Digital Youth

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Digital media, youth, networks, and participatory culture, constitute a complex topic that has been studied and theorized by researchers from different disciplines such as information science, anthropology, sociology, communication, law, media and literacy studies. One of the core questions that researchers have tried to answer is how the development and adoption of digital media has transformed society, culture, economy, and learning. More specifically, they have been interested in understanding how young people experiences the changes, how it adapts, and how it develops new kind of sociocultural practices. Therefore, young people are understood as having creative agency. Youth is an active participant in culture, society, and economy, and in the transformations that are taken place.

In order to disentangle the complexity of the topic we can group some of the researchers and studies in three different perspectives:

  • Networked
  • Participatory
  • Digital lifestyles

Each of these perspectives has an emphasis in particular key issues, challenges and trends. The networked perspective has an emphasis on the interconnection between young people, media, machines, and machines, media, and young people, and how that has changed the society, culture, and economy. From this perspective networks are understood as the dominant cultural and organization logic that structure contemporary world, particularly, the one of postindustrial societies. From this perspective the key issues are publics, many-to-many and peer-to-peer modes of communication and production, information and knowledge.

The participatory perspective focuses on the sociocultural practices that young people is doing with digital media, their engagement with popular culture, and the communities of expertise that they are joining. Key issues are genres of participation, amateur media production, fan cultures, remix, new media literacies, learning, and participation gap.

The Digital lifestyles perspective focuses on online everyday practices, connectivity, mobility, and uses of social media by young people. This perspective has an emphasis in empirical studies. Key issues are information seeking behavior; characteristics of the social networks (strong/weak ties), identity and taste, and individualization.

Unanswered Questions

After reviewing part of the literature on the topic of digital media, youth, networks, and participatory culture, there are several questions that remain unsolved. Most of them are related to the inequalities that exist. Even if digital media and networks offer a more open, decentralized, and fluid world, not everybody is participating in equal conditions. One of the most important unresolved questions are related to the participation gap. If the digital gap was easier to close in some countries by wiring classrooms and giving computers for children, the participation gap involves the development of literacies that are not learned in traditional formal ways. Therefore, one of the questions that remain unanswered is What are the strategies for closing the participatory gap? What are the steps for closing that gap? Although new kinds of literacies (digital, new media, design, etc) have been identified, they are not easy to implement in formal educational contexts. If the participation gap is related to the lack of participation in communities of interests and in networked publics that are not the familiar ones of the school, how can formal education connect to them? Even more important, how can education implement a participatory culture pedagogy in a formal context where test-based practices or core curricula are dominant?

In relation to inequalities, there is also an issue in the architecture of the networked environment and culture that is not totally addressed. The fact that the network is not equally distributed has consequences for the development of the systems in where youth people participate. The majority of researchers have ignored the political economy of social media. For instance, the ownership of SNS is barely looked by researchers and as well they tend to ignore the social engineering that has been made by the programmers

Although digital networked media are definitely transforming our lives, and peer-to-peer production and many-to-many communication are certainly more democratic, there is still little evidence about how the distribution of power has changed. Are society and culture becoming more democratic? Is youth participating more? Have young people become empowered and are more active publicly? They are very visible through digital media. Truth. However, how are they really gaining political power? How are they organizing themselves to produce social change?

Finally, there is also a lack of quantitative data on how structural determinants such as race, gender, and socioeconomic status, are related to participation in networked culture and to the development of new literacies.