Special thanks to danah boyd for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens
My name is danah boyd and I’m a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center. I am an academic and a scholar and my research examines social media, youth practices, tensions between public and private, social network sites, and other intersections between technology and society. – From danah’s Homepage
#1 – What was the impetus for It’s Complicated?
I’d been doing research on teens and social media for over 10 years. Many of my findings had been scattered across blog posts, academic journals, talks, and quotes in stories, but it was high time for me to bring it all together and present what I learned in an accessible way for a broad audience. I’m a strong believer in the professorial mandate, which is to say that those of us who are privileged to spend our days doing research have a responsibility to inform others. So for me, “It’s Complicated” is a capstone project, the conclusion of a lot of research that I feel is important for the public to know.
In terms of what motivated the research itself, it started with the fact that I spent my teenage years online. But those were geeky years when all of us who were online were self-identified geeks, freaks, and queers. (I was all three.) I started this project to better understand teen culture in light of the mainstreamification of the internet and the rise of social media.
#2 – Why are there all these anxieties about teens on the internet? Can it be paralleled with other technologies in the past?
People fear the unfamiliar and the vehicles of change. Adults are afraid of and afraid for youth. Put these two together and you have a recipe for widespread anxiety and panic about teens and technology. Moral panics about youth and media are nothing new. For example, parents used to fear comic books.
#3 – Your book is seen a reasoned discussion of the realities of teens on the internet. What would be your take home message?
Perhaps the biggest story of my book is the fact that we’ve created the context for youth to obsess over social media by heavily restricting their mobility and freedom. Far from being the attractor, technology has become a relief valve for young people in a world in which they have few opportunities to gather with their friends and socialize. What plays out from that starting point is complex and messy, just as any aspect of teen culture has always been. And that’s where my book dives into different issues and anxieties that adults have in order to better understand how technology has inflected key issues.
#4 – How have parents, teens and parents responded to your book?
Most have been phenomenally supportive and grateful. I’ve received more requests to speak at schools than I could possibly manage. Of course, the thank yous from teens are the most delightful. All that said, I do have critics and not everyone agrees with my analysis, but that’s par for the course. Fear is a very powerful emotion.
#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books you can tell us about?
I’m actually shifting focus right now to better understand the social, cultural, and ethical ramifications of the “big data” phenomenon. To do this, I’m starting a new think/do tank called Data & Society Research Institute (http://www.datasociety.net) and working on a wide array of new projects with new collaborators. Although this is in some ways a departure from my old work, it’s also an extension of it in that I’m trying to better understand societal inequity and the cultural ramifications of all of the data that people have produced through social media.
[Image Credit: http://www.danah.org/images/danah/MSR3sm-sq.jpg ]