Rafi Santo: Digital Youth discuss the Digital World
9.4.07 | Joining today’s discussion on Spotlight:
- Lindsay Pettingill from Harvard’s GoodWork Project.
- Mimi Ito from USC’s Digital Youth Project.
- And Carrie James also from Harvard’s GoodWork Project.
As today’s youth engage in the usage of digital media on a daily basis, Global Kids has undertaken projects in which teens use those media to reflect on how new technologies are changing not only their experience but the broader world in which they are maturing.
In April 2007, FOCUS: Teen Voices on Digital Media and Society was launched as a public online forum where teens could voice their own thoughts on the subject. Teens from 26 countries posted over 1,000 messages over the course of the month, debating everything from hate propaganda online to whether online friends are as “real” as offline ones. The full archives of the discussions can be accessed here.
Following the dialogues, an independent report (pdf) was developed that outlined the major themes voiced by the youth throughout the discussions. These themes covered a broad range of ideas, but were distinctly significant in that they were being expressed by youth themselves, rather than by those studying them. One theme represented an acknowledgement amongst youth that the flow of information created by digital media is not only unstoppable, but is in fact fundamental to how society functions. Others spoke to how identity flows from and is expressed through media choices. Still others expressed how online and offline worlds have distinct qualities, but were clear that the same legal, social and political dynamics are at play within both. One of the strongest calls to action, if you will, were conversations in which teens stated that they’re navigating these digital landscapes in large part without the help of their parents.
Throughout the dialogues, Global Kids was in contact with researchers and practitioners throughout the field of digital media and learning, both to help guide the content that the project would address as well as to get feedback after the fact on what was valuable. Below, contributors from Harvard’s GoodWork and GoodPlay Projects, and the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Communication’s Digital Youth Project discuss their thoughts on the dialogues.
From Lindsay Pettingill of the Harvard GoodWork Project:
I was particularly struck by a dialogue about copyright in which one astute youth participant covered the cultural commons, intellectual property, and just compensation for creative work in her postings. Much to my excitement, this participant identified copyright as an ethical issue. Another participant in the copyright dialogue anchored his defense of file-sharing protocols in a Wikipedia-derived definition for theft, reasoning that seizure of digital objects does not impair the original owner’s enjoyment of the object. For those of us studying the new digital media, we’ve heard it all before, but the catch is that few of us have heard this from young people.
Young people are traditionally (and habitually) marginalized from most public discussions, but in the FOCUS dialogues young people were welcomed into the conversation around a defining topic of their generation, and they responded with vigor.
Engagement of the sort demonstrated in the dialogues should be celebrated and supported so that it becomes routine. However, along with engagement considerations of ethics should follow. While not all youth will recognize copyright as an ethical issue in the digital media, groups like Global Kids can help scaffold their understanding of ethics. A great promise of the new digital media is that it is a system composed by the contributions and ingenuity of its users, without which it would cease to be meaningful. It is my hope that the FOCUS dialogues move young people to understand not only the fundamental role that they play in shaping the digital media, but also the very discourses in which the digital media is understood.
From Mimi Ito of the Digital Youth Project:
In browsing the FOCUS discussions, I was drawn to the topics that related to issues of power in youth-adult relations. One example of a lively discussion along these lines was the thread about whether it was appropriate for youths to post a video on YouTube of their teacher losing his temper. Opinion was divided. Reading the debate about whether kids should be allowed to publicize classroom violations in this way was a great reminder of the institutional conditions that young people find themselves in, and the unique perspective on power and authority that it gives them. It was also an excellent reminder about the diversity of perspectives and situations that young people speak from.
(Click here to read the Digital Youth Project’s recent Spotlight series on young people’s informal learning using new media).
Our team followed the FOCUS Dialogues with great interest; we hoped to see the extent to which youth are aware of the ethical issues that come up in their online activities. The dialogues are a shining example of the potential of online spaces to nurture deliberation about a range of social issues, many of them ethically-loaded. The participants demonstrated how youth can critically engage one another in sophisticated debates about complex issues such as privacy, credibility, ownership, and even the larger meaning of their participation in online dialogues.
A key audience for this report should be parents. With so much media hype focused on the perils of online play and the misdeeds perpetrated by or upon youth in virtual worlds, parents need compelling counter-examples of youth responsibility and sensitivity to areas of ethical confusion online. It’s one thing to make the claim - as many scholars do - that youth can be conscientious and reflective about their myspacing, facebooking, gaming, YouTubing, and blogging. It’s quite another thing to demonstrate it.
Leave a comment
Comments are moderated to ensure topic relevance and generally will be posted quickly.