How can we help younger folks in harnessing know-how for progress?

Younger individuals are not passive victims of know-how or helpless addicts. They’re know-how creators and brokers with various backgrounds and pursuits.

When folks hear that I research digital youth tradition, I typically get requested, “Is know-how good or dangerous for teenagers?” My first battle is to reframe the query. The query assumes know-how is one factor, and all youngsters use know-how the identical means. Know-how is made and formed by us and we now have the ability to make it good or dangerous. I favor the query, “How can we help younger folks in harnessing know-how for progress?” Younger individuals are not passive victims of know-how or helpless addicts. They’re know-how creators and brokers with various backgrounds and pursuits.

I’ve been researching teenagers’ use of know-how in each Japan and the U.S. for nearly three many years, and have seen related intergenerational dynamics play out with each new wave of know-how that teenagers undertake and make their very own. Adults fear, teenagers experiment and undertake new methods of utilizing know-how, and ultimately, adults begin embracing digital tradition teenagers created.

We rejoice tech titans who began their empires whereas nonetheless in faculty. What will get much less appreciation are on a regular basis examples of younger folks around the globe harnessing know-how in modern, self-actualizing, and progressive methods. The optimism and creativity of youth is like photo voltaic vitality – continuously renewed, and largely untapped. If we will acknowledge their various wants and strengths, we will help youth as innovators, learners, and alter makers.


Within the late nineties, I sat on subways and wandered the streets of Tokyo observing how teenagers had been utilizing cellphones. My analysis workforce at Keio College gathered detailed logs of textual content message and voice communications of highschool college students. They shared insights about how they used textual content messages, emoji, digital camera telephones, and the cellular Web. The remainder of the world was skeptical that the cellular Web would take off past Japan. It might be virtually a decade earlier than textual content messaging was widespread within the US. I by no means would have dreamed that folks of all ages around the globe can be speaking with emoji and smartphone images 20 years later.

Again then, older people would shake their heads once they noticed teenagers strolling whereas texting. They labelled them nagara zoku (the multitasking tribe) and oyayubi zoku (thumb tribe). Cell phones within the palms of teenagers turned a logo of the decline of tradition and social norms. Teenagers, alternatively, had been aggravated by adults who did not put their telephone on silent mode and fumbled by means of their pockets whereas it rang. Ever since avenue good highschool ladies used pagers to ship textual content messages to one another within the early nineties, Japanese teenagers had been innovating in cellular communication. Japanese telephone suppliers capitalized on these teen improvements by creating new applied sciences together with various texting providers, emoji, digital camera telephones, and the cellular Web.

Teenagers additionally created new social norms as they took to new know-how. For instance, they discovered the older follow of inserting a voice name unannounced to be invasive. They shortly developed a brand new social norm to “knock earlier than getting into.” Once they needed to speak, they’d ship a textual content message first to verify availability. Their good friend could be on public transit, at school, or another setting the place a voice name shall be disruptive. They acknowledged that simply choosing up the telephone and calling somebody when it was handy for the caller was thoughtless to the individual receiving the decision.


When younger individuals are experimenting, mobilizing, and innovating, they’re additionally studying and creating new abilities. When my daughter was in center faculty and highschool, she was concerned in on-line fandoms for some well-liked bands. She took to social media and running a blog to attach with fellow followers, and shortly amassed followers. Throughout a very busy week of college, we had been drawback fixing collectively about tips on how to handle time. “I feel I ought to take per week off of running a blog,” she instructed whereas I nodded. After I checked in on her a couple of hours later I noticed her on her weblog, and began in on a mild scolding. “Mother,” she interrupted, with a sigh, “I’m queuing up the posts so I don’t lose followers through the week I take off.” Someway, she had change into more proficient at social media administration than her mother who fancies herself a digitally fluent public mental.

These sorts of communication and networking abilities are simply one among many competencies that younger folks achieve by means of interest-driven and socially linked studying with know-how. We name this “linked studying” when younger individuals are studying as a by-product of geeking-out, creating, and organizing along with fellow fans. Whether or not it’s fan fiction writers creating new narratives collectively, players strategizing and sharing ideas, or dancers sharing and studying from on-line video, on-line affinity teams proceed to gas studying in methods which are social and passion-driven.

Making change

When younger individuals are studying and organizing collectively on-line, it’s not all enjoyable and video games. Their digital abilities have fueled world-changing social actions. In faculty, my daughter went on to hitch the Proportion Mission, which makes use of social media to boost consciousness in regards to the expertise of underrepresented teams in pc science applications. She additionally helped begin an internet video sequence, Decrypted By Us, highlighting the experience and views of ladies and minorities in tech. After the college shootings at Stoneman Douglas Excessive College, we noticed a multi-racial coalition of teenagers gas the March for Our Lives motion. Adults had been shocked by their media savvy, and their snappy comebacks at politicians and detractors on social media. Younger folks wielding social and cellular media have been on the coronary heart of so many progressive actions — whether or not it’s Black Lives Matter, Dreamers, or local weather activism.

These progressive makes use of of know-how don’t simply occur on their very own. Behind all of those optimistic examples are highly effective platforms that allow them to attach, create, and talk. Additionally important are the caring adults, organizations, and coalitions which have given younger folks the area and help to amplify their optimism and progressive potential.

A few years in the past, I co-founded a nonprofit, Related Camps, that’s devoted to supporting faculty college students to mentor youngsters by means of well-liked digital gaming platforms. We’re simply one among a rising legion of organizations supporting youth management in making optimistic change. We consider that mentorship centered round shared causes and pursuits can change lives and the world. Whether or not you’re a mother or father, an educator, an employer, or a fellow fanatic, all of us have a task to play in nurturing the ability and potential of younger folks.

Dr. Mimi Ito, cultural anthropologist, Director of the Related Studying Lab on the College of California, Irvine


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