Identity Production in a Networked Culture

Why youth heart MySpace

Content Tools

Social networking technology is reorganizing how we relate to each other. No group is taking to these modes more than youth, Danah Boyd explained in a presentation this month to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. By capturing a young demographic, services like MySpace are amassing staggering numbers of users. Boyd, a doctoral student at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, reports that News Corp-owned MySpace gets more pageviews than everyone but Yahoo, and more than 50 million accounts have been created on the social networking site.

Parents have met youths' migration to online socializing with trepidation, warning of the potential for predators to anonymously contact minors. Boyd notes, however, 'there are more articles on predators on MySpace than there have been reported predators online.'

Boyd argues that youth do not see the prospect of predators as an essential aspect of their online experience: '[T]heir response is typically to ignore the issue.' Rather, the kids are there for one thing: peer group socialization. Boyd notes that the burger joints of the 1950's are gone, as are the days of roaming the mall uninhibited. Today, kids must fight tooth and nail to find a social environment that is not controlled by parents or similar authority figures. MySpace provides an arena, albeit virtual, where kids can mingle, flirt, argue, and do all the things that kids do while in the throes of adolescent socialization. In a world where every hour is taken up by school, athletics, or parental supervision, MySpace stands as a relatively supervision-free social atmosphere where kids can try on different identities, learning who they are and who they aren't.

Boyd sees MySpace as a liberating 'digital public' that helps 'youth to (re)create private and public youth space while physically in controlled spaces.' Shut in their rooms after dinner, kids can nevertheless explore socialization through real-time internet chat and the management of their public profiles. Similarly, the service puts individuals into a larger pool of people than they would otherwise meet in their daily life, allowing them to circumvent the traditional way in which they have learned about their larger peer group: the media. Ultimately, Boyd wants us to realize that youth have always co-opted the tools at hand for their own means. MySpace or the burger joint, shopping malls or the roller rink: It's all just 'hanging out.'
-- Nick Rose

Go there >>Danah Boyd at the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Go there too >>MySpace

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