Networked youth

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Scholars from this perspective understand networks as the major cultural and organizational logic that structures culture, society, and economy. The emphasis on networks highlights the interconnectedness between people, media, computers, and people, media and computers. Networked society, networked culture, networked environment, networked publics. You name it. The network, as Castells has stated, is the dominant organizational paradigm. The networked era is the result of a historical process in where the proliferation and adoption of computer-based communication technologies (digital media) has created a powerful interconnected infrastructure for communication and for production/distribution of information.

As Benkler has explained in The Wealth of the Networks, due to the declining price of computation, communication and storage, the material requirements for effective information production and communication are now owned by a great number of individuals. Including young people, a significant part of the world's population has now access to computer-based digital media technologies that allow them to produce, and distribute information, knowledge, and culture on a global scale. In postindustrial countries, networked digital media has started to be taken for granted by teens and young adults.

According to Benkler, in the new networked information environment, the removal of physical constraints on information production creates the conditions for a new kind of culture that is more transparent, malleable, self-reflective, and democratic. What he calls networked culture is a kind of folk culture "where many more of us participate actively in making cultural moves and finding meaning in the world around us." (15) Peer-to-peer modes of production and many-to-many modes of communication are characteristics of this culture. Although Benkler does not talk specifically about youth in his book, some of the exemplary cases he uses to illustrate his argument are projects that young people has certainly joined such as Wikipedia, Linux, machinima and MMORPGs.

In Networked Publics, a thorough collaborative study of digital networked media and sociocultural transformations, Varnelis describes "Networked Culture" as characteristic of the historical moment that follows postmodernism, a societal condition that is the result of the evolution of the Internet and mobile telephony. According to him, the most significant change propitiated by this culture is the nature of publics, who are not longer simply audiences or consumers. Instead, they are networked publics where people can actively participate and produce political commentary, propaganda, cultural criticism, knowledge, and information. As Mimi Ito, another collaborator this book has said, "rather than assume that everyday media engagement is passive or consumptive, the term publics foregrounds a more engaged stance." These publics use the power of decentralized networks to communicate bottom-up, top-down, as well as side-to-side. According to Ito, "Publics can be reactors, (re)makers and (re)distributors, engaging in shared culture and knowledge through discourse and social exchange as well as through acts of media reception." The notion of networked publics highlights the rise of new forms of many-to-many communication, where distributing, aggregating, and producing information and culture have become available to ordinary people. Furthermore, thanks to the development of the multimedia capabilities of the Internet, publics can circulate both professional and amateur media. As Ito say, "now even casual communication, personal stories and opinion, and amateur works can be made easily available to large audiences."

danah boyd has investigated young people use of SNS as a form of participation in networked publics. In "Why Youth <3 Social Network Sites," (2008) she argues that SNS are networked publics characterized by four properties: persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences. According to her, SNS "allow publics to gather. At the same time, by serving as a space where speech takes place, they are also publics themselves." SNS are both spaces and audiences that are mediated; they exist thanks to technological networks such as the Internet. Having teens' use of MySpace as example, boyd describes different practices such as profile construction and its relationship with identity issues, teens' consideration of public/private space, and young people critical social development online. boyd concludes that by using SNSs teens are learning to navigate networked publics, developing strategies for managing the social complexities of these environments.

In a more recent text, "Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications" (2010) boyd provides a more complete definition and description of the type of networked publics that are SNS. She claims that these networked publics are "simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and (2) the imagined collective that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice." As boyd explains, networked publics have the same functions of other types of publics allowing people to gather for social, cultural, and civic purposes and helping them to connect with a world beyond their close friends and family. After describing the affordances and dynamics, boyd makes the argument that networked publics are transforming other existing publics, pointing out that the widespread of SNS are blurring the distinctions between networked publics and other publics, bringing the dynamics of the digital to the physical world.

The most coherent articulation between networks, youth, and digital media, is the one elaborated by the researchers of the Digital Youth Project, and their book Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out (2009) By focusing on youth, Ito et al., are able to ground the theory of networked culture and networked publics on the mediated practices that youth is developing. For them, the term 'networked publics' "foregrounds the active participation of a distributed social network in the production and circulation of culture and knowledge." (19) By studying everyday practices, researchers were able to observe how networked publics reshape how youth participate in their given social networks of peers in school and local communities. Ito et al. use two genre categories to describe the kind of networked publics that they found: friendship-driven and interest-driven. On the one hand, friendship-driven networked publics replicate existing practices of hanging out and communicating with friends, they are locally bound, tied to existing formal institutions such as school or church. On the other, interest-driven networked publics enable young people to have access to specialized publics that focus in particular hobbies or areas of interest. As Ito et al. explain, the specialized networked publics allow youth to connect with other media creators or gamers that have greater expertise or that are looking for mentorship or collaborations. According to them, these networked publics turn out to be very useful for young media creators and gamers who can use them "for distributing, publicizing, and sometimes even getting famous or paid for the work that they create." (20)