Like Me, See Me, Know Me? Networked Publics and Teenage Social Life

Do-you-like-me jpegBoyd (2008) differentiates between mediated, unmediated and public networks and how these play out among social structures of 14 to 18 year old teens on MySpace in U.S.A.

Suggesting the three are distinguished by scale of audience and boundaries: unmediated = structurally defined by physical attributes, e.g. walls, distance to location from where an event takes place etc. resulting in ‘restrained visibility’. This means that only those present witness an event, which may be shared by a limited ‘recording’ of events through image or film (125).

In mediated networks the scale of the public changes and is ‘affected by the properties of the mediating technologies’, i.e. new technologies enable an event to be replicated and shared. A networked public enables rapid and unfiltered sharing of an event without the viewer necessarily being involved (126).

Boyd notes how teens “are modeling identity through social network profiles so that they can write themselves and their community into being” (120). I find this statement both intriguing and alarming, but can clearly see how a networked public can alter traditional social dynamics and complicate interaction.

The paper expands upon the four properties that separate unmediated from public networks :

Persistence: asynchronous communication remains online and recorded for posterity, leaving a ‘digital footprint’.

Replicability: images, text and public expression can very easily be copied and shared, with or without the permission of the creator/participant, potential for out of context misinterpretation.

Invisible audiences: impossible to know for certain the extent of who has access to our published media in a networked public. The original curated context can easily be misread, attributed or complicated ‘in reception’ by others on public network.

Searchability: digital tools enable searching for networked interests, groups, forums, but also provide the potential for negative behaviours such as stalking or onerous fandom.

Since early tech such as phones, brought interaction between teens into the closely guarded boundaries of parent-controlled domain at home (133) teens faced the challenge of how to be cool and simultaneously acceptable to parents. As such they are negotiating offline and online identities, behavior and boundaries within a heightened public where ‘the magnified public exposure increases the stakes’ (134).

With mobile technology readily accessible in 2015, the heightened public has expanded dramatically and at school we begin to see digital and real identity struggles beginning in upper Key Stage 2, and particularly with 1:1 devices.

In addition to playground and school gate dynamics, are teens navigating survival through virtual integration? In wider networked participation, teens develop an understanding of how to manipulate outcomes. Boyd (2008) gives an example of a ‘personality quiz’ where individuals interpreted which answer to choose depending on what was currently considered, cool, lame or neutral.

We gain a strong sense from Boyd’s work how teens are adapting the information about themselves they share and often tweaking this to fit their social group.

In younger children, I see this at school in the avatars they construct, how they personalize iPads, language used and the influence peer dynamics have on what is cool or not’ as they are discovering who they are and where they feel they fit into their friendship circles or peer groups (albeit this takes place within garden-fenced environments, with ongoing adult support).

In a networked world, it is easy to see trends or topics that are interpreted as dangerous by one generation, yet ‘neutral’ to another. This creates natural tension when teens broach taboo subjects lightly or are unaware of the connotations the information they portray can appear to others.

Online identity is becoming more and more complex while navigating multiple, and unknown audiences (134) that can be “further complicated by adults’ through misreading messages due to a generational disconnect between author context and recipient interpretation.

I feel this is equally as problematic for adults as teens in the current media rich climate where shape-shifting identities, for example; between personal FB-esque status sharing and professionally relevant LinkedIn forum collaboration, can lead to confused messages, but conversely, expand personal networks if both are used appropriately.

It’s healthy to be concerned about protecting young people from adult experiences too early, and Boyd talks about parents striving to regulate online space in a similar way to real life/home spaces.

I agree with her summary that ‘we are doing youth a disservice if we believe that we can protect them from the world by limiting their access to public life. They must enter that arena, make their mistakes, and learn from them. Our role as adults is not to be their policemen, but to be their guides’ (137).

At The British School in the Netherlands, Y6 1:1 iPads rollout with a supervised profile, using a Mobile Device Manager (MDM) since Autumn 2014, prior to that we advised on age-appropriate Settings. We have developed our current practice over several years, and have sometimes been asked if can’t just lock down everything on our devices.

The answer is – yes we could, however, a totally managed device would limit learning creativity and access to a wealth of online information and learning resources.

Most importantly, it wouldn’t allow students to make mistakes and in the process, learn to make the right choices. We spend significant time in the run up to our 1:1 Launches involving students in our Responsible User Agreement [RUA].

An MDM ‘supervised’ profile still needs ongoing dialogue, teacher and family involvement to promote appropriate use. At school we also need to factor in an awareness of social groups and communication dynamics that students are navigating as their personalities develop and grow. Boyd describes

“how youth engage through social network sites today provides long-lasting insights into identity formation, status negotiation, and peer-to-peer sociality” (2008: 119).

Communication and first impressions count as much in online publics as in the real life. My post Appropriate Language and Life Skills 2014 – ‘Walking the Talk?’ features a super film from Barclays Bank that illustrates the potential presentation clangers Generation 2.0 can make, without due care, as they venture into the professional world.

One of the things we do at school is engage students in dialogue about how they are using technology, what’s cool, and what’s challenging through Digital Leader lunches and class discussions for Y6s who have 1:1 iPads.

This engages dialogue and in many ways allows them to be our guides by seeing how they use what we feel is appropriate for them. It’s my experience that students always surprise us. With society and technology changing so rapidly I’m really curious to see what mediated, unmediated and public networks will look like by the time 2015 teens are adults!


MA Research


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