Sociologist danah boyd's long-awaited first book, It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, hits shelves today. boyd is one of the preeminent scholars of the way young people -- especially marginalized young people of diverse economic and racial backgrounds, as well as diverse gender and sexual orientation -- use the Internet, and her work has been cited here regularly for her sharp observations and her overwhelming empathy for her subjects.
It's Complicated is a passionate, scholarly, and vividly described account of the reality of young peoples' use of networked technologies in America today. Painstakingly researched through interviews and close study for more than a decade, boyd's book is the most important analysis of networked culture I've yet to read.
In eight brisk chapters -- thoroughly backstopped by a long and fascinating collection of end-notes -- boyd tackles the moral panics of networks and kids, and places them in wider social and historical contexts. She systematically, relentlessly punctures easy stories about how kids don't value privacy; whether the Internet holds special danger of sexual predators; the reality of bullying; the absurdity of "Internet addiction" and the real story of "digital natives" and the important and eminently fixable gaps in kids' network literacy.
boyd is not a blind optimist. She is alive to the risks and dangers of networks; but she is also cognizant of the new opportunities and the relief from other social problems (such as hysteria over the presence of kids in public places; sexism, racism, homophobia and slut-shaming; the merciless overscheduling and academic pressure on adolescents) and the immense power of networks to enable advocacy, agency and activism.
If you've found yourself in stark terror of being outmaneuvered by your kids online; if your friends and your kids' teachers have told you that the Internet will lead your children astray; if you don't know what to do to help your kids learn to be safe, free and happy in a world where the Internet is a fact to be accommodated and not a problem to be solved, then this is the place you should start.