Talking to the Kids in Their Language


When I was young, I used to cringe when adults made clumsy, if well-intentioned, attempts to speak in what they thought was “youthful slang” in order to make a connection with us.

Now that I’m one of those adults, I can’t tell for sure whether the message in this poster (which I saw in the Toronto subway yesterday) comes across to today’s net/text-speaking youth as clever or clumsy. I’m torn – should my reaction be LOL or WTF?

(And is it me, or does the expression on the guy’s face say BRB?)

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


danah boyd’s Dissertation and My “Cheat Sheet” for it

Danah Boyd giving her "My Friends, Myspace" presentation at the Berkman Center in the summer of 2007 If you were born in the 1990s, you fall into the “youth” demographic and are considered to be part of the “Generation Y” or “Millennial” generation (a classification applied to people born in the 80s and 90s). Chances are that you don’t remember a world without commonplace desktop computers, the world wide web and mobile phones – lucky you!

You’re also the generation that Microsoft Research’s danah boyd has been observing for the past couple of years. She’s been studying how youth use social networks, or “networked publics”, as she likes to refer to them. She completed her Ph.D. last year and in fulfillment of her promise, she posted her dissertation on her blog this past weekend. It’s titled Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics.

Teens use social media and social networking software to do these things:

  • To present themselves to the world
  • To interact with their peers
  • To understand and navigate through adult society

If you want to understand how and why teens’ use of technology to do these things, danah’s dissertation is your must-read document.

Be warned that a dissertation isn’t a blog entry or magazine article; Taken Out of Context spans a whopping 406 pages. Although it’s quite comprehensible to someone not versed in sociology or ethnography, it’s still a lot to read. You might find my notes from her My Friends, MySpace presentation that I took back in the summer of 2007 a reasonable overview – perhaps even a “cheat sheet” — for her dissertation.


Gag Orders in a Facebook Age

“For 24 hours, newspapers, TV and radio stations were legally forbidden to release Stefanie Rengel’s name [a teenage girl in Toronto allegedly murdered by a teenage boy, allegedly at the request of his girlfriend, also a teen], but on the Internet tributes to the slain teen – and the names of her accused killers – sprang up almost immediately, including on the social networking site Facebook.


Living the Dream

What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?

According to a Workopolis poll of Canadians, more than 80% of Canadians aren’t doing the job they dreamed of doing when they were children.

3 photos: fireman (carrying a beautiful woman to safety), astronaut doing spacewalk, male stripper in front of screaming women
Possible dream jobs.

The poll posed these two questions to adults:

  • What was your dream job when you were between the ages of 5 and 9?
  • What was your dream job when you were between the ages of 13 through 19?

The results:

  • 7% of those surveys are now working at what was their dream job between the ages of 5 and 9.
  • 13% of those surveyed are now working at what was their dream job between the ages of 13 and 19.

What I Wanted to Be

Both my parents were doctors, so at the age of 5, I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. This was in the early seventies, and the way I hear my parents tell it, those were some of the best years to be in medicine, from a money-making point of view.

However, at around age 7, I discovered space and astronomy books. I was glued to the TV set when the Apollo-Soyuz mission took place and followed any news about the not-ready-for-flight space shuttle, which was stilled named the Constitution. (A letter-writing campaign from Star Trek fans would later make them rechristen it as the Enterprise.) I thought I might make a good astronomer, space scientist or rocket engineer.

In my teen years, I met my friend Pavel Rozalski, whose dad did some computer/electronics work at a glass company, and he got me into computers. We developed a sort of early Apple Computer working relationship while working on our science fair projects: Pavel played the “Woz” role doing much of the building of our simulator of AND, OR, NAND and NOR gates, while I was the “Jobs” guy, doing a lot of the writing of reports and talking to the judges. Our heroes were the guys who did stuff out of their garages — Woz and Jobs, as well as Hewlett and Packard. From then on, I was hooked on computers. I wanted to do something computer-related when I grew up.

I was also a dabbler in music and graphic arts (especially cartooning — most people at Crazy Go Nuts University know me for being a DJ and a cartoonist rather than an engineering and computer science major), so I always hoped that there’d be a way to combine those two loves with computers, perhaps with some chatting with people thrown in.

I remember reading an article in Creative Computing, one of the premier computer hobbyist magazines of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In that article, a programmer predicted that in the next coupel of decades, computer programmers might get the same sort of recognition as rock stars. I remember thinking, “Yeah, I’d like that.”

I showed the article to a friend of mine who laughed at me. “That’s stupid. That’s why I’m going to be a rock drummer. It’ll be way better — you’ll be coming home, all tired from work, ready to die, and I’ll be onstage and on TV in front of screaming chicks, getting high off the audience’s smoke.”

(Dude: been there, done that. With an effin’ accordion. How ’bout you?)

Finally, at the end of my teens — or maybe just after — I became aware of Guy Kawasaki, who held an interesting position at Apple: Technical Evangelist. I remember thinking “That’s a cool job…maybe I’d like to do that someday.” Since then, Guy’s been a role model of mine.

All this is an explanation for my generally good mood: I’m working at my dream job.

Joey deVilla and Chad Fowler playing the opening number for an evening keynote at RailsConf 2007.
Me and Chad Fowler playing the opening number for an evening keynote at the RailsConf 2007 conference.


The Pirate’s Dilemma / 10 Industries That Pirates are Making Better

Cover of the book “The Pirate’s Dilemma”I’m rather fond of books that look at the strange connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena and turn ideas upside-down, so The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Reinvented Capitalism, a book coming out in January 2008, has caught my interest. It asks the question: Do we fight pirates, or do we learn from them?

In the copy-and-paste spirit of the book’s thesis, here’s the meat of the “About the Book” section of the book’s website:

How do you start a movement with a marker pen? What’s the connection between the nun who invented disco, and file sharing? How did a male model messing with disco records in New York in the 1970s influence the way Boeing design airplanes? Does hip-hop really hold the secret to world peace? How did three eleven-year-olds revolutionize the video game industry by turning Nazis into Smurfs? And what’s going to happen to Nike when it’s possible for kids to download sneakers?

The Pirate’s Dilemma tells the story of how youth culture drives innovation and is changing the way the world works. It offers understanding and insight for a time when piracy is just another business model, the remix is our most powerful marketing tool and anyone with a computer is capable of reaching more people than a multi-national corporation.

Ideas that started within punk, disco, hip-hop, rave, graffiti and gaming have been combined with new technologies and taken to new heights by the generations that grew up under their influence. With a cast of characters that includes such icons as The Ramones, Andy Warhol, Madonna, Russell Simmons, Pharrell and 50 Cent, The Pirate’s Dilemma uncovers, for the first time, the trends that transformed underground scenes into burgeoning global industries and movements, ultimately changing life as we know it, unraveling some of our most basic assumptions about business, society and our collective future.

As a result people, companies and organizations are now struggling with a new dilemma in increasing numbers. As piracy continues to change the way we all use information, how should we respond? Do we fight pirates, or do we learn from them? Should piracy be treated as a problem, or a solution? To compete or not to compete – that is the question – that is the Pirate’s Dilemma, perhaps one of the most important economic and cultural conundrums of the 21st Century.

As with any sort of book of this sort, its author, Matt Mason, has a supplementary blog. Its current article is titled 10 Industries Being Transformed by Pirates (For The Better). These 10 industries are:

  1. The Drug Industry
  2. The Movie Business
  3. The Law
  4. Doctors
  5. The Music Industry
  6. Phone Companies
  7. Body Parts
  8. Energy
  9. Education
  10. Wooly Mammoths

If all this has piqued your interest, you may also find the Q&A with the author, Matt Mason, interesting.


Kids Say Email is Only for Talking to “The Man”

Tombstone: “Here lies email — Not really dead, but used by kids only to talk to *THE MAN*.”
Image created using the Tombstone Generator.

The younger set aren’t communicating via email, according to this c|net Digital Kids news story:

Just ask a group of teen Internet entrepreneurs, who readily admit that traditional e-mail is better suited for keeping up professional relationships or communicating with adults.

“I only use e-mail for my business and to get sponsors,” Martina Butler, the host of the teen podcast Emo Girl Talk, said during a panel discussion here at the Mashup 2007 conference, which is focused on the technology generation. With friends, Bulter said she only sends notes via a social network.

“Sometimes I say I e-mailed you, but I mean I Myspace’d or Facebook’ed you,” she said.

Reading this, I was reminded of danah boyd’s presentation, My Friends, MySpace at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. One of the points she made that stuck out in my head is that young people see email as a medium for communicating with people for have power over them: parents, school officials, employers, college admissions boards — in other words, “The Man”.

The use of social networking software rather than email for communications means that there’s some Balkanization going on, with users of each social networking app unable to send messages to friends on other social networking apps. The article points out that this problem may in fact be an opportunity:

…Ashley Qualls, president of WhateverLife, a graphical tool for users of MySpace, said she keeps adding on new social networks to her roster of memberships online. “People leave a trail of where they decide to go,” she said.

Badshah said that to subscribe to only one social network means losing out on friendships with people who are active on other rival social networks. That’s because having real estate on MySpace or Facebook means keeping tabs with only certain friends through messaging, blogs and recent photos. That the two major social networks don’t interoperate could be reason for a new social network that could act as an intermediary to aggregate friends in one place, Badshah said, much the way Trillian did for IM applications like Yahoo and AOL.

“It’s a problem for teens–you’re like losing out on some of your friends if you choose just one,” he said.

“To have all your buddy lists in one place, that’s where this is going,” Badshah said.