"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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Photo Credits: Ritchie Ly and Geert Allegaert.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
I spent one semester conducting participant observations with kids in a computer club at an urban high school in Los Angeles. All of the kids in the class are male and their racial/ethnic background reflects the demographics of the school. The club includes Armenian, Filipino, Latino, and African American students. The boys come in to the computer lab everyday during lunchtime and even during their 17-minute nutrition break. They play games on computers that they have networked to each other, view anime on their laptops, and sometimes actually eat their lunch too.
In talking to families in Silicon Valley about their use of media and technology, I often hear stories about how different the experience of being a teenager is today.
About an hour's drive east of Sacramento, the Great Central Valley of California meets the Sierra-Nevada mountain range. The valley's end loosely bounds the suburbs of the greater Sacramento metropolitan area. As roads and rivers climb into the mountains, towns become considerably smaller and more dispersed, trees shift from oaks to pines, the temperature quickly drops. Roughly 150 years ago, this area was one of the epicenters of the California Gold Rush. The historic use of hydraulic mining technology still marks some hills – ashen ruptures in otherwise pine-green panoramas.
Michael and James. Two teenage boys in the Bay Area, James from a poor area of San Francisco, Michael from a wealthier home in Oakland. Each uses the Interent and other digital technologies as a part of their social lives and their interest in art and technology. Like most of their friends, each has a MySpace profile, though their use of the site differs dramatically and can only be understood in light of their other hobbies. Their differing levels of access to social and technical resources is in line with what some call a “participation gap,” but as I describe in detail below, this might run the risk of, at best, an over-simplification of their digitally-enhanced creative interests, and at worst, a privileging of the value of one of the boy’s interests and activities over the other’s.
In my daily of observations of YouTube activities I noticed a rather strong presence of texts produced by so-called Main Stream Media (MSM), mainly TV. This feature seems to be quite prominent especially on ”the most viewed” page and contradicts some predictions that were made during the big YouTube ascend (i.e., Summer/ Fall 2006.). During that period both MSM journalists and some bloggers have suggested that YouTube would displace or even replace MSM. That was the time when CNN and BBC started to show user-generated videos during their regular news broadcasts.
As I read the New York Times this morning, an article about teenagers' use of public libraries as "hangout" spots caught my eye. In it experts bemoaned the growing lack of "third places," in other words, places which weren't home or school, where teens could engage in a time honored tradition of American adolescence, "hanging out." Indeed as we perceive that our streets grow more dangerous, as suburban family life increasingly takes place in atomized homes, and the amount of public spaces decline, public or quasi-public places where youth can socialize appear infrequently.