Teenage Participatory Culture
Posted by JJ Miller
We live in a participatory culture that is constantly demanding our attention and interaction. Teenagers are highly engaged in this culture and could be setting the expectations of social media engagement. A 2005 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project referenced in Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart, 87% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 were online. (Rheingold, 2014) A more recent study by Pew Research Center, conducted in 2018 of teens ages 13-17, found that 95% of teens own or have access to a smart phone and that 45% say they are online on a near-constant basis. Furthermore, those teens recently polled have gravitated to other social media platforms rather than Facebook. Pew Research Center: Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018
Facebook is no longer the predominant social media platform for teenagers, not even close. While adults seem to be using Facebook still more frequently, I’ve noticed that changing. Personally, I have started using YouTube and Instagram more than Facebook. My social media platform engagement change began because of my daughter. However, I quickly understood the gravitation towards Instagram and YouTube.
Teenagers and now adults are becoming social media producers in many different ways. We are constantly engaged in this participatory culture. In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold defines participatory culture as, “one in which a significant portion of the population, not just a small professional guild, can participate in the production of cultural materials ranging from encyclopedia entries to videos watched by millions. And it is a culture populated by people who believe they have some degree of power.” (Rheingold, 2014) One big outcome of this participatory culture is that web participants then become curators.
By the creation of media, consuming it, sharing it, and critiquing it, every web participant is actively engaging in this participatory culture. There are many benefits or rewards to being involved in social media. Pew Research Center also questioned how teens are currently using social media but also questioned about the negative impacts.
From the data, it is obvious that there are some strong positive effects, but also some very serious negative effects. To what degree is this participatory culture then more harmful than helpful? According to Howard Rheingold, those in these participatory cultures believe they have some degree of power. (Rheingold, 2014) However, from the Pew Research Center data, bullying and/or rumor spreading is the main concern of 27% of the teens who reported mostly negative experience with social media engagement. This doesn’t indicate that the receiver of bullying feels that they have any power. To that point, in Howard Rheingold’s definition of participatory culture, I would change the part that states these people feel that they have power (in general) to interaction in our participatory culture gives us the illusion of power. That’s not to say that individuals don’t actually have power in certain interactions, at certain moments. However, to the degree that our culture changes, it opens up new ways to cause harm. Even the most influential celebrities get harassed and bullied on social media. They have power in one aspect but then zero in the next.
Participatory cultural effects in our digital age create new challenges and I have a lot of concern for teenagers being able to cope with this constant interaction. Considering 95% own or have access to a smart phone and 45% of them are online on a near-constant basis, according to the Pew Research data. The new technologies necessitate an adult understanding in order to help teenagers navigate in our participatory culture. And to help us adults, too.
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