This semester one of my personal goals has been to read more books. I’ve been a subscriber to Audible.com since 2010, but had fallen out of the habit of listening to books on my drives and commutes in the past year, as well as reading books before bed. Over time my media diet had changed to consist almost entirely of blog posts and digital news articles I found via Feedly, Flipboard, and Twitter, and I’ve wanted to balance that a bit with more long form reading.

I’ve recently finished listening to several books as well as reading one, and I’ve decided to write book reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, as well as here on my primary professional blog. Tonight, I offer you the first in a current series of three reviews. This review is for danah boyd’s (@zephoria) recent book, “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.” I titled my review for Amazon.com, “Should be required reading for parents and educators today.” danah’s book prompted some of the thoughts in my presentation for a local Oklahoma City church last month, “Managing Digital Footprints – For Grandparents.” Note that danah’s stated preference is that neither her first or last name be capitalized… in case you were wondering! Here’s my review!

danah boyd‘s book, “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens,” should be required reading for every parent and educator today. Living as we do in a media-saturated society, many adults are prone to believe the hype and buy the overly-simplistic portrayal by mainstream media outlets of how technology is to blame for many ills which beset both teens and our society as a whole. dana has spent years interviewing hundreds of teens around the United States about their uses of social media. Her anecdotes as well as research conclusions paint an important picture (as her book title indicates) of a much more “complicated” landscape of teen social media use and social lives than many people perceive today.

Digital communication technologies, including social media, have definitely changed the landscape of adolescence and “coming of age” in the United States in the 21st century. danah persausively argues in her book, however, that many of the challenges faced by teens and our society which get blamed on technologies stem from other root causes. She observes “For some adults, nostalgia can get in the way of understanding teens real relationship to social technologies today.” Reading her book, and following up that reading with personal discussions with teens you have contact with in your life, is one of the best ways to move beyond nostalgic, often overly-simplistic perceptions of teen feelings & desires about online privacy as well as social media use more generally.

danah observes that “persistence, visibility, spreadability & searchability are all unique characteristics of networked digital publics.” Teens and young people in their 20s today are the first generation on our planet to grow up simultaneously in a face-to-face as well as virtual (or “mediated”) world. It’s a mistake to believe that because many teens are on social media websites like Facebook (which have default settings for a public profile) they don’t care about privacy. Media articles and TV programs love to hype the slogan, “privacy is dead,” but teen use of mobile applications like SnapChat demonstrates this is false. As adults, we are mistaken if we think teen desires to use apps like SnapChat are entirely rooted in a desire to share inappropriate photos and videos. Certainly inappropriate media sharing (“sexting“) is a reality for many teens as well as adults, but we should not generalize all desires to use apps and web services offering privacy as automatically suspect and likely inappropriate. As danah states, “The Internet is NOT just a place where people engage in unhealthy interactions.” danah explores issues of privacy and publicity in challenging ways in her book. She astutely observes, “Both privacy and publicity are blurred… Being able to achieve privacy is an expression of agency.” These issues are not simple, and adults are well advised to consider these complicated contexts carefully rather than assume (falsely) these issues are black and white, or easily understood and navigated.

As a fan of metaphors, I’ve liked “amplifier” as a description of technology for many years. danah notes in her book, “The Internet mirrors,magnifies, & makes more visible the good, bad & ugly of everyday life.” We commit a significant mistake if we perceive the Internet to primarily be a place where teens make and have the opportunity to make big mistakes, however. Among other things, danah’s book is a call for adults everywhere to become better and more active listeners to teens and young people as they experience and share their struggles in life. She observes “Many adult anxieties over teen social media use derive from reluctance to let teens fully participate in public life.” In many ways we are a fear-driven society today, and danah’s book offers a helpful mirror to consider how mainstream media has fanned the flames of fear surrounding technology and how we can view our world with more balance than extremism.

I highly recommend “It’s Complicated” to you, whether you listen to it on your commutes to work (as I did) or you read it in print or eBook form. It’s a thought provoking, timely, and immensely practical book which will encourage you to have conversations with others in your family and community about social media, technology, freedom, fear, and other important topics.

As I listened to the audio version of dana’s book from Audible, I tweeted numerous ideas and quotations which resonated with me and struck me as particularly notable. You can check those out using the following search link to my Tweet Nest Twitter archive:
http://twitter.wesfryer.com/search?q=zephoria

You can also check out this review on GoodReads and Amazon.com.

A free audio recording of my presentation, “Managing Digital Footprints – for grandparents” is also available on my secondary podcast channel, “Fuel for Educational Change Agents.”

Note that danah has also generously made her book available as a free PDF download.

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  • ckoerner

    Nice review. Thank you for sharing. I stumbled across your blog randomly and love the idea of a “Play Date”. I work in healthcare now, but use to work in higher education. I might adapt that idea as it’s a great way to introduce people to new ideas outside of normal interactions.

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