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Friday, January 08, 2010

The decade of the social Web (fixed & mobile)

The '00s were when Web 2.0 hit – the increasingly mobile social Web, from desktops to laptops to gameplayers and smartphones, that spelled a media makeover as radical as the printing press did nearly 500 years ago. Why so radical? Well, maybe people felt the realtime one-on-one conversations of the telephone were just as radical in their time, but now we're talking realtime multi-directional, one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, multimedia, user-produced and professionally produced, un-regulatable conversations and productions and environments all through the same "pipeline" and appearing on multiple, often mobile devices of all sorts and sizes. Robert Sibley of the Ottawa Citizen asks if what I just described is good, quoting Samuel Morse quoting the Bible when he tapped out the first message by telegraph in 1844, "What hath God wrought?" As radical as this shift we're experiencing is, if God hath wrought it, I think it wasn't the media so much as change itself that He or She wrought, since change is truly the only constant. The current change in media and technology will certainly change us, as media shifts always have, but the changes are always both good and bad, for example the ability to photograph and share with distant grandparents a kid's hockey goal or a brand-new-baby photo in realtime is enabled by the same technology that instantly mass-distributes the nude photo of a minor who could later be prosecuted for producing and distributing child pornography.

This is a scary juncture in media history, as we collectively figure out how to preserve the good and mitigate the bad things about it, but it also presents – impels, really – a tremendous opportunity for us to pool all our forms of expertise and find solutions in the collaborative way these complex problems call for. It's also calling upon us to develop unprecedented critical thinking skills, the kind that grasp the implications of behavior (ours and others') as much as content, because media are social, or behavioral, now. If we can answer that call and collaborate in a more multi-disciplinary way then ever before, civilization might actually advance because of new media.

Some people, however, seem to think this juncture is just unprecedentedly bad – especially where youth are concerned. In his long, reflective essay, Sibley cites the view of Emory University Prof. Mark Bauerlein that social networking teens "never grow up," remaining "narcissistically embedded in 'gossip and social banter' instead of attending to the knowledge they need to be mature and responsible adults." There is actually a lot of opposing evidence that social media are not just about "gossip and social banter" to youth - see this three-part interview with Stanford University cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito by author Howard Rheingold.

But if you feel youth indeed are growing up more slowly, author Po Bronson agrees. In a Newsweek blog post, he suggests, however, that the fault lies in our over-protectiveness, not in social media. He cites the view of author Joe Allen that "our urge to protect teenagers from real life – because we don’t think they’re ready yet – has tragically backfired. By insulating them from adult-like work, adult social relationships, and adult consequences, we have only delayed their development. We have made it harder for them to grow up. Maybe even made it impossible to grow up on time." Bronson's referring to Escaping the Endless Adolescence, by Drs. Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen.

Hey, you can see from my essay yesterday that I worry, too, about the impact on youth of portable, 24/7 exposure to the drama of adolescent social lives, but I think it's way too easy to blame the technology and I also worry – a lot – that all this fearing of or, at best, adjusting to, the new media environment by us adults is causing this regrettable over-protectiveness of our kids and distracting us from doing our job, parenting, which includes helping our children develop the most protective filter they'll ever have, the one that'll be with them wherever they go for the rest of their lives and improves with age: the software between their ears!

Related links

  • "Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth"
  • "From users to citizens: How to make digital citizenship relevant?"
  • "'Continuous partial attention...'"
  • "School libraries: Vital filter developers"

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  • Thursday, January 07, 2010

    8-year-old's new media-style 15 min. of fame

    YouTube and an 8-year-old boy have gotten a whole lot of citizen marketing in the past few days – plus coverage in big-name sites like The Guardian, NPR, and the Washington Post. called "Lukeywes1234" (the boy's YouTube screenname) "The littlest YouTube sensation." Though nothing like the Susan Boyle story (but this is just a kid who never appeared on US or UK national television), it's still about the tao of fame and sometimes power on the social Web, and its particulars are that a boy below the minimum age in YouTube's terms of service established an account; posted some goofy vlog (video blog) videos of himself; had a handful of subscribers that grew quickly, with the help of either 4chan (as cited in all mainstream media reports) or eBaum's World (explained here and mentioned in comments under The Guardian's story); ended up with some 15,000 subscribers before YouTube deleted his account; and is written up in major news outlets in several countries. The deletion of his account reportedly angered Europe-based online underground troll or prankster group 4chan, which in protest declared yesterday (1/6) YouTube Porn Day, threatening to embed porn into family-friendly videos on YouTube, as it did last spring (see this, but don't worry: Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams trawled YouTube "all day for examples [of 4chan's porn], and it's a lot easier to find real porn just about anywhere else").

    Now there are nearly 250 tribute videos to Lukeywes1234 on YouTube, which has made little of all of this (but gotten lots of publicity). A YouTube spokesperson told Andy Carvin at NPR that this was just another day in the life of YouTube.

    As Salon's Williams, concludes, "A boy puts up videos of himself, shot by his grandma, posturing as hero, and in the process actually becomes something of an unlikely hero. Why? Probably because, along with laughing at the amateurishness of the whole enterprise, people feel a real sense of fondness for a sweet kid goofing around with his computer." Hope so. If it's not about a bunch of juvenile adults and/or idealogues creating a lot of drama at the expense of a sweet kid. None of the coverage says how the kid has handled insta-fame (which is probably good, they're leaving him alone!) or whether the adults in his life are offering some love and perspective on all this. The online safety issue most on my mind these days is how we help all kids – not just famous ones – find time for reflection and independent thought amid the increasingly 24/7, reality-TV drama of schoolkid life (MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle writes compellingly about “the tethered self” here).

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    Wednesday, January 06, 2010

    2010 social Web snapshot: Nielsen & Pew

    Last year, the time Americans spent social networking grew 277%, Twitter grew 500%, and the average US worker spends five hours a moth visiting social network sites at the office. Oh yeah, and Facebook is the No. 3 site for Americans 65 and older (smart grandparents). All this is according to Nielsen's Fact Sheet 2010. As for general Internet use (not just the social part), Nielsen says there are about 195 million active users in the US, 160.3 million of them broadband users. It says broadband penetration was 93.3% at the end of last year, up 16% from 2008. Pew/Internet, however, just released some more conservative numbers showing that "74% of American adults (ages 18 and older) use the Internet – a slight drop from our survey in April 2009, which did not include Spanish interviews. The breakdowns for Net use by age and ethnicity, respectively, are: 18-29 (93%); 30-49 (81%); 50-64 (70%); and 65+ (38%); and white, non-Hispanic (76%); black, non-Hispanic (59%); and Hispanic, English- and Spanish-speaking (55%). Pew also found that household broadband penetration is at 60%, "a drop that is within the margin of error from 63% in April 2009," and that "55% of American adults connect to the internet wirelessly, either through a WiFi or WiMax connection via their laptops or through their handheld device like a smart phone."

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    Tuesday, January 05, 2010

    US's mobile Web: Data snapshot

    Here's the picture, courtesy of Nielsen: The number of US mobile phone users aged 13+ right now is 223 million. The number of mobile Web users is 60.7m (up 33% from 2008 and expected to double by the middle of next year). Compare the 60.7 million to the number of active Internet users – some 195 million – and it looks like the number of mobile Web users is about a third of fixed Web users right now. Within 18 months, Nielsen figures there will be three times as many mobile Web users, or about 120 million. An example of mobile Web use is video-viewing on phones. That growth is pretty exponential too: About 7% of cellphone users view video on their phones now (about 15.6 million), growing to a project 90 million by mid-2011. [One more interesting factoid: 21% of US households are cellphone-only now, Nielsen says, meaning no landlines.]

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    Big sign of increasingly mobile Web

    If anyone had any doubts about how big the mobile Web will be, Google's release of its Nexus One phone should erase them. It's part of Google's "careful plan to try to do what few other technology companies have done before: retain its leadership as computing shifts from one generation to the next," the New York Times reports. And this shift is computing, shopping, gaming, info-gathering, communicating, photo-sharing, learning, teaching, producing, etc. on smart phones. Some pundits have been calling this "Web 3.0" (and I'm not sure what else Web 3.0 would look like). According to Nielsen, about 18% of mobile phones were smartphones last year (up from 13% the year before, and a projected 40-50% of mobile phones sold this year will be smart phones. It'll be very interesting to see how much competition Nexus One will give the iPhone, the rival it's clearly going after. Certainly, smart phone manufacturers have the youth market in mind (see this on a hybrid of the netbook and smartphone aimed at teens).

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    Monday, January 04, 2010

    Juvenile predators: New study

    Much has been reported (often with hype and inaccuracy) about “pedophiles” or “predators," with people thinking these terms only refer to adults. But a new study released by the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention offers quite a reality check. "It is important to understand that a substantial portion of these offenses are committed by other minors who do not fit the image" those terms tend to conjure up, according to the report, "Juveniles Who Commit Sex Offenses Against Minors," by David Finkelhor (director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire), Richard Ormrod, and Mark Chaffin. Here are some key findings:

  • More than a third (35.6%) of those known to police to have committed sex offenses against minors are juveniles (though "juvenile sex offenders account for only 3.1% of all juvenile offenders and 7.4% of all violent juvenile offenders").
  • "Juveniles who commit sex offenses against other children are more likely than adult sex offenders to offend in groups and at schools and to have more male victims and younger victims."
  • "Early adolescence [particularly ages 12-14] is the peak age for offenses against younger children. Offenses against teenagers surge during mid-to-late adolescence, while offenses against victims under age 12 decline."
  • One out of eight juvenile offenders – are under 12.
  • 7% of juvenile offenders are females.
  • "Females are found more frequently among younger youth than older youth who commit sex offenses. This group’s offenses involve more multiple-victim and multiple-perpetrator episodes, and they are more likely to have victims who are family members or males."
  • 77.2% of juvenile offenses committed by females occur at home and 68.2% of such offenses committed by males occur at home.
  • Several intervention strategies have already been proven effective in reducing recividism among child and teen offenders, and this was encouraging:"Researchers found that one brief treatment for preteens reduced the risk of future sex offenses to levels comparable with those of children who had no history of inappropriate sexual behavior."

    The only reference to the Internet in the report is the recommendation that it be used to get "prevention and deterrence messages" to youth.

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