Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pew Study on Social Media and Teens

Amanda et al. at Pew have released a new report, "Teens and Social Media." As I'm in Kauai with a (sick) 5-month old, I haven't had a chance to read the entire report. I did look through the topline findings and had a few initial reactions.

Overall trend appears to be that more teen users are participating in creating digital media, not just consuming it. As I remarked to the San Francisco Chronicle, I believe being able to successfully engage in online self-presentation is a facet of digital literacy and that these media production skills will be increasingly important as these teens become young adults who will use social media in many aspects of their professional and personal lives.

The report finds that girls are more likely to blog than boys; I see this as a positive development in that it reverses trends articulated almost a decade ago in a AAUW report called Tech Savvy which argued that although more girls were on the train but they "weren't the ones driving." That is, more girls were using software (such as productivity tools), but they weren't "technologically literate" (able to or interested in getting under the hood). However, the Pew report did note that boys were more likely than girls to upload videos - a task which requires more technical skills than posting textual blog entries - so let's not break out the champagne quite yet.

I found it interesting that email was less utilized among this group, but not surprising. Our interviews last spring with MSU undergraduates revealed a similar trend. Email for many of those we spoke with was a more formal communication technology reserved for situations in which its affordances were needed (for instance, sending directions) or for certain kinds of communication, such as with instructors or parents.

According to the report, 93% of US teens are online. I believe this finding should make us attend to those who don't have access more closely. As the digital divide closes, those who aren't online will find themselves in a more precarious situation. As more people come online, more processes and tasks will move exclusively online. For instance, currently MSU accepts print applications although they encourage online applications. But eventually, once the penetration rate is high enough, it makes sense that they won't accept print applications because of the added time and expense required to process them. Obviously, this example is geared towards a teen-aged population, but there are many other examples (e.g., job applications, tax forms, telephone directories, etc.). The 7% of US teens without access to the Internet deserve our attention, as every year without access puts them farther behind their online peers.