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Customer Review

34 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important book by one of today's best scholars of digital culture, February 4, 2014
This review is from: It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (Hardcover)
For anyone who has been following research around youth and social networks over the past decade, this book has long been awaited. boyd has been and remains one of the most important cultural scholars of her generation, someone who is deeply grounded in the everyday practices around new media, someone who herself speaks as a member of the first wave of the so-called "digital natives" (a concept she deftly critiques and dissects throughout this book), someone who has been actively involved in public policy debates, who has developed a deep and intimate understanding of the lives that young people are living in the digital age, and someone who, through her vantage point at Microsoft Research, is on top of the cutting edge developments coming out of the digital industries. In short, she's the best possible person to write a book like this, and the book she has produced does not disappoint me in any way.

The book is a consolidation of danah's greatest hits through the years -- building upon her early work that sought to explain what distinguishes online social interactions from earlier venues where teens hung out and cut the crap with their classmates, taking us through her startling discoveries about various forms of segregation within online communities, and into her more recent work on bullying and harassment in cyberspace or her growing interest in understanding how youth manage their privacy while dealing with the range of unintended eyes that often are reading everything they post online. Each of these contributions to the field were significant on their own, but they gain greater clarity and resonance when read against each other across the flow of this book. I want to get this publication into the hands of every teacher, parent, policy maker and journalist in the country because she is so thoughtful in her analysis and so adept at skewering the most common misunderstandings and anxieties about teen's online lives. Make no mistake about it -- she's on the side of the young people and takes seriously their struggles to carve out a space for socialization, exploration, and learning at a time when their access to physical spaces has diminished beyond tolerance. She tells their stories across the book, often with a real gift for compelling personal narratives, and then helps to situate those stories into a much larger social and historical context.

The focus on history is especially striking throughout the book: she refuses any and all forms of digital exceptionalism. She walks a careful line, recognizing why many have celebrated the emergence of new forms of participatory culture, even as she also cautions against a too nice, too pretty picture of what teens actually do on line. There's not much sentimentality here -- not about teens or about the net culture -- but there's enormous sympathy and quite a welcome dose of calm rationality. One by one, she tackles the big topics and in each case, subjects them to thoughtful analysis: this does not make the problems go away but it also insures that we do not blow them out of proportion as she notes happens often with sensationalistic media get ahold of these topics.

For a book called It's Complicated, she makes her arguments in the most straight forward way possible, even as she remains attentive to the nuances and complexities that scholars love to wallow in. She is familiar with and draws upon the highest quality scholarly research: indeed, she has collaborated with many of the top figures in the field; but she feels no great need to mystify and astound the reader with her arcane knowledge. Instead, she adopts a "just the facts" tone that increases dramatically her authority and credibility. She tells stories that are apt to connect directly to the lived experiences of our current crops of students and she does so in a way that they might actually read and comprehend her core insights.

If I am asked to think of comparable books, I would need to identify writing that has the same scholarly authority and public-facing posture. I suspect the clearest points of comparison might be to John Palfrey and Urs Gasser's Born Digital, Lynn Scofield Clark's The Parent App, Howard Rheingold's Net Smart, or the Digital Youth Project's Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out. Each of these books has made a huge contribution to the public dialogue around these issues, each focusing on a different segment of people who have been concerned by education, learning, and social life amongst teens being raised in a culture so dominated by digital and mobile technologies, yet taken as a whole, these books represent the most sensible and grounded writings to emerge around this topic. She remains attentive to the diversity of youth experiments, drawing on a rich array of exemplars through which to explore her core concerns, and sometimes digging deeper into some of the key stories that get told and retold about digital life, always discovering that there is much more going on here than popular representations might suggest.
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