Hooray for danah boyd

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I have to say that one of the best keynote speakers I have seen in a while was danah boyd. I don't want to just gush in a blog, so just to elaborate, I respected the keynote because:

  1. We got some solid ethnographic research data (although condensed for keynote purposes).
  2. More importantly, she presented a balanced view of "change." Not as an oncoming Armageddon or the next Eden, but as something normal that happens to every culture (especially the culture likes to invent new technology).

With respect to the research point, I was surprised at how many of my assumptions following the e-grapevine weren't quite right. For instance, boyd notes that Facebook did not override MySpace, but rather that MySpace and Facebook co-exist, but are used by different socioeconomic groups.

The divide is not necessarily bad, but it is important to know that it is there when thinking about what "services" we (Penn State) provide through either platform, and what that means from a social point of view. For course work, boyd recommends a third-party "neutral" environment like ANGEL, the Blogs at Penn State or maybe Twitter.

I was also moved by how protective boyd is of her teenage subjects. A theme I seemed to hear is that despite the seeming technical prowess of modern teens in terms of Facebook, they are not techno-super heroes. She comments that they still have the same concerns, and the same fears, that we all had. The NetGen hypothesis (i.e. differently wired brains/expectations) is a common assumption, but in an extreme form, can make the next generation of college students sound a little bit like an alien species.

But boyd merely assumes they are still normal teens, with different communication devices. There will be differences, but probably nothing we can't handle.

P.S. The Swain Interview

The interview between Jeff Swain and danah boyd has been posted. Interestingly, danah boyd wonders if teens will abandon Facebook now that their parents are finding their high school buddies. They really do sound like typical teenagers.


Thrilled it was valuable to you! I loved it and enjoyed every minute of time I had getting to talk with danah (and David) ... both of them were amazing participants.

rb smail Author Profile Page said:


I always like when you post something; this is just one more, and very well written. I have a real fangirl thing for danah boyd, and I was really looking forward to her presentation. I think one of the things I like so much is that danah *is* protective of her teenage subjects; she treats them with respect and courtesy, and not like some trained baboons (of course, she hasn't met my boys; just sayin'). I very much appreciate there is research behind her work; I've even taken a stab at reading her dissertation, which she actually put on her site for anyone to peruse. Her work--because it deals with socio-economic divides--tends to be quite polarizing, but to me it brings home that divide that was inherent in high school all those moons ago. I am fascinated at how it translates to the ethers, and somewhat stunned with the realization we may very well have unintentionally made some of our students even MORE uncomfortable in online venues about which we've made incorrect assumptions.

ELIZABETH J PYATT Author Profile Page said:

Thanks for your kind thoughts. I agree that danah boyd is pushing a hot button when she brings up socioeconomic class and even bullying. The good news is that I think both issues diminish in higher education, but probably never fully go away.

Her story of the LA kid who had to go "gangsta" in high school is telling. He'll be able to discard that outfit in the Ivy League School, but will he have to put on another suit? It depends on the Ivy League school...

Even here at Penn State, I have heard stories of major urbanite culture shock. On the other hand, culture shock can be a powerful learning experience if handled correctly.

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