Care/Don’t Care

Yesterday Twitter (and the web in general) was abuzz with news and reports related to technology, and in particular young people and technology. Was all the news worth paying attention to? Was all the news care-worthy? Here are some thoughts:

Care: Reputation Management and Social Media
The Pew Internet in American Life Project released a report about reputation management and social media. The focus of the report is on how people, of all ages, manage what others know about them through social network environments.

graph of percent taking steps to limit personal info online A key finding in the Pew study is that young adults – defined in this instance as 18 to 29 – are very likely to change their privacy settings within social media environments. This age group, more than older users of social media, do know the impact that the information they make available online has on their reputation. While this doesn’t mean that we as librarians and educators don’t need to educate young people about privacy implications of what they post online, it does suggest that conversations with teens about online privacy need to be framed not around “you need to be private” with an assumption that young people don’t know that already, but instead focus on, “here’s how to be private” with an understanding that making decisions about and knowing how to use privacy settings in social networks affectively might be difficult.

The implications section of the Pew report includes this text:

“Young adults, perhaps out of necessity, are much more active curators of their online identities when compared with older adults. When they change privacy settings, delete tags and comments, and request that information about them be removed, they are demonstrating a desire to exert control over the content they share and the tide of information that others post about them online. However, certain privacy controls on social media sites have become increasingly difficult to navigate. These changes, instituted after the data for this report was gathered, raise questions about the efficacy of users’ current efforts to restrict access to the information posted to their profiles.”

And that leads me to

Care: Facebook Updates Privacy Settings – Again
For the past several weeks, Facebook has been in the news as the result of new services added to the social network. The new services are supposed to give users a better experience, however the launch of these services once again complicated the privacy settings on Facebook, they were pretty complicated already, and caused many to question what Facebook was up to.

Because of the dissatisfaction of users with the privacy implications of the most recent Facebook update, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of the company, announced yesterday that the privacy settings on the site would be simplified. Zuckerberg stated yesterday, “The settings have gotten complex, and it has become hard for people to use them effectively….”

The issues around Facebook’s privacy controls and the implications noted by Pew are something for librarians to care about because both point to the fact that we can’t assume that teens don’t know about the importance of privacy on the web and/or don’t care about it. Perhaps, for some teens it’s become more an issue of understanding how to use the settings available in order to be safe in the social network environments in which they live. If librarians care about teens and privacy – privacy when they check out or look at materials in the library and privacy online – then they have to be up on the facts about how teens are and aren’t being private, and what it takes to help teens be adept at making good privacy decisions.

Don’t Care: More Young People Own a Cellphone than a Book
A UK based organization – National Literacy Trust – publicized research yesterday that found that more young people own a cellphone than a book. And one might say to that, “Yeah, so what?” or “Yeah, why do I care?” Think about that headline. Can one really compare owning a book to owning a cellphone? Isn’t it really like comparing apples to oranges? Each – book/cellphone – can have a very different purpose. And, if we are talking about libraries, one doesn’t have to own a book in order to be reading. A teen might need to own a cellphone in order to connect with family members. But, a book, can be checked-out of the library and still have benefits to the teen while he or she has possession of the library copy. And, of course, if one is going to make the argument that using cellphones means that teens are reading less and texting or talking on the phone more, it can’t be ignored that reading does occur on cellphones. Even in their most simplified use, and yes I realize this is simplified, a teen has to read to add information to a cellphone address book or look up a cellphone number.

Care: Smart Evaluation of News in Order to Be Well Informed
The Literacy Trust research may be seen as trying to milk a story that is losing credibility day-by-day. (And perhaps they wanted to get noticed with a sensationalistic headline.) More and more people are realizing that technology (and cellphones) isn’t something to be afraid of in terms of teens and their use of these tools. Librarians, educators, parents, and others are realizing that technology (and cellphones) can actually improve teen reading, writing, and literacy skills. Read Write Web did a good job in their reporting of the Literacy Trust research in noting that books and cellphones aren’t an either or proposition. The ReadWriteWeb article includes an update at the end which gives a final word from Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton. The update says:

“I received a response after reaching out on Twitter to LeVar Burton, known famously for his love of reading and as the host of the children’s show Reading Rainbow. What did the book lover think of the fact that more children own phones than books? “I believe kids need both,” he said.”

What’s the point? As librarians we need to be smart and savvy about what we care about and don’t care about when it comes teens and technology. (Of course we need to be savvy about a lot of things but in this post I’m focusing on teens and technology.) We need to evaluate what we read about teens and social networks, teens and privacy, teens and cellphones, teens and reading, and so on just like we evaluate anything else. Reading a headline “More Youth Own Cellphones than Books” might at first glance seem like that’s quite a statement. But, make sure to dig deeper and ask yourself, “What does that really mean, and why should I care?” Take time to care about what Facebook is doing with their privacy settings because it does have an impact on teen use of the social network, even if you don’t allow that use in your public or school library teens are still using the site and need to understand how the privacy settings work (and don’t work).

Being selective about what you care about and how much hype you do and don’t buy into will help to guarantee that you are well-informed about what’s really going on when it comes to teens and technology.

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