It’s Complicated

I almost never write about a book that I didn’t or couldn’t finish, unless there’s just something egregious about it. Some people, of course, feel a sort of moral obligation to finish reading any book they’ve started, but life is too short for that. My view is that I’ll give a book 50 pages or so, and then I’ll give up if it doesn’t grab me.

All you have to do is look at the full title (It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens) to see why I started reading this book by Danah Boyd. Clearly it should interest me as a high-school teacher, a technologist, and a blogger. And yes, it should. But I was thrown by the sociological jargon, which I haven’t had to cope with for many decades. For example:

Because technology is involved, networked publics have different characteristics… Four affordances, in particular, shape many of the mediated environment that are created by social media.

“Networked publics”? “Affordances”? “Mediated environment”? Those phrases no longer make sense to me. When I was an undergraduate taking a sociology course, they would have made sense (except, of course, that those particular phrases might not have even existed in the ’60s, but you know what I mean).

So who is Danah Boyd? According to her Wikipedia page, she is “a social media scholar, youth researcher, and advocate working at Microsoft Research, New York University Media Culture & Communication and the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society.” Whew! I’m guessing that her Microsoft work is at the Cambridge campus, so she only has to commute between Cambridge and New York, without the cross-country addition of Redmond to the mix. From the aforementioned Wikipedia page we learn that Boyd has a bachelor’s degree from Brown, a master’s from MIT, and a PhD from Berkeley, so she’s clearly entitled to flex her intellectual expertise.

I mentioned in the first paragraph above that I occasionally review a book I hadn’t finished if it’s egregious (and important to some readers). But It’s Complicated isn’t egregious, it’s just too… well… sociological for my taste. It might well appeal to you. It combines extensive interviewing of subjects — real teens from a variety of demographic and socio-economic groups — with an admixture of theory and analysis. After making my way through the introductory chapter, I dipped into the others, each of which has a snappy one-word title followed by an explanatory tag-line:

  1. identity  why do teens seem strange online?
  2. privacy  why do youth share so publicly?
  3. addiction  what makes teens obsessed with social media?
  4. danger  are sexual predators lurking everywhere?
  5. bullying  is social media amplifying meanness and cruelty?
  6. inequality  can social media resolve social divisions?
  7. literacy  are today’s youth digital natives?
  8. searching for a public of their own

Sounds interesting, right? It should be. Maybe it’s just that it turned out not to interest me. Maybe it will interest you.

Categories: Books, Teaching & Learning, Technology