to ruin the experience of reading this great book for you, Once you read it, I look forward to hearing what you think about it.

New Books in Sociology covering danah boyd, “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens”

New Books in Technology Podcast: danah boyd interview

It’s Complicated [full book, pdf]

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