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Links to my published articles online
List of Publications with Full Citations

Adolescent Diary Weblogs and the Unseen Audience

Conversations in the Blogosphere: An Analysis "from the Bottom Up". Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-38) Best Paper Nominee.

Weblogs as a bridging genre

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Common Visual Design Elements of Weblogs

Women and Children Last: The Discursive Construction of Weblogs

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The Performativity of Naming: Adolescent Weblog Names as Metaphor

Buxom Girls and Boys in Baseball Hats: Adolescent Avatars in Graphical Chat Spaces

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Last Updated November 22, 2005.

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New books are added but reading status is rarely accurate.

July 04, 2005

Thoughts on the Children's Digital Media Center at UCLA and their press release

This morning as I worked my way through my routine - reading email and RSS feeds, and checking on prolurker - I ran across Media @ LSE's post on a "new study conducted by UCLA children's digital media". I have not followed the Children's Digital Media Center (CDMC) at UCLA, though I have known of Greenfield and Subrahmanyam work, so I decided to spend a little time making sure I had all of the citations recorded in Reference Manager.  I now have the site bookmarked and will be checking it regularly.

First I read the press release that is linked predominately on the CDMC site, and was surprised by the underlying values expressed in the statements. After perusing the articles I am still unclear on whether the statements from the press release, which I have reproduced below, are in or out of context.  When I have a chance I need to read the articles from the special issue of Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 25, 6,  Developing Children, Developing Media - Research from Television to the Internet from the Children's Digital Media Center: A Special Issue Dedicated to the Memory of Rodney R. Cocking edited by Patricia Greenfield to hopefully understand the Centers standpoint on children and teens more clearly.

To find out what young people are exposed to on the Internet, Greenfield entered a Web area devoted to teenagers - whose motto was "Be seen, be heard, be you" - and was "shocked" by what she found there, including unsolicited sexual advances from strangers.

"The sexuality expressed in a teen chat room was public, linked to strangers and had nothing to do with relationships," Greenfield said. "It was very explicit and focused on physical acts, and often associated with the degradation of women. I started to receive private instant messages, including a crude sexual advance, just by hanging out at the chat room, even though I had not participated in any of the ongoing conversations.

"The unsolicited nature of these messages could be daunting for adolescents, particularly younger ones," she added. "I was not looking for unsolicited personal messages, sexual or otherwise, but once I decided to enter the chat room, I could not avoid being exposed. I was pursued sexually. I also found aggression, racism and prejudice in this chat room (which no longer exists). Racism and hate are not limited to hate sites.

"We often consider the Internet to be a repository of information, but my experiences in the chat room led me to conclude that we need to question the values that we wish to convey, and the disparity between those values and the ones to which teenagers are being exposed. These are not only Internet issues, but issues of our culture in general, and youth culture in particular."

Greenfield also visited a teen chat room that had adult monitors and rules to reduce offensive and crude comments. She found that the chat there was quite different from the chat in the unsupervised site; still, sex and aggression did not disappear; rather they became hidden in code.

"The participants in this teen chat room were talking about sex a lot of the time," Greenfield said. "They were referring to various forms of sex, all in code, without using words about sex. The coded sexual allusions were still devoid of feelings and relationships."

In particular I was surprised by the values regarding children and teens as independent actors, and the nature of their sexual awareness that are expressed in these quotes. I am concerned by the appearance that the researchers view childhood and adolescence as a static state that is, by nature, a time of development where only external forces frame the actions and thoughts of young people as though they themselves are not actively involved in cultural creation - that these activities are done to children and teens but not by them.

For researchers, chatrooms are, or were, a ripe field for research on how teens interact with other teens without the strictures imposed by adults.  Even in moderated sites the communication rose to a different level of interaction between the teens then is normally seen by adults as adult presence normally quells the teens natural informal interactions - moving communication into a different register, the "adult present" register a transition that is often coded in IM and chat as POS or "parent over shoulder."  Unmoderated sites are, or were, the free-for-all that one can see in the groups of teens that hang out on street corners in the city...rough and tumble spaces where communication is, on some level, a form of combat for the boys and girls who are present.  Is this how we as adults want these spaces to be?  Probably not, but it is how they are and history shows that this is not a new issue, certainly not one that is limited to cyberspace.  Rather cyberspace allows adults to be observers in a teens world.

I have railed on prolurker before about the western perception of childhood and adolescence as a given rather then the social construct that gives these age ranges special significance that is not governed by a biological imperative.  As researchers we do no favors to our subjects by carrying these demarcations forward without acknowledging that they are in essence artificial separations.  The historical grounding of these lines is very interesting reading, that has been romanticized in the modern view and we as researchers should understand the histories present - social, cultural, and developmental - that creates the social group we study.

I need to reiterate that I am still not clear if the issues here are to be found in the bulk of the Centers work or if the values I present are only the media offices point of view.  Clearly CDMC has adopted the views on some level, as they link to the press release from their site. 

I need to spend more time with developmental psychological literature on adolescents to get a clearer picture of the disciplines take on issues that figure in my research.  Likewise, this special issue underlines for me that there is much to be teased out of the interactions found in the data I have archived from teen chatspaces.  More research and writing can be

Posted by prolurkr at July 4, 2005 10:27 AM

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