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It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens Paperback – February 2, 2015
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From the Author
The most visible difference is, of course, technology. Many of today's youth have access to tools that allow them to connect to people and information in unprecedented ways. Yet this is not actually the most salient difference between now and the past. Teens today are also more heavily constrained in their mobility, more regulated in terms of their time and activities, and under more pressure than those from previous generations. This means that they have fewer opportunities to socialize in unstructured, face-to-face settings. Technology often serves as a relief valve, allowing teens to hang out with friends when getting together isn't otherwise possible.
What most surprised you from your interviews of teens?
Given the plethora of concerns about social media, I expected to see problems everywhere. I was most surprised to find that most teens had a perfectly healthy relationship with technology and that many of the struggles they faced were age-old issues made more visible through social media. I found that the newness of technology distracted many well-intended adults from helping young people with the challenges they do face.
What topics dominate society’s conversations about youth? How would you change the focus?
Most conversations that focus on teens' use of social mediaand their lives more generallycenter on the risks youth face. While it's important to protect youth from dangers, a society based on fear-mongering is not healthy. Let's instead talk about how we can help youth be passionate, engaged, constructive members of society rather than how we can protect them from statistically anomalous dangers. Let's understand those teens who are truly at risk; these teens often have the least support.
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Top Customer Reviews
Throughout It’s Complicated boyd argues that adults should be less quick to blame technology for teens’ seemingly antisocial behavior. Instead, we should recognize the means it provides adolescents for fulfilling their healthy and desire to socialize with their peers, an essential part of the overarching developmental goal of constructing a social identity. More specifically, teens’ struggle for autonomy leads them to seek out places to socialize in which they are free from adult supervision. Although this is nothing new, today’s teens typically lead much busier lives and face many more restrictions than ever before. As teens’ ability to connect in person has diminished, networked publics on social media provide a means for them to socialize despite this. Free from adult supervision, teens may use social media as a valuable way to learn who they are and how to interact with others. In sum, teens use social media primarily to socialize, and this socialization is not new but a standard and important part of adolescence.
boyd uses each chapter to address various utopian and dystopian views of social media’s role in teens’ lives as well as its role in society. She was particularly effective when addressing the dystopian notion that teens are addicted to social media by expanding on the central argument of this book. She also successfully addressed the notion that teens have little regard for privacy on social media. boyd points out that teens do in fact care about privacy, but it generally involves privacy from adults rather than from their peers. Teens’ online social networks are often analogous to those offline, which can circumvent the issue of context collapse. Even when this is not the case, boyd mentions ways in which teens may create the illusion of being public while only providing their audiences with limited information. The examples she includes from interviews with a diverse sample of adolescents seem generally applicable and relatable to the vast majority of teens, which further strengthen her arguments.
When addressing other dystopian views of social media such as cyber bullying and sexual solicitation, boyd seems to make more dubious and controversial claims. She does not always effectively use interviews to make her case, but instead relies upon anecdotes or interviews describing rare, even extreme circumstances. For instance, she describes one teenager named Sabrina who hardly leaves her house and exercised just as much caution when it came to her online activities; this definitely does not seem like a generalizable scenario. Her sparse use of evidence creates the sense that there are exceptions to commonly held notions about how adolescents use social media, but they do not provide clear and convincing counterarguments. Later on, she describes how teens interacting with adults online often lie by claiming that they are also adults. Although boyd identifies the contributions of social media, these positive contributions do not necessarily preclude the negative outcomes. Despite the shortcomings of these sections, she make the valid claim that social media enables troubled and at-risk teens to vent their problems, to be seen, and hopefully to receive help.
The final chapters in It’s Complicated address the utopian idea that technology would eradicate inequality by fostering the global exchange of ideas and information. boyd makes it clear that this is not the case, and instead posits that social media is yet another source of inequality. She describes how in an age where information and technological skill is increasingly valuable, underprivileged teens are at a serious disadvantage. Not only do these adolescents have limited access to social media which allows them to make potentially useful social connections among achieving other developmental goals, but their knowledge of how technology works and what it can provide are significantly limited. boyd emphasizes the need for society to discontinue the idea that teens are all media-literate “digital natives”. Teens vary in terms of their experience with technology such as social media, and all teens must learn through instruction and experience how to use these technologies effectively and responsibly. I think that acknowledging the limitations of teens’ overall positive use of social media is an appropriate way of concluding this book.
This book provided a clear answer to my question: my teenage sister’s frequent use of social media does not reflect inherent qualities of her technology or her as a person so much as it reflects her healthy desire to socialize with her peers. The difference between her social media use and mine does not necessarily stem from our differences as people, but from our different stages of development and respective needs. I learned that I may have taken for granted how easy it is to socialize as a college student compared to when I was in high school and relied more on social media. By highlighting the positive affordances social media provides for adolescents, It’s Complicated allays older generations’ prominent concerns about teens’ interactions with social media. boyd ultimately replaces these concerns with a more valid and constructive matter: how, as a society, can we reduce the inequality surrounding access to and knowledge of technology for people of all ages? This concern is beyond the scope of the book, but if the American people are willing to listen to boyd, it may not be beyond the scope of our society.
I've had the pleasure of meeting danah through mutual friends and she's one of those crazy smart people that would make you feel woefully inadequate, were she not so personable and engaging. It's Complicated represents the culmination of over a decade's worth of her research into American teens and how they use technology and social media. It is a groundbreaking, nuanced, thorough look at the topic and it's many facets.
The book opens with a discussion on 'networked publics', the virtual spaces created by online participation, and the ways in which these spaces overlap and collide with each other and the real world networks in which we live. It then goes on to discuss the many ways in which youth today use and participate in these networks as part of their participation in society and as part of their growing into adults.
From the closing passage of the book, boyd summarizes why I think the book is so important:
"Growing up in and being a part of networked publics is complicated. The realities that youth face to not fit neatly into utopian or dystopian frames, nor will eliminating technology solve the problems they encounter. Networked publics are here to stay. Rather than resisting technology or fearing what might happen if youth embrace social media, adults should help youth develop the skills and perspective to productively navigate the complications brought about by living in networked publics."
Ultimately, this is a book about modern teenage life in our society, how it differs from the actual and idealized world of their parents' teenage years, and the role that technology does and doesn't play in that difference. It's also about media literacy and how kids and parents are struggling to make use of, and sense of, a shifting landscape of technology that is reshaping how we view our relationships to one another.
I started reading the book as a technology guy looking to learn more about where things were heading. However, I think the side of me that is a father of three will-be-teens-before-you-know-it kids got the most out of it.
Strongly suggested reading for anyone in tech and anyone with kids.