Monday, November 9, 2009

a public display of temporary insanity

Identity, socializing with peers and dealing with power relations, are three core topics of dannah boyd’s investigation of social media and teens in Taken Out of Context.

Three key occupations with the teens I have known (including myself) were determining identity, socializing with peers and maneuvering within the power structures whether it’s parents or those in positions of control. It's really no different now than in the past, except there are greater media options and easier virtual access for teens that have the tools. Teens are smart and they know how to use them to get what they want!

Don’t you remember? It's been a while since I was a teen but I still remember how crazy it was. I saw it was a time of temporary insanity. I was constantly trying to be different, unique, individual. I crafted my look from head to toe. I was constantly seeking to achieve a specific look that reflected who I was, inside and out. I even made my own clothes (not very well, I might add). Every decision I made was not complete without a little drama and angst.

Social networks such as FaceBook provide teens with a virtual environment to explore, experience and socialize with others while trying to determine their place in the world. The teenage years are a painful stretch of time when you are trying to figure out who you are, what you represent, and where you stand. You have to go through this seemingly endless maize of painful choices, dicey decisions and foul relationships in order to figure out how to get along with others and live harmoniously in the world with others.

Social networks are just one more way to engage with others. Whether it's with friends or special interest groups, people want to find some way to connect. Teens have always found ways to meet others, whether it is sneaking out a two story window or using FaceBook, texting, IM or other social media tools to socialize, they find a way. They gossip, flirt, collaborate, or just trash each other. It's a time of risk.

“Social media includes systems that support one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to many interactions. Practices, including communication, collaboration, information dissemination, and social organization.” (page 92) Tools such as these can provide a means for teens to make a difference as well. Yesterday, I heard a news story about two teenagers in California, collaborated with their community using social media to organize, gain support, and develop parks and walkways to combat obesity. Social networks expand the ability to communicate and offer ways to form groups. In this instance, media and social networks provided teens in the community an opportunity to drive social change.

Yes, there are fewer places for teens to hang out. There is greater fear of predators. There is greater awareness when abuse occurs. Parents and adults are more cautious for their teen’s safety. Parents and adults sometimes have to take control. I have been in both position, being a naïve teen and being the heavy-handed parent, and neither side is clear cut.

As a teen you need space to grow, learn, and make mistakes. FaceBook is a social networking vehicle for a teen to reach out, find others with common interests. But it is also one more place for freaks and perverts to find that innocent one who is lonely and needs a friend. As a result parents live in fear and come across as control freaks.

As a teen, I was stupid enough to hitch-hike. I hopped in the car with a whack-o and I am lucky to say, I escaped. There is reason for fear. I warned my children to beware. I don’t think it is a bad thing to be cautious.

Also, when you are teen, you think you are invincible. You want to experiment and explore. Social media allows you another possibility to do this.

It was disturbing to me that dannah had such easy access to teen profiles. She was able to do a random sampling and gain access to a large population of teens so easily. If she can gain access, doing research for sociology and cultural reasons, what about those who are not so socially minded?

I don't know too many teens that have everything figured out. I don't know too many adults that do for that matter either. So dannah boyd's investigation of teens exploring their identity, socializing with peers, and struggling with power issues while fluidly using social media tools and virtual environments presented interesting but predictable results, to me.


Gary said...

I'm one who thinks that social media are by far safer places for teens to congregate than public places, given the easy access to guns. When I was in high school, we drove around throwing water balloons at people, until one of those soaked by a balloon went home at pulled a deer rifle out of the closet and threatened us. I'm afraid today the gun might have been an immediate response. The online gathering places aren't without their problems -- particulary with harassment -- but I worry that real world meet-ups harbor opportunity for greater harm.

April said...

I agree with Gary, that social media sites are safer than public places (for the most part). However, the fact that Dannah could gain such easy access to so many profiles is somewhat disturbing. It just goes to show that regardless of how safe you may think an environment or outlet is, as a parent, one must still be aware and alert to the potential dangers involved in all aspects of a child's life.

Jax D. said...

Safety seems to be a relative thing. I don't know if we are in a more dangerous space really than there was way back when. I wonder how much of the media and it's immediateness is really something that has pushed more things out to the limelight than before. We can look at examples of old wars and new and old stories and new. These are tangents though.

The social networks are interesting in the sense of privacy is something that is considered by only half the population but those that do see it and adjust their profiles. Those that adjust their privacy settings do it for the reasons of rebellion more so than safety. What do we consider safe? In the age of identity theft this opens a person more to identity than it does to physical or mental harm. Even then there have been cases of harm bad enough from abuse on the social networks where self-action has been taken as well.

John Kay said...

“Predictable” is an appropriate word to describe her findings, although I did not know the differences between Facebook and MySpace because I have used only Facebook. Your testimony about “hopping in a car with a whack-o” demonstrates that “stranger danger” existed offline (that is, that the “whack-o” did not use social media to entice you). Gary’s example is that his son was called by someone who used this teen’s social media site to find him. BTW, I’m glad that you escaped. I’m sure that your teen has heard this story.

kristalbrook said...

Isn't what is considered "safe" more about control. Parents see children abducted or molested and what a tangible thing they can do or blame in order to keep their children safe. Its easier to blame myspace for kids running away than to look at pscychosocial issues.

Anonymous said...

I agree with it all being predictable. I find that social media has the ability to open the doors to a lot of social site wrong doing, but the reality of this is parents have access to monitoring what goes on the computer.