(This is part 2 of my discussion of boyd’s book. Part 1 is here).
For me, part of the joy of reading boyd’s work is her comfort with both grand theory (she cites Foucault and Bourdieu, as well as a million other psychology and business texts) and data (she does extensive case studies and puts together interesting qualitative reads on the material). That said, I’ve made a few notes about some of the most striking components of her work…
- she notes how difficult maintaining privacy can be for teens, and so she argues that teens often hide things in plain site. She notes the larger structures that make privacy difficult to attain for any of us when she argues that
Achieving privacy requires more than simply having the levers to control information, access, or visibility. Instead, achieving privacy requires the ability to control the social situation by navigating complex contextual cues, technical affordances, and social dynamics. Achieving privacy is an ongoing process because social situations are never static. Especially in networked publics, the persistent, searchable nature of interactions complicates any temporal boundaries. (60)
She argues that since teens can’t control access to their lives, they control access to meaning (76), in ways that help them attain one of the few attainable forms of privacy that they can.
- Contrary to the criticism that some have offered her, she does not claim that there is no such thing as Internet addiction. She does, however, argue that this language is incapable of helping us understand what’s actually going on online:
the language of addiction sensationalizes teens’ engagement with technology and suggests that mere participation leads to pathology. This language also suggests that technologies alone will determine social outcomes. (78)
This type of language is typical of her approach (or methodology): she constantly complicates narratives in ways that are both productive and frustrating (because she won’t accept one-size-fits-all solutions).
- She also nicely acknowledges points that need acknowledging – for instance, she decries Nicholas Carr’s attacks on the Internet and its effects on our brains by noting that our brains are always changing, and that acknowledging such is not worth much: “what’s at stake is not whether teens’ brains are changing – they are always changing – but what growing up with mediated sociality means for teens and for society generally” (93).
- Again, unlike the online criticism, I felt her arguments grew stronger as she continued. She takes on the ways that public spaces are denied to teens, for instance.
- Her overall agenda appears a little over half-way through, when she argues that “fear is not the solution; empathy is” (127).
- She would make Andrew Feenberg proud with her critique of the ways in which technology is not apolitical, and she also neatly describes how technologies both intentionally and unintentionally reflect the biases and prejudices of their designers, often with no malignant intentions.
- An interesting point about digital literacy: “in a world where information is easily available, strong personal networks and access to helpful people often matter more than access to the information itself” (172).
- She has a beautiful critique of the digital natives take, including a defense of Prensky’s intention while also decrying the effects. She argues that the digital divide is not monolithic, and that Prensky’s point about celebrating teens has backfired, “justifying passivity among adults” (197).
Yes, I think this book is a beautiful attempt to let data, in combination with a thorough understanding of the concepts at stake, rule.