Teens and How They Use Technology – What’s Our Role?

This semester I’m enrolled in a Collaborations in Feminism and Technology class. It parallels the larger organization, FemTechNet. During our most recent class, our discussion turned to a frequently talked about: children/teens and technology. What sort of access to technology should they have and how will they use it?

Part of our class veered towards the idea of technocentrism (technology is the center of our world and it controls us. See Seymour Papert’s paper to read more) or technological determinism (essentially get on board with technology’s pace or forever be left behind). We discussed just giving kids and teens technology and counting on them to “just know” how to use it. We discussed restricting access because they aren’t old enough to really know how to use technology. And we discussed that teens simply don’t understand the permanence of putting something online.

However, some of my classmates (myself included) were not quick to jump aboard the technocentrism train of thought. I firmly ground myself in the idea of living in a socio-technical system – where I impact and shape technology just as much as technology is shaping and changing me. People in positions of power and privilege are making decisions on how they design and create technology and that has impacts on how we use and think about technology. So shouldn’t we be having some of these conversations with the teens we interact with?

I think we should take some responsibility for this education and problem posing of technology and its impacts. Because in many ways, the decisions we are making affect how current and future teens will use and think about technology (and the digital footprint that has been involuntarily created for them). Recently I’ve been hooked on WNYC’s podcast, Note to Self with Manoush Zomorodi. The focus of this podcast is our relationship with technology and a recent episode lets us hear first hand from a teen interviewed on her views of technology (and smart phones). Teens are actively using technology and making decisions about it and we should respect and think about those decisions (Manoush also has a great “back to school tech” post with links on [mainly] managing kids and educational apps and technology). These posts and podcasts made me think of participatory action research that people like Rachel Magee and others are doing that digs deeper into the relationships teens have with technology (a field I’m very interested in. Also Rachel is a new faculty member at the University of Illinois so I’ve been learning more about her work).

So how do we do this? How do we have those conversations? How do we talk about our permant identity on the Internet? How do we help teens to see the ways in which we shape and our shaped by technology. My main idea is through dialogue – both informal and formal. Everything from a passing comment to longer workshops (I wrote earlier this year about a week long Twitter workshop that could be led to show how information is distributed, biased, and controlled through Twitter and what users we select to follow). Or…how could we incorporate resources like YALSA’s 2012 Issue Brief on Keeping Teens Safe Online (or revise it for 2015)? How might we incorporate idea of connected learning into these conversations for a greater and long lasting impact? How can we take this Social Media Guide and turn it into an engaging program or informal conversation? Granted, I know these programs or conversations would take time – time to plan, time to think through the ideas, time to get to know the teens, and time to actually implement these ideas (I get a little tired thinking about how I would do that once I enter the working world of Library Land). But, what keeps me going is the idea that we too can impact technology. The sooner we have those conversations with our teens, the sooner we start engaging in that critical dialogue, the sooner we can start changing the world.

How do you do this in your libraries with your teens? How do you not get trapped in the idea of technocentrism and instead, strive to empower teens to think critically about technology and their technological footprint?

About Hailley Fargo

Hi, I'm a new professional working as a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Penn State University. As someone who provides reference to undergraduate students and teach information literacy to primarily freshman, I'm curious about the intersections of the work of YALSA and academic libraries (and how we can collaborate and work together to help our teens). In my spare time, I like to bike, read memoirs, watch TV shows, and consider myself an oatmeal connoisseur.
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