creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:
Voltaire once suggested that, “common sense is not so common.” So to can +danah boyd‘s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens be seen as an attempt to reposition the debate about teenagers and the supposed scurvy of life in an online world. Boyd sets out to dispel many of the negative and dystopian views that so often fill the news. As she moves from one case study to another, I was left with many aha moments, particular while reading about fear and privacy. Having grown up with the practise of placing the desktop computer in a public space, it had never really occurred to me some of the deeper consequences of such actions. That is not to say that such approaches are wrong, but like every choice, everything comes with a cost. At its heart, the book puts forward many of the issues and arguments that are too often overlooked in mainstream education.
The reality is, living in a networked world is complicated for as Boyd states, it is both the same as, but also different from yesterday. For example, many teens cling to online networks as a social space to belong and just be. Like the drive-in of yesteryear, it is the structured unstructured environment where they can just hangout. However, online spaces are also considerably different to drive-ins though, for unlike the physical world, many of the actions and consequences in a digital world leave a trace and are forever ongoing for others to see.
I entered this book not quite sure what to expect. A part of me thought that Boyd would magically provide a breadth of tools and techniques for addressing the supposed dyer state teens on social media. Yet what I was left with was a series of thoughts and reflections about my own world. Boyd shone a spotlight on such issues as the supposed equality online, as well as the media fear mongering associated with addiction and sexual predators. However, the question that I was left wondering about the most was what are the consequences of the ongoing divide now occurring in all facets of life between those whose lives are increasingly embroiled with the online world and those whose aren’t – what Connaway, White, Lanclos, Browning, Le Cornu and Hood have termed as digital ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’.
It’s Complicated does not provide the panacea, that magical cure for all the social ills suffered by teens today (and yesterday and tomorrow) who live in a digital world. The reason that it doesn’t provide this is because it can’t, such a thing does not and cannot exist. Instead the book provides what America anthropologist Clifford Geertz described as a ‘thick description‘. A thorough account that not only provides a description of behaviour from a wide range of different points of view, but also an interpretation as to the context that produced such actions. As Boyd herself has stated,

I wrote this book so that more people will step back, listen, and appreciate the lives of today’s teenagers. I want to start a conversation so that we can think about the society that we’re creating.

The purpose therefore is not to provide an answer to societies ills, but instead to provoke dialogue and debate at both the micro and macro level, whether this be teachers in a staffroom or politicians producing policy.
Although Boyd’s book is written for adults about teens usually in America, in many respects it is a book that uses teens to confront adults from anywhere about many of the issues that we so often leave silent. I think that challenge that we have is to discuss these matters and from there create a more reasoned approach to the matter. For as I have spoken about elsewhere, it takes a village to find a solution and hopefully together we can create a better world for everyone.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Common Sense That Is Not Always So Common – A Review of Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

22 thoughts on “Common Sense That Is Not Always So Common – A Review of Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated

  1. In a conversation between danah boyd and Doug Rushkoff, she explains that at the heart of our current problems with media, facts and trust is capitalism. By design capitalism gives you what you want. The problem though is that capitalism and democracy are no longer constrained within nation states as they may have been in the past. There is neither the opportunity for nationalistic paternalism to moderate wants nor a means of managing different groups. Media in a multi-national environment has become confusing. We are now in a world of networks and graphs. All media companies are in the business for amplification, the problem has therefore become what is amplified, which as so many have pointed out is often at the extremes. danah boyd says that we need an intervention, but to achieve that we firstly need to be appreciate all the micro-decisions that got us to here. How do we deal with these well intended decisions when they have negative implications? One of the challenges is filling the data voids, rather than blocking various search terms we need to develop the content that maybe missing. This is particularly important for today’s young people, for

    if we don’t support young people in building out a strategically rich graph, they will reinforce the worst segments of our society (1.10)

    For those who may not have kept up with boyd’s work since It’s Complicated, this is a really good introduction.

    Also on:

  2. In danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated, she argued that:

    A central challenge in addressing the sexual victimization of children is that the public is not comfortable facing the harrowing reality that strangers are unlikely perpetrators. Most acts of sexual violence against children occur in their own homes by people that those children trust.Page 110

  3. Kevin, I was left wondering about the ethics of sharing. I imagine that ‘technically’ videoing the incident is ok, even if it does seem a bit weird. However, sharing is a different problem. It reminds me of danah boyd’s discussion of Star Wars kid in her book It’s Complicated.

    The “Star Wars Kid” video is a classic example of a widely viewed video that was shared online to embarrass a teen. In 2002, a fourteen-year-old heavyset boy created a home video of himself swinging a golf ball retriever as though it was a light saber from Star Wars. A year later, a classmate of his found this home video, digitized it, and put it up online. Others edited the video, setting the action to music and dubbing in sound effects, graphics, and other special effects. The resultant “Star Wars Kid” video spread rapidly and received extensive media attention. It became the source of new memes and mocking video spin-offs. Even comedians like Weird Al Yankovic and Stephen Colbert produced their own renditions. Although people gained attention for spreading the video or creating their own versions, the cost of this mass attention was devastating to the teenager in the video. His family sued his classmates for emotional duress because of
    the ongoing harassment he faced.
    The “Star Wars Kid” video exemplifies how mass public shaming is a byproduct of widespread internet attention and networked distribution. Teenagers commonly face a lesser version of this when they receive unexpected and unwanted attention, when they become the target of a rumor, or when others share their content beyond its intended audience. Social media complicates the dynamics of social sharing and gossip because it provides a platform for information to spread far and wide, and people are often motivated to spread embarrassing content because others find it interesting. Spreadable media can be used to drum up productive attention, but it can also be used to shame.

  4. danah boyd reflects on the current flip to online learning suggesting that days spent in a Zoom meeting is not what teens crave.

    TV may have killed the radio star, but Zoom and Google Hangouts are going to kill the delight and joy in spending all day in front of screens.

    Discussing her research into teens and technology, she explains that what they have always craved is social interactions. I have noticed this with Ms 9 who counts down the minutes to her WebEx sessions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.