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

Creative Commons License

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.

Don't Mess with The Warriors: Self Expression, Informal Learning, Game Culture and Other Toy Stories (2 of 2)

Previously, on the Digital Youth Project website… [Read the first part of this story]

On February 15 2006, Dennis McCauley published a short entry on his website, “”, eloquently titled “Rockstar’s Legal Gangs Beats Down Online Art Installation”. McCauley linked the aforementioned article written by Knutsen (2006a) describing Dave Beck’s case (here erroneously referred to as “Dave Berg”), and added a few personal comments. In order to foster the readers’ contributions, McCauley did not explicitly stated his position on the matter. His strategy proved successful. It did not take long for the first comment to materialize.

Don't Mess with The Warriors: Self Expression, Informal Learning, Game Culture and Other Toy Stories (1 of 2)

“In the absence of aesthetic value, the history of art is just an enormous storehouse of works whose chronologic sequence carries no meaning.
And conversely: it is only within the context of an art’s historical evolution that aesthetic value can be seen” (Milan Kundera, 2005: 5)

Level 1: Haynes and Barbie dolls
In 1987, American film director Todd Haynes ignited a controversy when he released Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. Using Barbie dolls instead of real actors, Haynes reconstructed the life of Karen Carpenter, the pop vocalist of the band The Carpenters. To detail the girl’s physical deterioration caused by anorexia (note 1), the director finely whittled away at the face and arms of the “Karen” Barbie doll. The movie takes places in various locales, such as recording studios, restaurants, the Carpenter’s residence in Downey, California and Karen’s apartment in Century City: all the sets were designed properly scaled to the dolls. Shortly after its release, Superstar became a minor art–house hit. However, the film was hastily withdrawn from circulation because Haynes lost a lawsuit filed by Karen’s brother and musical collaborator, Richard Carpenter.

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.

Family, Community, and YouTube

What kind of environment is YouTube for children? The answers to that question are often complex and contradictory. They vary across the children, parents, and teachers we have interviewed as part of our study on Digital Youth. Although some children have reported harassment problems and distress due to harsh criticism and mean comments, others have reported making important connections to other people for help with making videos, and forming social and emotional ties with mentors, peers, and YouTube stars.

Becoming a Fan: Interest-Driven Genres of Participation Online

One important dimension of our research is to develop an understanding of the diversity in ways that different youth engage with digital media, and what some of the factors are that lie behind this diversity. While broad demographic indicators such as national context, socioeconomic status, gender, age, or race have been analyzed as sources of diversity in digital media adoption, we still have very limited understanding of the specific practices, social contexts, and cultural identifications that inflect digital media use in different ways.

More than just MP3s: Creating Space through Podcasting

Since the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone nearly 10 years ago, fans of the series have adopted a variety of technologies for sharing writing, facilitating discussion, creating artwork and computer graphics, and producing audio and video. One such practice is podcasting, which became an important part of the fandom around August 2005.

Ways of Listening

For youth in general listening to music is a significant practice, yet its immanent meaning is rarely explored. What brings music listening to the foreground in this case is my ethnographic study of amateur and novice Hip Hop music making. I came upon music listening as an active part of music making experiences while spending time at an after school music and technology program in the Mission district of San Francisco. The music program in the Mission introduces youth to Hip Hop music production.

Self Production and Social Feedback Through Online Video-Sharing on YouTube

My story is about “Claire”, a 19 year old college student. Claire comes from a rural area and works occasionally on her family’s farm where she manages a small dairy goat herd. A year ago I stumbled upon her YouTube video entitled “I am too sexy”. The video is a remix of the song “I am too sexy” by the British pop band “Right Said Fred” (1992) and a “grab” from “My Little Pony” DVD series. Claire works with relatively basic equipment, which includes a PC computer and Windows Movie Maker software and has received a minimal training in video production.

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.

The “Angry Gamer”: Is it Real or Memorex?

He is sitting in front of a television screen. He is wearing t-shirt and jeans. Headset on, hands tightly clutched on a game controller. But there is something terribly wrong here. He looks enraged. He swears profusely. At one point, he gets up, starts jumping up and down. He is gesticulating in an unorthodox manner. Look at him: he just threw gamepad on the floor. He screams savagely. He kicks his chair. He punches the television.

You have probably seen him before.

He is the “angry gamer”.