P052: An Ouroboros of Teens

Andrew Watts is 19-year old student at UT Austin who recently published A Teenager’s View on Social Media. In it, Watts breaks down the way that he uses social media and the ways in which he has observed his peer group doing the same. It’s an incisive look at how these specific teens interact online and it spread like wildfire through the parts of the internet where I spend most of my time.

danah boyd is a more-than-19-years-old researcher and advocate who published a retort titled An Old Fogey’s Analysis of a Teenager’s View on Social Media. In it, boyd calls out “tech elites and journalists” for amplifying Watts’s post and positioning him as the voice of a generation – a title which he is both unqualified to hold and seemingly uninterested in holding. A key point:

“Andrew’s depiction of his peers’ use of social media is a depiction of a segment of the population, notably the segment most like those in the tech industry. In other words, what the tech elite are seeing and sharing is what people like them would’ve been doing with social media X years ago. It resonates. But it is not a full portrait of today’s youth. And its uptake and interpretation by journalists and the tech elite whitewashes teens’ practices in deeply problematic ways.”

The idea that our personal interactions are trending more and more towards a never-ending self-satisfied echo chamber is not a new one, but the ability to finely tune the information you receive through social media is generally seen a feature, not a bug. And the idea that journalists on the social network beat would do their job in a manner consistent with their native media – i.e. over-indexing on the value of personal connection and anecdote at the expense of market research – is unsurprising. Journalists are people, too.

So then: Is there value in the anecdotal experience of the individual, even if that person is a white male from an apparently privileged background? If so, is it the journalist’s responsibility to add disclaimer upon disclaimer to an article about that anecdote or can we expect the average reader to understand that they are reading an article about an opinion piece? And where is the line between the average reader and the journalist? Is it my responsibility as the owner of a twitter account to present a considered and diverse stream of content to my followers? These are just some of the questions we face, now that everyone is a content creator. It can be overwhelming, but at least you can take comfort in knowing that if you link to an article by a white guy on Medium you are part of the problem.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron