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Monday, May 18, 2009

Teens, age segregation & social networking

"Kaitlyn" doesn't use Facebook to hang out with school friends because it's "for old people!" she told danah boyd. She and her friends use MySpace, but Kaitlin does mix it up with her own relatives (grownups) in Facebook. "She sees her world as starkly age segregated and she sees this as completely normal," danah writes. "'Connor,' on the other hand, sees the integration of adults and peers as a natural part of growing up." They're three years apart in age (Kaitlyn 14, Connor 17) and Connor's in a slightly higher economic bracket, but in her blog post about her conversations with the two, danah writes that "the biggest differences in their lives stem from their friend groups and the schools they attend.... [Connor] told me that in Atlanta, most schools are 60% or more black but his school was only 30% black. And then he noted that this was changing, almost with a sense of sadness. Kaitlyn, on the other hand, was proud of the fact that her school was very racially diverse. She did complain that it was big, so big in fact that they had created separate 'schools' and that she was in the school that was primarily for honors kids but that this meant that she didn't see all of her friends all the time. But she valued the different types of people who attended.... Connor's friends are almost entirely white and well-off while at least half of Kaitlyn's friends are black and most of her friends are neither well-off nor poor." So Kaitlyn appreciates ethnic and racial diversity, Connor age diversity. Are these differences reflected in social network sites? To some degree, and we all wonder which is more causative offline socio-economic and -cultural differences or online ones (how much of a factor is Facebook's origin in an elite Ivy League school?). danah also wonders about inclinations or aversions to age segregation: "There's nothing worse than demanding that teens accept adults in their peer space, but there's a lot to be said for teens who embrace adults there, especially non-custodial adults like youth pastors and 'cool' teachers. I strongly believe that the healthiest environment we can create online is one where teens and trusted adults interact seamlessly. To the degree that this is not modeled elsewhere in society, I worry." I agree with her - and worry that efforts by adults not following social-media research to impose age verification will create an artificial age divide on the social Web. For a broader sweep of observations on teen social-media users, see danah's response to questions in Twitter mostly from adults.

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