Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media

About Digital Youth

"Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures" is a three-year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives. Read more

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The work on this site is licensed under a CC-BY-NC. If you share or re-use any work found on the site, please credit the original author and the Digital Youth Project and link back to the Digital Youth Project.

Photo Credits: Ritchie Ly and Geert Allegaert.


Final report on our project findings

We are happy to announce the online release of the findings from our three-year project. All of the researchers who have worked on this project will be writing up individual publications, but this report represents a synthesis of the findings across the 22 different case studies. It has been over three years in the making, and is the result of a truly collaborative joint effort with 28 researchers and research collaborators. I am super proud of my team for doing such a phenomenal job with their individual projects, and for their generosity in sharing their work with this collective effort. It's very rare for ethnographers to collaborate at this scale, and we see this project as testament to the fact that large scale collaboration and joint analysis is possible with qualitative work.

Special thanks goes to the MacArthur Foundation who funded this work, and in particular to our program officer, Connie Yowell, who has been together with us in this journey every step of the way. It has been such a pleasure working with a foundation that has been so forward looking in engaging with an emerging media landscape, and willing to take the time and invest resources in understanding things from the point of view of a rising generation. Since we started this project, the Digital Media and Learning initiative at the foundation has expanded from an experimental foray to a $50 million effort encompassing dozens of projects. It is exciting to see that our work is not just an isolated project, but part of a much larger initiative that is linked to some of the most interest scholarship and educational efforts in this new field.

You can find all the details in the documents linked below, and a summary of our report. The book is due out from MIT Press next fall, but in the meantime you can read a draft of it online.

We will be celebrating the release of our report at a reception at the American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco. Please join us on Saturday November 22, at 6:30-8:00pm, San Francisco Hilton & Towers, Golden Gate Ballroom.

Click here to download a two-page summary of the report.

Click here to download the summary white paper.

Click here to go to the MIT Press site to order the book or download it fir free in pdf format.

Click here for the press release and video being hosted by the MacArthur Foundation.

Click "Read more..." for highlights.


Today we are commemorating a bittersweet day. A year ago today we lost our dear leader, Peter Lyman, to a heroic battle with cancer. It is hard to be believe that the time has passed so quickly, as he feels very much present to us all here in the digital youth team. It feels fitting to acknowledge this passing of time and the memory of Peter on a day that marks the ending of our shared project together, and the completion of our final report.

We have spent the past year working on a massive collaborative writing and analysis effort that has resulted in a book manuscript, dedicated to Peter, that we are tentatively entitling, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. We have just finished the full draft, in tandem with our official project end on June 30. We plan to do a pre-release on the Internet here on this web site in early fall.

Video of MacArthur Forum now online

The video of our forum at Stanford University, "From MySpace to Hip Hop: New Media In the Everyday Lives of Youth," is now online. We thank Global Kids for making the video of the event public on YouTube.

There are three videos in total. The first video features Julie Stasch, the Vice President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, who is introducing the forum.

The second video features researchers for the Digital Youth Project, including Mimi Ito who discussed Participatory Learning in a Networked Society: Lessons From the Digital Youth Project; danah boyd who focused upon Teen Socialization Practices in Networked Publics; Heather Horst who examined family dynamics in Understanding New Media in the Home; and Dilan Mahendran, who discussed Hip Hop Music and Meaning in the Digital Age.

The final video is a panel discussion featuring Dale Dougherty, General Manager, Maker Media Division, O'Reilly Media; Deborah Stipek, Dean, Stanford University School of Education; Kenny Miller, EVP & Creative Director, MTV Networks' Global Digital Media; Linda Burch, Chief Education & Strategy Officer, Common Sense Media and moderator Connie Yowell, Director of Education, The MacArthur Foundation.

The forum was presented by Common Sense Media, the MacArthur Foundation and the Stanford University School of Education.

Public Forum on April 23

On April 23, at Stanford, we will be giving our first major public presentation of the outcomes of our research. We are near the end of three years of ethnographic work on 22 different case studies of youth engagement with new media. The MacArthur Foundation and Common Sense Media are organizing the evening event (4:30-8:30pm).

It will include talks and poster presentations from four of our team members: Heather Horst, Dilan Mahendran, danah boyd, and Mimi Ito. There will also be a panel or respondents including Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media, Deborah Stipek, dean of the Stanford School of Education, Linda Burch of Common Sense Media, and Kenny Miller from MTV Networks. There will also be an opportunity to talk to all of the other researchers on the project and learn more about the various case studies. You can prepare for both small talk and big talk by reading some of our stories.

The event is public and you can see program details and register to attend this event (By April 18) at:

Technology and the World of Consumption

I had just finished giving a talk about youth culture to a room full of professionals who worked in the retail industry when a woman raised her hand to tell me a story. It was homecoming season and her daughter Mary was going to go to homecoming for the first time. What fascinated this mother was that her daughter's approach to shopping was completely different than her own.

Using Google and a variety of online shopping sites, Mary researched dresses online, getting a sense for what styles she liked and reading information about what was considered stylish that year. Next, Mary and her friends went to the local department store as a small group, toting along their digital cameras (even though they're banned). They tried on the dresses, taking pictures of each other in the ones that fit. Upon returning home, Mary uploaded the photos to her Facebook and asked her broader group of friends to comment on which they liked the best. Based on this feedback, she decided which dress to purchase, but didn't tell anyone because she wanted her choice to be a surprise. Rather than returning to the store, Mary purchased the same dress online at a cheaper price based on the information on the tag that she had written down when she initially saw the dress. She went for the cheaper option because her mother had given her a set budget for homecoming shopping; this allowed her to spend the rest on accessories.

Digital Youth at the EPIC Conference

The Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference starts this evening and runs through October 6. DY's Patricia Lange will be presenting a paper titled "Searching for the “You” in “YouTube”: An analysis of online response ability" Thursday, October 4, sharing the time with three presentations from industry researchers (Intel and Avenue A/Razorfish) and another university-based academic from U. Colorado at Boulder (see the program here). Christo Sims, Michael Carter, and I will also be going to present a poster about our collective research efforts over the past 2+ years (Friday morning's "Artifact Session").

The theme of the conference this year is "Being Heard," which has some interesting overlaps with our work on this project. I would say that all of us are committed to our role as making kids'/youths'/teenagers'/young peoples' (pick your terms!) "heard," though how near or far this approaches an adovcate perspective differs from researcher to researcher.

The EPIC site explains: "EPIC is the premier international forum bringing together artists, computer scientists, designers, social scientists, marketers, academics and advertisers to discuss recent developments and future advances around ethnographic praxis in industry."

I am curious to see how our work sits alongside work being done by industry academics, in terms of method, population, and general approach to research.

UC Berkeley Memorial for Peter Lyman to be held on September 11th, 2007

A UC Berkeley campus memorial to honor Peter Lyman, former University Librarian and Professor in the Information School, will take place between 5 and 7 pm on Tuesday, September 11, at the Morrison Room in Doe Library.

Peter Lyman died of brain cancer, peacefully and at home, on July 2. Those wanting to honor his memory are invited to contribute to the newly established Peter Lyman Graduate Fellowship in New Media; checks addressed to the UC Berkeley Foundation can be sent to the UC Center for New Media, 390 Wurster Hall, # 1066, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720.

Macarthur Spotlight Blog

We are pleased to announce that the Digital Youth project is currently featured on the Macarthur Spotlight Blog . Project members will be blogging about our research projects and preliminary findings throughout the month of August.

Digital Youth at the International Communication Association Meetings in San Francisco

Members of the Digital Youth project will be presenting their work May 26th, 27th and 28th at the International Communication Association International Communication Association conference in San Francisco. Digital Youth member sessions include:

Kids as Cultural Producers: Ethnographic Investigations of Kids’ Informal Learning Through Engagement With Popular Culture
Kids as Cultural Producers: Ethnographic Investigations of Kids and Digital Media in Urban California Schools
The Rise of Remix Culture: Identity, Power and Imagination

Immediate Gratification vs. Immediate Experience with Digital Music - Stories from the Field

One common characterization or myth of young people, in particular young people of color, is that they seek out and desire immediate gratification. This prejudice is applicable to the sphere of youth popular music listening and creation. Music listening in general is understood as an indulgence and an escape[1]. To immediately gratify oneself is to indulge oneself in something without reflection on its consequences for self and others. Escape or escapism is an elementary form of bad faith because it implies that one shirks their responsibilities and rejects the world and its demands on us. If instead we approach music as a way to cope with the world rather than reject or ‘escape’ the world, we may be able to move away from the belief that music is only an unessential leisure activity that must be curbed in favor of more productive tasks like reading, writing or literacy in general.