Privacy, what’s that?

In the second chapter of Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated, there are many things discussed revolving around the privacy of teens when participating in social media. She speaks of two things that seem to go hand in hand in many cases: social steganography and the surveillance of parents. As she mentions, it has always been common that teens want privacy from their parents in certain aspects of their lives. The parents of teens today did not grow up with technology the same way that our generation has, usually causing them to want to be ever-present and all-knowing in their child’s life. Teens on the other hand don’t always want their judging, rule-implementing, and lecture-ready parents tracking their every move regarding social interactions. To combat this Boyd mentions, “many of the privacy strategies that teens implement are intended to counter the power dynamic that emerges when parents and other adults feel as though they have the right to watch and listen” (70). From this stems steganography where teens tend to code their messages by posting lyrics, sub-tweeting, etc. This made me think about when I was younger and in middle school or early high school and how my mom would look me up on social media to see what I was doing. I remember feeling frustrated not only because it was my page that I didn’t ask her to view but because there was no reason for her not to trust what I was doing. I was always safe, didn’t talk to strangers, or post things that could be deemed as unacceptable or inappropriate.

Parents seem to think that we don’t care about our privacy to the outside world or understand the dangers, but at what point can they trust that the way they raised us is enough and we will share what we want when we want? I found an interesting video in which Kelly Wallace from CNN discusses that her biggest fear is her children becoming involved with social media. This video was striking because she says at one point, “how will I possibly keep tabs on everything they’re doing?” as if in order to be a good parent she must know every single detail of her child’s life. She goes on to say that in reality parents might not even have a clue because of the ways teens have chosen to encrypt their messages. She gives an example about how someone might post a group photo but intentionally not tag someone as an act of aggression, something that would easily slip by parents viewing the picture. Her solution is to sign up for the social networks that the teens are on and befriend them. However, if teens go through such lengths to keep their parents from knowing what is happening on their social networks, where is the line to be drawn for privacy between teen and parent?

The Kids Are Alright

After reading the first half of danah boyd’s “It’s Complicated”, I decided that I have been introduced to a somewhat more objective view of how and why people, particularly teens, use the internet and social media. Whereas Carr takes the position that our use of the internet is inherently negative, boyd provides a much more balanced argument and puts our use of the web and social media into a social and cultural context. Moreover, I am enjoying boyd’s work better thus far because she neither celebrates nor bashes the internet. Instead, she simply analyzes why people hold the views that they do regarding this technology.

Although boyd discusses several different topics in each chapter in the first half of the book, her analysis of teens’ perceived addiction to the internet in chapter 3 really got me to think about my own use of social media. Specifically, she says that the media becomes carried away with the idea that our use of sites like Facebook and Twitter is unhealthy, and even leads to addiction. Furthermore, boyd claims that parents and the media worrying about teens’ use of different technologies is not new. “Parents in previous generations fretted about the hours teens whiled away hanging out or chatting on the phone” (boyd 79). I found this to argument to hold merit, just from conversations with my own parents. My mom reminisces about how she used to come home from school and talk with her friends for hours on the phone, gossiping and joking and such, much to my grandmother’s dismay. In fact, the song “Hanging on the Telephone” by Blondie is a good example of how teens used to constantly call their friends using the telephone. In the song, the protagonist keeps attempting to call the guy she likes, but he won’t answer because his mother is there. While we don’t know what the intention of the call is or why the guy’s mother is discouraging the call, the song represents teens’ longing to use the telephone (long before the invention of social media–the song came out in 1978) and parents’ worries about the use of the telephone, even back in the late 1970’s. In conclusion, while my parents have never discouraged me from using social media or the internet, the number of times I’ve been told to take a break from being on the computer or on my phone is more than I can count.

As I continued to navigate through boyd’s argument in this chapter, I was also struck by one of the reasons she provides for why teens use social media so often. Using her interviews with several teenagers, she claims that the use of social media helps them unwind after a long day. “Social media introduces new opportunities for housebound teens to socialize and people-watch, but it also provides an opportunity to relax” (boyd 91). I can personally relate to this quote, as many times, when I find that I have been cooped up all day doing work for school, I enjoy scrolling through various social media feeds before bed. Although staring at my phone or computer prior to sleeping is not necessarily good for my eyes, it certainly helps take my mind off the countless hours of work or studying I had been doing for class. I would say this use of social media is far from addiction. Perhaps I use social media as a remedy to the mundane activities of homework, but this is nowhere near what could be considered a problematic degree of usage. As the band The Who sang in 1965, “The Kids Are Alright” (Though I’m certain the song has a deeper meaning).