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C.J. Pascoe

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Pascoe, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, is studying teenagers and digital media for the university's MacArthur Foundation-sponsored Digital Youth Research project. In this interview she offers a fascinating glimpse inside the public and the private worlds that teens are making online. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted July 17, 2007.

Tell me what you're studying and whom you're studying.

I'm studying teenagers and teen culture around new media and technology. So I'm basically interviewing and hanging out with 16-to-18-year-olds and looking at how they use the Internet, how they use social networking sites, instant messenger, cell phones and those sorts of things. ... My specialty has been teenagers and teen culture, so that's where my new media studies took shape, looking at how teens use new media. ...

Actually, it's really funny, I completed my last [teen] study from 2001 to 2003. Maybe three or four of the 50 kids I interviewed gave me an e-mail address, and two of them I corresponded with over e-mail. But [by] 2006, when I began this new study, teen culture went from not being digital at all to being what we might think of as a teen cyberculture. So it was a huge, massive and quick shift. Ninety percent of teens are now online, or more than 90 percent, actually.

How much has teen culture changed vis-à-vis the Internet [between] your first and most recent experience with [teenagers]?

With my first study I spent two years hanging out with teenagers about three days a week and interviewing them about issues of gender, ... and I didn't hear stories about the Internet. Very few had cell phones. ... None talked about going places online, really. Every once in a while I'd hear one or two talk about downloading music, but that was it.

Now teen culture is permeated with technology. There's no way I could talk to a teenager without talking about text messaging or e-mails or MySpace. MySpace is usually the first thing that comes up when I talk to teenagers: how they feel about it, whether they like it, whether they think it's stupid. Whatever their reaction is about MySpace, it's in the conversation.

So it's just this huge shift in which the Internet and the digital world was something that belonged to adults, and now it's something that really is the province of teenagers; and that text messaging, which was something that was originally designed for busy businesspeople, is now how teenagers prefer to communicate with one another. Just about every teen I talk to engaged in text messaging on a regular basis and feels sort of naked without their cell phone.

So it's been a massive shift. Fifty-five percent of teenagers have some sort of social-networking-site presence, and, like I said, over 90 percent are online on a regular basis.

What do you think it is about the Internet, and particularly about social networking, that has so quickly captivated teenagers?

I have two slightly different answers that are related but different. The Internet affords an independence to teenagers that I don't think we've seen since the invention of the car. We saw the creation of teenage culture start in the early 1900s, and it coincided with the widespread use and adoption of cars, because for the first time, teens were really able to escape the purview of their parents and the home and go off with one another in these really independent ways.

The Internet has allowed them to do the same thing. They're able to have a private space even while they're still at home; they're able to communicate with their friends and have an entire social life outside of the purview of their parents without actually having to leave the house.

And social networking sites in particular have taken off because teen culture is a social culture. That's what being an adolescent at this time in history in the United States is; it's being social. We don't expect them necessarily to have career plans; we expect them to go to school and to create their friendship networks. That's what they're doing as teenagers. ...

[In the 1950s, the psychologist] Erik Erikson called adolescence a time of "identity consolidation," so what teens are doing is going around and trying on these different identities: "I'm a goth," or "I'm a punk rocker," or "I'm a surfer," or I'm this or that. What social networking sites allow them to do is to display that identity in a very dramatic and very succinct way. Whereas [prior] to social networking sites, teens had to rely on visual cues or say, "I listen to this music," or "I am wearing black pants because this is going to say something about me," now they can literally say on their social networking sites, "This is my identity, this is my music, these are my friends, these are my heroes, these are the people I don't like," and that really defines an identity in a really public way for them. In a way, the social networking sites are this digital representation of what we think of as adolescence.

I want to talk a bit about the media perception of this phenomenon. What are they getting right, and what are they getting wrong?

I think the media is a little paranoid, ... and I think what has happened since the 1980s is we've become very paranoid about our children -- the 1980s' kidnapping cases and the abuse scandals. We've become very, very frightened that something will happen to our most precious resources, which are our children. And the new media and the Internet, along with these fears around our children -- how vulnerable our children are -- have really coincided to result in a little bit of hysteria around children's activities online and children's vulnerabilities online. I think the media picks up on that.

I found in my interviews with teens that they're a lot more savvy than we think they are. For instance, most of the teens I've talked to who have migrated to Facebook -- who were on MySpace but now use Facebook or have decided to never use MySpace and just use Facebook -- do so out of concerns about privacy, because they can really limit who sees their site, and they can actually give different groups different levels of access to their site. There are some really savvy teens out there, and teens I talk to who are on MySpace actually say that they do think about the sort of information they put out there.

That said, I've also heard stories from teens who have been approached online, and the groups of teens I've talked to who seem most vulnerable are girls and gay boys. It's the gay boys and girls who are the ones who are more careful, it seems. Teenage boys who identify as heterosexual have never reported to me that they think twice about the information they put out there, whereas girls and gay boys actually do think quite a bit about the information they put out there, because they've found that they are more likely to receive e-mails from older men who might not exactly be appropriate for them to be receiving e-mails from. ...

We do need to teach our children digital literacy. They need to know how to keep themselves safe online; they need to think about the information that they're putting out there; and they need to be able to have discussions with their parents about it. The most well-rounded teens I've talked to have said: "Oh, yeah, my parents have seen my MySpace site, and they're fine. They don't check it or anything, but I've shown it to them." ... They have the privacy to put what they want to put on their site, but that they're OK enough with what they're putting on the site for the parents to look at it. And I think that their parents do need to be involved in that sense.

What I think is unhealthy is when parents respond to these media stories by saying, "You can't go on MySpace; MySpace is just dangerous." I have had that happen as well, and the kids just go to their friends' houses and set up MySpaces. It doesn't stop them; it just shuts down communication and shuts down any chance the kid has of talking to his or her parents about what they're doing and strategies for being safe. ...

You've alluded to this, that we live in a culture in which for many kids there's just not a lot of freedom. There's a lot of structure to their lives; there's a lot of overprotectiveness; there's a lot of fear. Could you talk a little about that and where the Internet fits into it, what it represents to them?

... When I ask kids, "When did you first get a cell phone, and why?" [they say,] "My parents got it for me because they wanted me to be safe." And again and again, that's the story I hear, "My parents got it for me so they could always be in contact with me, and if there was an emergency, I could call them."

In the end what happens is it functions as sort of this digital tether, which drives kids nuts, but it also allows them to stay out at night. They can go out with their friends because they can always check in with their parents. It allows them a slightly wider roaming range than they would have had without the cell phone, because they can constantly check in with their parents.

That said, I do have kids who, I'll ask them, "Have you ever had your phone taken away because you texted too much or gone over on your minutes or whatever?" And they'll say, "Yes, but then my parents gave it back to me because they realized they can't get in contact with me." Or kids will lose their phones so their parents can't call them when they're out and then say, "Come home." That's one of the ways in which it affords them more independence but makes parents feel safer about that kind of independence.

But also, kids can get in touch with each other online, outside of the purview of their parents. For instance, I have this one couple, and the girl is ethnically Chinese -- her parents came from China -- and the boy is African-American. They've been boyfriend and girlfriend for about a year and a half now, and her parents still don't know, because they don't want her dating a boy who's not Chinese. Much of their relationship takes place through text messages or online, because her parents won't let them hang out. ...

So it allows kids to escape the control of their parents in some ways, which I think is really helpful if their parents' rules are too strict. It also allows them to escape their parents' rules in ways that aren't so great, such as the "pro-ana" [anorexia] Web sites. ...

I want to talk about subcultures, because I feel like that's been sort of a specialty of yours. ... Let's start with gay kids. What is the research you've done, and what are you discovering, and how does the Internet change things?

My research historically has been on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender [GLBT] kids, and one of the few stories I heard about the Internet when I did this research in 2001 through 2003 was these kids' use of the Internet. This one story stood out to me in particular, which is where one of my respondents had a new girlfriend, and I said, "How did you meet your girlfriend?" "Oh, we met on the Internet."

Turns out this girlfriend had lived in Maine with a grandmother who didn't accept her because she identified as lesbian, and this particular girl found this community on the Internet of gay and lesbian teens. ... She was 16, left her home in Maine and slowly made her way across the country through contacts she had made on the Internet until she ended up in the Bay Area, where she felt much more safe.

So on the one hand, you have a child leaving home -- that's not good. On the other hand, she escaped a dangerous situation at home, was able to find a community on the Internet and make her way out to a place where she had a lot more resources for being a gay teen. ...

Now when I talk to GLBT teens, they all say that they find community on the Internet. ... I talk to a lot of kids from other spots in the country, and even major urban areas, [who] say that they find dates online because it's a numbers game. One kid told me, ... "My chances of finding a true love are" -- I think he put it at one in 300; I'm not sure where he got that statistic, but that was his -- "and finding love with a guy, as a gay kid, ... is even more rare, so how is that going to happen in my high school when there are only three gay guys and the other two are my friends?"

So he went online, and there's that dating site called, ... and he found a guy to date on there. They ended up breaking up, and it didn't last, but it gave him -- the Internet gives queer kids the opportunity to meet romantic partners in a way that straight kids can do at school, so I think that's a really great resource.

That said, there are also subcultures online which are a little bit more dangerous. ... It's a double-edged sword when it comes to subcultures. For better or for worse, kids who are marginalized can find community online, and for queer kids that can be really good. But for kids who are engaging in sort of pathological behaviors, like starving themselves or purging their food, [the Internet] can be incredibly dangerous, because they can also find other people who support that kind of behavior.

Tell me a little bit more about these "pro-ana" sites. ...

Pro-anorexia Web sites ... can be discussion groups; they can be a site put up by a single person; they can be a blog that advocates what they call a pro-ana lifestyle -- and that's a lifestyle in which one restricts eating such that one's body mass index drops dangerously low. It's hard to find anorexics in real life or bulimics in real life or people who have other eating disorders in the offline world, because you don't necessarily know. Someone could just be very skinny, and how would you go up and approach this other person? So what the Internet has done is provided these forums for anorexics who want to be anorexic to meet one another.

This is by all means not all anorexics; I wouldn't even say the majority of anorexics or people with eating disorders are in this kind of community. These are primarily women who set out to have an eating-disordered lifestyle. This is not a teenager who's gone on a diet and taken it too far and is getting help. There's a difference between those two things. These are, again, primarily women who take pride in their ability to deny themselves food and to keep their weight at this artificially low and dangerous level.

The groups that I've specifically studied are groups on MySpace -- and MySpace doesn't allow these groups, and it seems to do its best to take them down. But there's still about -- I think there were about 100 when I first looked. But again, some of these only have four members, but the largest groups have about 300 members.

Each day someone ... will post a topic, and then people respond to a given topic. For instance, a topic would be something like, "What are your strategies for getting through today?," or "How much do you plan on eating today?" And then they all chime in, saying, "Well, I'm going to eat only one apple today," or "I'm going to keep myself under 500 calories today," "I'm going to exercise off the food I ate last night," and those sorts of things.

What they do on these sites is they almost deify anorexia. They call anorexia "Ana" and then elevate Ana to the goddess Ana. They say they're praying to the goddess Ana or they're asking Ana for help, so that anorexia becomes this deity. They talk about her visiting them in their dreams and encouraging them to continue in this lifestyle. So it really becomes this badge of honor. ...

These are not women on Weight Watchers; these are women who don't just want to lose 30 pounds, but want to continue to starve themselves throughout their lives. So what they'll say about these women who come on and say, "Oh, I just need to lose 30 pounds by prom," they'll call them "wannarexics." They're not true anorexics; they're wannarexics, because being a true anorexic is something that takes discipline and willpower, and it's incredibly difficult to achieve. I actually agree with that. I mean, your body does everything it can to keep you to eat, and these women are sort of fighting that very primitive urge we all have.

... Do you have any sense, beyond MySpace, of how many of these sites exist and how many people are on them and how old they are, anything like that?

I have no clue. The age of the people on them ... is hard, because first of all, we can't actually verify; you get people's posted age. It seemed to be from the way people talked and from what their posted ages were that they clustered around 18, that you had some high school students and 20-year-olds, and the primary age range was 16 to 26 basically, was where they mostly identified.

Every once in a while you'd get a 40-year-old on there who seemed quite old and tough and had been in and out of mental institutions for quite a while and [who] shared their stories. Then every once in a while you'd get someone who said they were 16, but from the way they talked seemed quite a bit younger, or you'd get someone who said they were 25, and then you'd hear them say something about high school or their classes or something, so you knew they were younger. But 18 to 19 seems to be the age that these women sort of cluster around.

This is a very interesting subculture to me, because ... pre-Internet, it's hard to imagine this existed. Anorexia was really seen as a disease, and the places in which anorexics could come together were places in which it was treated as a disease. ...

I used to work at a psych hospital and ran an eating disorders program. This was pre-Internet. I mean, the Internet existed, but it was when it was just sort of text-based; frankly, you couldn't really see anything. One of the dangers of all these girls coming to the hospital was, for the first time they were around a group of other anorexics where they could trade tricks, and they would.

And it was really frustrating that we're there trying to help them and trying to get them treatment, and instead they were trading tricks about how to hide the butter under the table or how to put a lot of salt on their food so they retained water so they would look heavier on a weigh-in.

Now they don't have to go to the psych hospital to meet other anorexics; they don't have to get so sick that they're actually committed to a hospital. They can get tips anytime they want online. So you're right: This [is] a fundamental shift from being isolated. The way anorexics were written about in psychological literature was always as the isolated anorexic, this woman suffering alone in silence. And indeed it was something she suffered from.

Now we have this shift where these women are actively seeking a certain lifestyle, where they can foster a community around this lifestyle and they don't have to be so sick that they're having to be force-fed in order to find a community. So in that sense it is dangerous.

On the other hand, ... the resources to help them get out of this also abound on the Internet. Whereas a girl suffering in silence in 1985 wouldn't necessarily have any resources except her parents or possibly a school guidance counselor, now that same girl, should she not choose to live this pro-ana lifestyle, could find a plethora of resources on the Internet for how to find support groups or how to get out of this sort of behavior. So again, it's the flip side. You can see it's dangerous, and pathological behaviors [are] exacerbated, but you could also see a lot more help that's available to these women who are suffering from these disorders.

Are there other groups -- cutting [self-injury], for example, being another group? Give me a sense of some of the other teen subcultures that you can find online.

... Cutters is not something that I study a lot, but from speaking to other people who study them, it is a subculture that's also flourishing on the Web. Any subculture you can name, it flourishes on the Web. ...

There's the "emo" culture. ... There are female emos, but primarily it's male. It's kind of like a newer version of goth: They dress all in black; they listen to music that's very sad and kind of whiny, and it's usually about their girlfriend breaking up with them or how they want to die because they're so sad. ... The emo lifestyle or emo identity is very big on the Web -- lots of music videos; on your MySpace you might say that you're emo -- but the backlash against emo subculture is also huge on the Web. ... If you go on YouTube and type in "emo," you'll see mainstream boys making video after video after video making fun of emo boys. ...

Another subculture I've stumbled across, ... which I did not anticipate finding, is teenage role players. I thought role playing had gone out with Dungeons & Dragons and that any kid who ... had social skills didn't role-play, but I've stumbled into quite a few communities of role players, and they do it in a variety of ways. And these are straight-A kids who are going to good colleges, who are very gregarious and friendly and all these sorts of things, and they role-play. ...

For instance, this one girl that I'm interviewing is obsessed with ... [the television series] Charmed, and she role-plays using MySpace sites. She set up a MySpace site as Future Boy Chris, who is a character on Charmed, and people will then write to her, ... and then they'll role-play back and forth ... through MySpace postings about Future Boy Chris and some other character going through this particular scenario.

Then I have another girl who's really involved in a fantasy role-playing site where, ... in order to play on the site, you have to get your character applications approved. She spent the entire night before her SATs staying up and writing these 2,000-word character applications. And they were brilliant. I mean, if I were an English teacher, I would be just floored to have this sort of thing turned in to me.

So she gets them approved, and they get gold stars, and -- you know, it's adults writing the site. So it's this amazing thing, and then she role-plays with these characters and these text-based posts, and she spends probably two hours a day doing this. And she ended up, for her senior English class, writing her final paper using the character that she role-plays with as the basis of the story, and she actually got into college writing essays based on this character.

In a sense, we think of subcultures as bad and sort of taking away from teenagers' educational lives, and these role-playing sites actually -- these are kids leaving school, going home and writing for fun. And then she brings this sort of education she's gotten on these sites back to school, and it actually enhances her educational experience. So it's actually quite amazing.

[How about her SATs?]

She did quite well.

It's not just the computer that kids use; they have their IM, and they have their [text messaging as well]. ... Take me through the hierarchy of these different forms of technology: What would you do on certain things that you wouldn't do on other things? ...

Well, they don't use e-mail, so we can just basically rule e-mail out. E-mail would be considered the least intimate. ... This came as a surprise to me, because when I first was recruiting kids for interviews, I decided I would say, "Oh, yeah, and give me your e-mail," -- it didn't even occur to me to say, "Give me your MySpace" -- and then they would never respond to the e-mails. Then I realized they responded to text messages but not to e-mails. ...

They will communicate with their teachers over e-mail ... or employers but other than that they don't use e-mail. It's too slow, and it's: "That's formal; that's where you'd write a letter." E-mail to them is the equivalent of writing a business letter, which I actually found quite fascinating, because I didn't anticipate that at all. E-mail's not even in the picture.

Texting -- I don't know exactly where texting is in this sort of hierarchy of intimacy, but texting is far and away the most important thing for many of them. ... When I talk to kids, they often say they text all through their classes; they text at lunch; they text after school. It's sort of constant texting, and without it they feel a little naked or a little lost, and that's their primary way of communicating.

When I ask them, "Well, why text? Why not make a phone call?," ... boys almost always answer, "Well, because then you don't have to talk to anybody; you don't have to get involved in a long conversation; you can just say exactly what you mean and move on, and that's it, and you're done." Boys will say that they don't call girls for that specific reason, because they can just text them.

What's funny is that the sort of lack of intimacy provided by this sort of digital media led to more intimacy. What I mean by that is that texting and IMing and MySpace messages allow kids new dating rituals. For instance, boys feel a lot less vulnerable because they can, when they meet a girl, instead of saying, "Oh, can I have your phone number?," and then calling her, ... they'll text her or craft a MySpace message so they can think about it. And they can do that, and they're not rendered vulnerable the same way they are in this person-to-person interaction.

I don't actually think there's a different level of intimacy in a MySpace message versus a text; the kids seem to say it's the same thing, although I think that from the people I hear them talk about, they'd be likely to send someone a MySpace message even if they didn't know that person very well, whereas they wouldn't necessarily text a person they didn't know very well. ...

But I do think the way that these electronic media have played into their dating rituals is really interesting, because then conversely I'll ask, "Well, have you ever known anybody to break up over MySpace or break up on a text message?" And unanimously, everybody I've interviewed says: "Oh my God, ... you cannot do that. That's horrible; that's awful." But also they always have one story where they say, "Oh, but I know someone who did that; it was bad. It was really bad," or someone who's gotten in sort of a MySpace war with an ex or something like that.

But aside from breaking up, there's nothing that really is inappropriate, nothing that's too intimate to do on a MySpace page or a text?

It depends on the kid. For instance, I talked to one kid. ... I was talking to him about IMing specifically. I said, "Oh, would you have conversations over IM you wouldn't have in person?" And he talked about how his friend got pregnant, and they dealt with it over IM because she didn't want her parents to hear about it if she were on the phone and she needed advice. That was the most intimate conversation I've ever heard someone talk about over IM. ...

I often say, "Well, would you have a fight over MySpace or a fight on text?," and they say, "No, you usually don't do that because you could misunderstand one another, especially over texting. ... If it got to a certain point you would call them because you'd need to actually talk about it." ...

... It feels like these kids are so besieged by information and people and connections and advertising and marketing and messages, ... and at the same time they're enabling so much more connectivity than we have as adults. It's almost a contradiction: They don't want to talk to people so they IM them, but why not just sit in your class and go to the class? Why do you have to constantly be in touch?

I've asked them that. I've asked them, "Why do you constantly need to be talking to one another or in touch with one another?," and the response I hear is, "I'm bored." They're bored in class. ...

I think the in-class stuff is slightly different because all they're doing is replacing note-writing. I spent the vast majority of my high school years writing long, involved notes about whatever drama I was going through to my friends and then folding them up in very specific ways to hand them off in between classes. Instead of doing that, they're just texting now. ... Again, that goes back to the [idea that] teen culture is a social culture, and they like to constantly be in touch.

But also what they're doing is, they're subverting the authority in the classroom. Kids don't have a lot of authority in the world; they don't. No one does what they say; they're constantly under the control of someone else. There's a lot of laws that apply to them. Parents tell them what to do; teachers tell them what to do. So what this social world allows them to do is to be in charge of their lives in this one little social realm. ...

Nobody knows that my respondent on her role-playing site was 16 years old when she joined. They treated her like an adult, and it felt really good to her. That's something that these digital media allow kids: to be actors and not just acted upon, which they usually are in our world.

What about the whole privacy issue? ... Adults, in particular, think kids ... have no concept of privacy whatsoever; it just doesn't exist for them. ...

I think it depends on the kid. I think, however, because these kids encountered these social networking sites so much younger, that it feels less foreign to them, or that an expectation of keeping things to themselves or the idea that they might keep some things to themselves seems a lot stranger to them than it does to us. A lot of the kids I talk to keep blogs and put what I think is personal information up online. ...

I asked them, "Do you think about the information you put up there? Do you feel scared knowing that someone would know this?" And their answers are, ... "I know other people look at it, and I wouldn't put anything up there that I won't mind somebody else seeing." ...

They just don't have a sense that anybody would actually care what they put up there, and what is public realm for them, or what belongs to the public, is much more expansive than what adults think belongs to the public.

... I think when we put things up on the Internet, our imagined audience is much wider than theirs is. Or maybe it's just that theirs just includes their peers in a way that ours doesn't.

... The respondents who really think about what information they're putting out there usually migrate to Facebook, because they can control who sees it -- that either they can put it so everybody sees their sites but not everybody sees their friends, or that only their friends see their site. They have a lot more control over who sees what information. Those respondents have a sense that they don't want the entire world knowing what's going on. ...

The compulsion to take pictures, to sort of constantly be recording the life and then posting it, what is that?

Well, again, I think it's old teenage culture in a new wrapper. When you looked at kids in the '70s and the '80s, in the '90s, their lockers [were] covered in pictures. They constantly had the little cameras and were taking pictures of everything, and then would come to school after prom and show each other all their pictures. If you ever looked at a high school girl's folder, they would get these sort of clear folders where they'd stick pictures in of everything that had happened.

That compulsion in some sense is nothing new, because it's all part of that identity work, where they're reflecting back to themselves who they think they are. I think that's grown even more intense with Hollywood['s] fetishizing of adolescence, where you have the John Hughes movies and all these movies about what high school was supposed to look like. And so kids are constantly trying to line their lives up with these stories of adolescence and these stories of high school.

What digital media has done is given them a more intense way to do this. ... So there's a proliferation of pictures and videos of them living their lives, in essence, online. And instead of bringing their pictures to school and passing them around and having everybody talk about them -- "Oh, this picture makes me look fat; this picture makes me look great" -- they put them on their pages, and then they can get online comments from their friends where they have the exact same discussion. ...

But they also can be very artistic with these pictures, which I think, again, is something the media doesn't pick up on. The media doesn't pick up on the fact that there's a site called deviantART, and on this site teenagers take these amazing pictures -- I mean, a lot of people do, people of all ages -- but it's a site where you can put your art up, whether it be a picture or a drawing, and people can buy prints from you. It's quite amazing.

I've had these interviewees who are incredibly talented. I mean, they're normal kids -- they're not going to go to school for art or anything like that -- but they're very, very talented amateur artists, and they have these amazing photographs or drawings up there that I think, "Well, I'd pay $25 for that."

So in a sense, this expansion of digital media and the availability to them of digital photography allows them to be creators and independent artists and even make some money from that art, which I think is quite fascinating, which is something that wouldn't have been afforded to them in a pre-Internet era necessarily. ...

Talk a little bit about the whole participation gap, [or "digital divide," terms used to describe socioeconomic inequality in access to the Internet]. ...

What I've seen most with kids in terms of the digital divide is insecure access. What I mean by that is they'll have one computer in the house; they're not sure what their connection is, whether they're dial-up or whether they are -- a lot of them poach wireless from the places around them, from the apartments around them -- or whether they're DSL, or whether they're cable.

They're not sure, and then something will go wrong, and these are families where there's no money to get the guy from the cable company out to fix it necessarily, and they have to rely on friendship networks or to get someone out there who knows what to do to fix it. ...

But what goes along with that is that there will just be one computer, and it will be a computer from 10 years ago, ... and it's usually a PC because these sorts of families can't afford Macs, so it's filled with viruses; they can't afford the latest virus software update to get it fixed.

Again, these are people who wouldn't necessarily show up on a digital divide map because they have a computer; they have Internet access; they use the computer. But that's where you see the participation problem happen, because they can't participate in the digital world in the same way. ...

What I've heard a lot from several kids is that they wait until they come to school, and once they get to school they know they can get online and get whatever sort of information Mom was looking for or Dad was looking for, or they can sign up for the SATs. I sat with numerous students and walked them through the SAT process or the process by which you apply for college financial aid, a lot of which is done online now. They couldn't do it at home -- their connection was too slow; their connection was too spotty -- so they had to wait until they got to school to do it, and they wouldn't always even have the skills to know where to go, because they can't just explore.

What happens when you have Internet access that is always available or your laptop in bed with you in your room is that you can just sort of futz around and go places, and you pick up all this knowledge along the way. If you don't have the time and the ability to play on your computer, you won't learn nearly as much, and you'll be left behind in many, many ways. That's why thinking about participation and not just access is really key to the future of digital media, and to equality and youth.

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posted january 22, 2008

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