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answers to questions from Twitter on teen practices

Before I headed to Atlanta to do fieldwork, I asked folks who follow me on Twitter (@zephoria) what questions I should ask teens. Many of the questions that I received were more general questions about teens, rather than questions for teens. Still, I’m going to take a stab at very briefly answering some of the questions that I received based on what I know and what I learned. I am not answering the larger questions that would require pages and pages and my apologies if my short answers are not sufficient but I wanted to at least respond. Thank you all who contributed questions and my apologies if I didn’t answer yours.

To all who asked questions about Twitter: average teens don’t use Twitter. They may in the future, but they do not now. Those who do are early adopters and not representative of any mainstream teen practice. Because of Oprah and celebs, some teens are starting to hear about it, but they don’t understand it and they aren’t using it.

@connyb: Parents’ concerned with what kids do online, right? I’d ask teens if they know what exactly their parents do at their dayjobs.

Teens do not tend to know exactly what their parents do, nor do they particularly care. (It’s important to note that parental concern stems from a position of power, not interest in the actual activities.)

@mauraweb: when they’re searching for info, how do they know what info to trust? esp. w/internet searches

Media literacy amongst teens is extremely varied, but the short answer is that most don’t know what to trust. They know that they are not supposed to trust Wikipedia because it’s editable (and they automatically recall Wikipedia when you ask about trustworthy information.. that’s so actively hammered down their throat, it’s painful). One girl told me that she trusts websites that “look” like they are reputable. When I asked her about this, she told me that she could “just tell” when something was a good source. And besides, it came from Google. Le sigh.

@AlterSeekers: According to Facebook Era, Teens see email as a “work” tool and prefer to Facebook message. Is this true among these teens?

I was surprised to find that email is deader than ever among teens. As more of their parents and teachers are getting on Facebook (or MySpace), they see little reason to email with anyone. Thus, email is increasingly needed for having an account on various sites and for getting access to or sending attachments. But even when teens do use email for “work”, they do not use it for social purposes.

@mirroredpool: What borders to teens place of social networking sites and education? How would they react to using an SNS to do class work?

@annejonas: i’m curious if they want schools involved in social networks or if they like it as a social space outside the realm of formal edu.

This is messy. Many teens have ZERO interest in interacting with teachers on social network sites, but there are also quite a few who are interested in interacting with SOME teachers there. Still, this is primarily a social space and their interactions with teachers are primarily to get more general advice and help. In some ways, its biggest asset in the classroom is the way in which its not a classroom tool and not loaded this way. Given that teens don’t Friend all of their classmates, there are major issues in terms of using this for groupwork because of boundary issues.

@shcdean: What future do they see for FB or Twitter.

They don’t use Twitter. When asked, teens always say that they’ll use their preferred social network site (or social media service) FOREVER as a sign of their passion for it now. If they expect that they’ll “grow out of it”, it’s a sign that the service is waning among that group at this very moment. So they’re not a good predictor of their own future usage.

@lazygal: Do they really care about/use school library websites? Twitter? Pageflakes? Libguides? or only if teacher insists?

Nope, they don’t. All but Twitter are categorized as school tools and are only used when absolutely necessary and Google won’t suffice.

@anindita: My favorite question: read anything good lately?

I asked “Recent book that you enjoyed” on my questionnaire. Half said “none” and most said books they read in school (with a *). Books that were mentioned: City of Bones, Ashes & Glass, A Year of Impossible Goodbyes, The Outsiders*, Drama High Series, Mice and Men*, Catcher in the Rye*, The Poisonwood Bible*, Twilight series (twice).

@texas_sooner: I’d be interested to know if teens denied access to SNS (by parents/choice/SES reasons etc ) feel left out/pressure to join, etc.

Parental restrictions are a huge source of frustration because of a sense of isolation. (As a result, they are typically ignored.) SES is not actually a predictor of non-use at this point except in more rural regions where Internet access is generally absent for the majority of teens. In these cases, teens don’t feel left out because they aren’t being socially isolated by it.

@SavvyPriya: what is one thing that teens are passionate about?

This varies across teens, but God comes up a lot. The only thing that really competes is friends. Family is also important to some teens. School and sports are also important to some teens. And then some teens have particular hobbies or activities that they love. But God and friends really dominate the passion list.

@paullowe: where do they get their news from and what kind of news do they want to get

Teens primarily get their news from word-of-mouth, not directly from any particular source. School current events and TV time are the other dominant place I hear about. Otherwise, it’s generally osmosis. They walk through the living room when their parents are watching the news. Or they pass by a news article when they get online. But they are not directly and intentionally consuming much news at all.

@thornet: ask ’em how they judge whether a news outlet is credible.teens r good @ spotting fakes & phonies;wonder what their news criteria r

They don’t watch a lot of news and they have no media literacy training and they’re not even thinking about credibility of news.

@andrewmiller: how does having a smartphone change their interactions w/each other on SNS? more photos/videos? faster rumors? have/have-not gap?

A gap is definitely occurring. A smart phone means more more more more more – more SMS, more web consumption, more status updates, more photos, etc. Certain smart phones are desperately desired items. That said, teens are also doing quite well with the iPod Touch + wifi as an alternative. Smart phones are helping them stay more engaged and connected.

@shawncalhoun: Were teens more engaged in politics by Obamas #socialmedia storm? If so has engagmnt continued evolved in2 something new or faded?

Most teens are pretty oblivious to his social media practices. That’s actually hitting the college/20-somethings more.

@alexleavitt: Ask them if they feel like they’ll want to develop the social Net when they get older: eg., developers developers developers.

No. Most don’t associate using social media with computer science or developing software whatsoever. And the classes on programming in their schools aren’t helping.

@pbernard: do they still care about changing the ringtone on their phone, even though they make less and less calls?

Ringtones are tricky with American youth because it very much depends on who pays for the phone/ringtones. Among teens who can change their ringtones whenever they want, there’s still motivation. The phone still rings (and beeps with new SMSes) and having a cool sound is desired. But of course many teens spend most of their day with their phones on buzz-only.

@harraton: Do they care about their privacy?

VERY much so. But what constitutes privacy for them is often quite different than what constitutes privacy for adults. Privacy is not dead.

@simonchambers: I’d ask how they see themselves helping to solve problems like climate change and extreme poverty…

They don’t. Most teens are not that engaged with larger societal issues (except as activities to get into college). This makes sense – they are not part of public life. They have no voice. They don’t hear the debates. They aren’t exposed to much beyond their narrow worlds. And, for most of them, their parents aren’t involved either.

@dougthomas: Teens; what are their thoughts about downloading songs? films? software? without paying for it.

They want access. Their parents won’t pay for it. They don’t have credit cards. They get what they are looking for by any means necessary. And those who get access to it traffic in that content among their peers who may be less technologically savvy/economically privileged.

@jamesb: how does their mobile contacts differ from social network contacts? When do they crossover?

Mobile consists of their closest friends because of the economics of the phone. Social network sites are their broader peer group. Their closest friends are a subset of their broader peer group.

@alfredtwo: Do teens view all adults in social networking the same or are parents a special case? Young relatives friend me not their parents

Depends on the teen, but many are happy to connect with adults who don’t directly hold power over them or who they “trust” – aunts, older cousins, youth pastors, “cool” teachers, etc.

@mjmantey: how aware are they of general advertising/marketing ways and means?

If it has advertising, they think that it means that it’ll be free for a long time. But they don’t really think much about it.

@mojo_girl: how many email accounts do they have that parents don’t know about- do they use same password 4 all #socialmedia ? #teens

They don’t use email so it’s more a matter of which ones they forgot about. They often forget their passwords so I would guess that they don’t use the same password consistently. Of course, they also share certain passwords with their closest “trusted” friends so that gets messy really fast. And they change it when there’s a breakup.

@matlockmatlock: OMGSEXTINGWTF?

Continuing to be present and very very messy. Sharing of naked photos seems to be more prevalent in certain teen groups than others and I’m still trying to work out what this means.

An interesting question from the comments:

maxoid: is there any data on teen usage of Capitalization and proper grammar vs. SMS-shorthand and all-lowercase? (is format now used as a way to stand out from adults as much as langauge has long been?)

You can definitely look to certain subcultural practices to witness distinctions, such as the culture around AzN pRiDe. But there are huge differences between linguistic practices that are meant to be distinct and culturally resistant (such as those that are actually hard to produce) and those that are meant to make communication easier (fast IMing) or accommodate techno-economic limitations (160 chars). It’s important to remember that a lot of our writing (and speaking) is intentionally redundant to account for issues in hearing and penmanship. With typing, a lot of this falls by the wayside and it’s hard to argue against shorthand except to cling to inertia. Language changes. New genres of media change language. Expect things to change. Expect new generations to be pulled between what they will see as “obvious” shifts and what they’ll be forced to accommodate by those who demand status quo.