Identity Production in a Networked Culture

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
this month to the American Association for the Advancement of
. 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

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

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