LIFT08: Gen-Y and digital literacy/practice

This is my first post about the Lift Conference (LIFT08) in Geneva last week. It was really an amazing conference, maybe the best conference I have ever attended. Thanks to everyone who participated in the organization of it!

At the first workshop day of LIFT08 I attended a workshop arranged by Dave Brown about how teenagers/Generation-Y use digital technology. The center of the discussion was a group of four not-that-ordinary 17 year olds. They had all international backgrounds with wealthy parents who moved around a lot. On top of that all of them belonged to the activist group in their class and was well-spoken, well mannered, thoughtful and energetic. I really enjoyed listen to their thoughts on how they used technology in their daily lives. Well arranged Dave!!DSC_0005.JPG

Here is my notes from that session:

Facebook and social networking

Facebook was the social networking tool of choice, and they seemed to use it a lot. The number of Facebook friends were in the range of 4-500 and they felt like their online friends wasn’t a different group than their real world friends, but rather an Internet-representation of their real friends. There was a status in having many friends though.

Even teachers in school used Facebook so some of school related conversations also took place there.

A huge chunk of social e-mail went through Facebook, but since it lacked some features like attachments, mail was also used in parallell.

Facebook was regarded as valuable because it made it possible to keep in touch with friends in other geographic locations or in other stages of life, e g when someone leaves for university. An interesting note was when retaining contact with older friends at University the girls seemed to regard Facebook as a peep-hole into another more mature and exciting world.

Their explanation about why it is hard to avoid using Facebook is that the daily conversations among teens which often have references into material on Facebook like – “Have you seen the pictures from the party yesterday? No? They are on Facebook!”

Myspace wasn’t in use anymore because it was considered to belong to the emo people i e a certain youth culture who listens to a certain kind of music and dress in a certain fashion.

MSN wasn’t in much use anymore for anything else than sending music and files between friends.

Shopping, e-commerce and security

One of the girls explained how she suddenly started to take the problem of publishing possibly sensitive information on the Internet seriously. She then started to remove some information and pictures. It was not just about the risks of stalkers, but also about the risk that the information will come back and haunt her. We were told that some people have already had their applications to some universities been rejected because of images on Facebook. Another story was that other teens have come in trouble because he or she have been seen holding a beer in a picture on Facebook.

All of them were really hesitant to use credit cards on the Internet unless for some specific products like books and travels. Concert tickets were also discussed but the concern then was about when (and if) the tickets were going to arrive. Surprisingly enough one of the guys did actually use his credit card on online poker sites. E-bay was another example of a site being regarded as pretty insecure.

The discussion in the room about why they were so hesitant to use credit cards online was by a some attributed to their lack of experience and good track record using credit cards. Which in some cases not even were their own cards, but their parents.

When asked about if it was interesting to use the social network as an online shopping guide (possibly referring to Danah Boyd’s post some weeks ago) the answer was no. Buying decisions wasn’t anything somebody else had anything to do with. (my comments: maybe that kind of communication belongs to younger and more insecure buyers whose social relationships is directly related to what they wear and own)

Digital vs the “real world”

The group considered information online to be less valuable and trustworthy than information found elsewhere. In school they e g had made changes in WIkipedia and saw that they themselves could write almost anything and when it didn’t disappear the interpreted it as the information there wasn’t especially trustworthy.

On the other hand Wikipedia was regarded as the major saviour when it came to accelerating the home work process.

It was also interesting to hear that the teens regarded producing images digitally was in some sense less valuable than the “real” chemical process behind traditional photography. The same opinion seemed to apply to music and other art forms as well. (my comments: maybe this is part of the larger megatrend the focus is moving from the end result to the process of getting there?)

Blogging and micro-blogging

Blogging wasn’t regarded as something valuable and they have never heard about Twitter. (my comments: Maybe some of the explanations to the heavy usage of social software and SMS, but almost not interest in blogging might have something to do with the differences the different communicative nature of the different medias. When you want to to communicate with someone you want to have a person-to-person communication. Trying to rationalize that by twittering to the cloud what is happening or having a one way communication with generic crowd e g publishing on a blog into cyberspace, seems to miss the point for the teens. Read this post in New York Times – If You Can’t Let Go, Twitter to understand the difference)


File sharing and intellectual property rights

No specific answers here, due to the nature of the question. One signal we caught up was that music is starting increasingly to be shared using MSN, because of the legal discussion.

I asked them specifically about how the regarded property rights of images which e g shows up on Google searches on the Internet. The truth here was that even if they knew quite a lot about the IPR protection of movies and music, they had never thought of these images as being protected or the rights to use these images owned by anyone. One comment was: – ” If they are protected why are they published on the Internet?”

Mobile phone use

This could maybe be an effect of living in very expensive mobile phone country like Switzerland, but their mobile phones were almost exclusively used for voice and SMS.

I hope these notes could be of value to anyone. If you are looking for more information about this seminar I wasn’t alone and at least one other person also blogged about it: