The Pew Center has a very interesting study out now on Internet and social media use and it has lots of data on young people. It’s well worth reading in the original or in one of the many summaries from news outlets.
I suspect a couple of findings will be subject to some chin scratching. Here are my takes on these findings, from a kidlit perspective where possible:
First, the survey reveals “a decline in blogging among teens and young adults and a modest rise among adults 30 and older.” I wouldn’t be surprised if this trend applies to young adults who read YA fiction with some regularity, but I don’t take this as a sign of the decline of blogs for the future (and over 30s are blogging more, according to the survey). Rather, I see this as the novelty of blogging wearing off. That doesn’t mean the utility and value of blogging has worn off. Here’s the statistic that I think is more important (quoting The Guardian summary): “86% of social networking teens post comments to a friend's page or wall on a social network site and 83% post comments on friends' photos posted to an online social network.” I have said innumerable times that it’s not the posts but the comments that create a vibrant social network. Teens clearly get that better than anyone (adults comment at less than a third this rate). Authors, what can you do to make your blogging comment-attractive?
Next, apparently Twitter is not popular with teens. I can’t really articulate why, but I’m not surprised by this finding. Twitter just feels adult to me. Maybe it’s the way it can facilitate geography-defying, topic-focused conversations (# tags, etc.), which isn’t something I think resonates with the largely inward facing, small-community adolescent experience (Facebook is better in this regard, and teens love it). Regardless, I agree with David Carr: Twitter is plumbing. It’s not going away; just don’t expect it do things it’s not good at. I think many authors get that Twitter is for networking with colleagues and for news.
Finally, “Cell phone ownership is nearly ubiquitous among teens.” Is this the screen, now? Forget the TV or computer, is this the place for reading and for engagement with authors? I don’t know. It feels like it might also be reasonable to argue that reading on a cell phone screen—even a nice one—will very quickly drive you into the welcoming embrace of paper books. I don’t want to contemplate a third option.
The darker side of this I fear is a socio-economic gap built into cell phones in this country. There’s a big conceptual and experiential difference between the so-called dumb phone you get for free or for low cost with a contract (or the phones available on no-contract plans) and a high-end “app phone” like an iPhone, an Android phone, or a Blackberry, all which are expensive and require very expensive plans. I have never seen anyone comment on this divide, but it feels like it might be important. If fluency with mobile operating systems becomes a modern skill as fluency with desktop operating systems has, have we created two lanes? In some ways, I fear cell phones might be distinctly less democratic than computers. A cheap $299 netbook can still give you the experience of Windows. You’re going to need ten times that to get the experience of iPhone OS. At any rate, all are certainly less democratic than books.