It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd is the book to read to truly understand the digital world our teens live in. Boyd is is a social media scholar and youth researcher, working at Microsoft Research, New York University, and the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society. It’s Complicated explores every area in which social media and technology impact teens and youth culture.
Instead of writing a review, when all the reviews of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens are already glowing, I decided to include a small excerpt from the book. You can see how Boyd understands teens in a way that many other adults do not.
Excerpt – Chapter 1 Identity – Why Do Teens Seem Strange Online?
“In 2005, an Ivy League university was considering the application of a young black man from South Central Los Angeles. The applicant had written a phenomenal essay about how he wanted to walk away from the gangs in his community and attend the esteemed institution. The admissions officers were impressed: a student who overcomes such hurdles is exactly what they like seeing. In an effort to learn more about him, the committee members Googled him. They found his MySpace profile. It was filled with gang symbolism, crass language, and references to gang activities. They recoiled.
I heard this story when a representative from the admissions office contacted me. The representative opened the conversation with a simple question: Why would a student lie to an admissions committee when the committee could easily find the truth online? I asked for context and learned about the candidate. Stunned by the question, my initial response was filled with nervous laughter. I had hung out with and interviewed teens from South Central. I was always struck by the challenges they faced, given the gang dynamics in their neighborhood. Awkwardly, I offered an alternative interpretation: perhaps this young man is simply including gang signals on his MySpace profile as a survival technique.
Trying to step into that young man’s shoes, I shared with the college admissions officer some of the dynamics that I had seen in Los Angeles. My hunch was that this teen was probably very conscious of the relationship between gangs and others in his hometown. Perhaps he felt as though he needed to position himself within the local context in a way that wouldn’t make him a target. If he was anything like other teens I had met, perhaps he imagined the audience of his MySpace profile to be his classmates, family, and community—not the college admissions committee. Without knowing the teen, my guess was that he was genuine in his college essay. At the same time, I also suspected that he would never dare talk about his desire to go to a prestigious institution in his neighborhood because doing so would cause him to be ostracized socially, if not physically attacked. As British sociologist Paul Willis argued in the 1980s, when youth attempt to change their socioeconomic standing, they often risk alienating their home community. This dynamic was often acutely present in the communities that I observed.
The admissions officer was startled by my analysis, and we had a long conversation about the challenges of self- representation in a networked era. I’ll never know if that teen was accepted into that prestigious school, but this encounter stayed with me as I watched other adults misinterpret teens’ online self- expressions. I came to realize that, taken out of context, what teens appear to do and say on social media seems peculiar if not outright problematic. The intended audience matters, regardless of the actual audience. Unfortunately, adults sometimes believe that they understand what they see online without considering how teens imagined the context when they originally posted a particular photograph or comment. The ability to understand how context, audience, and identity intersect is one of the central challenges people face in learning how to navigate social media. And, for all of the mistakes that they can and do make, teens are often leading the way at figuring out how to navigate a networked world in which collapsed contexts and imagined audiences are par for the course.” (End of excerpt)
It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens is not meant to only be read by parents. This well-researched book should also be read by teachers, counselors and anybody else that works with teens. After reading It’s complicated, you will have a much better understanding of why your teens act like they do on social media. Boyd opens up a rare view into their digital world. This should help you and your teens to communicate better. What more can we ask for?
The above is an excerpt from the book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd (Yale University Press). The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.