My favorite finding of Pew’s is that 58% of teens cloak their messages either through inside jokes or other obscure references, with more older teens (62%) engaging in this practice than younger teens (46%). This is the practice that I’ve seen significantly rise since I first started doing work on teens’ engagement with social media. It’s the source of what Alice Marwick and I describe as “social steganography” in our paper on teen privacy practices.
While adults are often anxious about shared data that might be used by government agencies, advertisers, or evil older men, teens are much more attentive to those who hold immediate power over them – parents, teachers, college admissions officers, army recruiters, etc. To adults, services like Facebook that may seem “private” because you can use privacy tools, but they don’t feel that way to youth who feel like their privacy is invaded on a daily basis. (This, btw, is part of why teens feel like Twitter is more intimate than Facebook. And why you see data like Pew’s that show that teens on Facebook have, on average 300 friends while, on Twitter, they have 79 friends.) Most teens aren’t worried about strangers; their worried about getting into trouble.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched as teens have given up on controlling access to content. It’s too hard, too frustrating, and technology simply can’t fix the power issues. Instead, what they’ve been doing is focusing on controlling access to meaning. A comment might look like it means one thing, when in fact it means something quite different. By cloaking their accessible content, teens reclaim power over those who they know who are surveilling them. This practice is still only really emerging en masse, so I was delighted that Pew could put numbers to it. I should note that, as Instagram grows, I’m seeing more and more of this. A picture of a donut may not be about a donut. While adults worry about how teens’ demographic data might be used, teens are becoming much more savvy at finding ways to encode their content and achieve privacy in public.
Matt Novak hits some highlights from Joanne Brown's 1988 Journal of American History paper A is for Atom, B is for Bomb (paywalled link), which discusses the weird, grim stuff that America contemplated at the height of the cold war, and worried about how it would identify the charred corpses of children after a nuclear blast:
In February of 1952 the city of New York bought 2.5 million dog tags. By April of that year, just about every kid in the city from kindergarten to fourth grade had a tag with their name on it. Kids in many other cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Las Veagas and Philadelphia also got dog tags, allowing for easy identification should the unthinkable occur.
But educators weren't considering just dog tags to identify the scores of dead and injured children that would result if the cold war suddenly turned hot. They also considered tattoos.
The Twelve-Fingered Boy is John Hornor Jacobs's debut young adult novel and it's amazing. It's a horror novel about Shreve, a kid from a tough background who is stuck in juvie and makes the most of it by running a black-market candy dealership; and his new roommate Jack, a quiet kid with twelve fingers and twelve toes. Jack is not the kind of kid who thrives in juvie, and Shreve takes him under his wing, trying to teach him how to get along on the inside -- but he's not very successful. Jack's extra fingers mark him out among the kids, and the worst of them smell blood when they see him and begin to circle.
But that's the least of Jack's problems. Far more worrisome is Mr Quincrux, a strange man from an unnamed government agency who seems to have the power to make the omnisuspicious guards and wardens go into a trancelike state. He's very, very interested in Jack, and particularly in how Jack landed in juvie -- an unexplained attack on his foster siblings that we quickly learn had something to do with telekinesis. Shreve quickly discovers that Mr Quincrux is an emissary for something much darker than any mere government agency, and as things escalate and Jack's powers come to the fore, it quickly becomes necessary for the pair to break out and hit the road.
Great horror novels demand likable characters -- people whose danger we can't help buy empathize with -- and Twelve-Fingered Boy has a pair of two of the most likable characters I can remember meeting. Shreve is fast-talking, tough-as-nails, thoughtful and honorable; Jack is quiet, gentle, scarred but indomitable. Their adventures hopping trains and sneaking across the country to unravel the mysteries of the plot are part Huck Finn, part X-Men. The scary stuff in this book -- and there's some really scary stuff here -- goes beyond the usual scares of kids' horror, and is truly the stuff of nightmares. This is a book that mesmerizes like a venomous snake, and while it comes to something of a conclusion at the end of 264 too-short pages, I was delighted to learn that it is only book one of a trilogy. I'll be on the watch for the next two volumes.
Here's a clip from an upcoming documentary by a fourth grader who snuck a camera into school to document his horrible school lunches and the vast distance between the food that the school claims to serve and food he and his friends end up eating.
Zachary is a fourth grader at a large New York City public elementary school. Each day he reads the Department of Education lunch menu online to see what is being served. The menu describes delicious and nutritious cuisine that reads as if it came from the finest restaurants. However, when Zachary gets to school, he finds a very different reality. Armed with a concealed video camera and a healthy dose of rebellious courage, Zachary embarks on a six month covert mission to collect video footage of his lunch and expose the truth about the City's school food service program.
Alex sez, "My colleague Chris Neary and filmmaker Nathan Fitch made this great short film about 11-year-old inventor Andrew Man-Hudspith, who was so intent on getting a 3D printer he made a PowerPoint presentation to convince his parents to help him get one."
Jaime sez, "In honor of Children's Book Week, I'm sharing a link about a book written by 8-year old Griffin Hehmeyer. His mom tells the story of how Griffin wrote a book, enlisted his friends and classmates for help editing and illustrating it, and eventually published it. The book serves as a model for children interested in creating literature of their own, practicing skills like story-telling, writing, empathy, collaboration, and persistence in the process."
The story was inspired by a make-believe game Griffin had been playing for several years with a good friend of his named Maya. In the game he was the king of the wolves, just like Makamom is in the book. Griffin says of the writing process, “When I first started this book, I had a hard time thinking of ideas. As I got closer to the ending it was easier to think of what to say.”
At the end of each chapter Griffin would read what he had written to his classmates and incorporate their feedback into the draft. When the draft was complete, Griffin and his teacher then spent another month reading through the book and correcting any errors before sending it to me. I think the editing process was the most frustrating part for Griffin, since he was impatient to be done. I had told him we’d print it out and get it bound, so he was excited to have a real book-like copy to enjoy.
By April I knew of the book's existence, but I hadn’t yet read any of it. When I received the completed draft, I was somewhat hesitant to undertake the reading such a large chunk of text written by an 8 year old – even if that 8 year old was my own son. To my surprise, however, the book turned out to be really good. As a colleague said when I shared a draft with him, “The book kept me reading it until the end, in one pass. It is a very interesting, clever, and engrossing story.” I also enjoyed watching my husband read the book to our other three children each night before bed. They laughed and gasped at all the right places, and begged their dada to continue reading well after lights out.
Back in January, I blogged my visit to Toronto's MakerKids, a wonderful makerspace for kids. Now, MakerKids is running a 3D printing weekend for kids at Toronto's Harbourfront centre. Andy from Makerkids writes, "This weekend, at the 11th annual Toronto International Circus Festival (from May 16th-18th at the Harbourfront Centre), MakerKids will be helping kids to do 3D printing of circus creatures! At our station at this free event, kids will design fantastical animals and characters they'd like to see in a circus using the 123D Creature app. The crowd's favourites will be 3D printed for their designers to bring home!"
Kiera Wilmot — the Florida 16-year-old who created a small explosion just outside her school before classes started by mixing cleaning solution and tin foil (she was just curious, nobody was harmed) — will not be charged with a felony, after all. Florida State Attorneys dropped the charges against Wilmot yesterday. After her case garnered national attention, she ended up with a lawyer who has defended her mostly for free. There's no word yet on whether she'll be allowed to return to the school that expelled her and pressed charges in the first place.
Usborne's 1983 classic Introduction to Machine Code for Beginners is an astounding book, written, designed and illustrated by Naomi Reed, Graham Round and Lynne Norman. It uses beautiful infographics and clear writing to provide an introduction to 6502 and Z80 assembler, and it's no wonder that used copies go for as much as $600. I was reminded of it this morning when @amanicdroid tweeted me with a link to a PDF of the book's interior. I'd love to see this book updated for modern computers and reprinted.
Odd Duck is the story of Theodora, "a perfectly normal duck" who likes her routine -- swimming, stretching, taking books out of the library, buying duck kibble, doing craft projects (with duck burlap, naturally) and star-gazing. When Chad moves in next door, Theodora can tell she's not going to get along with him. He makes weird abstract sculptures, dyes his feathers funny colors, and talks a mile a minute.
When both of them are stuck together overwinter (Theodora never manages to migrate, and Chad breaks his wing making abstract sculpture) they discover a shared love of the stars, and become best friends. But when they overhear a mean duck in town say, "Look at that odd duck!" they both assume she's talking about the other one, and that kicks off a rotten fight, and a lot of soul-searching.
This is a beautiful parable about eccentricity, friendship, self-awareness, the majesty of the night sky, and the benefits of balancing a cup of tea on your head (for posture!). The artwork is gorgeous (thanks to FirstSecond for supplying the first chapter excerpt below), and the writing is absolutely charming. When I got my advance copy, my five-year old demanded nightly readings of this one for a solid week.
Writing in The Atlantic, Amy Schiller documents how Mattel has spent the past 15 years transforming the expensive, highly detailed American Girl dolls from a source of radical inspiration that signposted moments in the history of the struggles for justice and equality in the US, into posh upper-middle-class girls who raise money for bake sales. As Lenore Skenazy points out, the original American Girls were children who had wild adventures without adult oversight; the new crop are helicopter-parented and sheltered, and their idea of high adventure is a closely supervised day in the snow.
Saige is white and upper-middle-class, just like McKenna the gymnast and Lanie the amateur gardener and butterfly enthusiast, both previous Girls of the Year. Even in their attempt to encourage spunky and active girlhoods, their approaches to problem solving are highly local—one has a bake sale to help save the arts program in a local school, another scores a victory for the organic food movement when she persuades a neighbor to stop using pesticides.
By contrast, the original dolls confronted some of the most heated issues of their respective times. In the book A Lesson for Samantha, she wins an essay contest at her elite academy with a pro-manufacturing message, but after conversations with Nellie, her best friend from a destitute background who has younger siblings working in brutal factory jobs, Samantha reverses course and ends us giving a speech against child labor in factories at the award ceremony. Given the class divide, Samantha's speech presumably takes place in front of the very industrial barons responsible for those factory conditions. The book is a bravura effort at teaching young girls about class privilege, speaking truth to power, and engaging with controversial social policy, all based on empathetic encounters with people whose life experiences differ from her own.
The MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group has shipped version 2.0 of Scratch, the justly famed and much-loved programming language for kids. Scratch makes it easy to create powerful simulations and games, even for small kids (basically, if you can read, you're ready for Scratch). The new version of Scratch runs right in a browser (no downloads or installs required), and is remarkable in its polish and power to excite. The programming environment is embedded in a sharing and shareable community, with millions of Scratch projects ready to be downloaded and remixed. It's just amazing.
With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your creations with others in the online community.
Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.
Moustetronaut is a lovely picture book by Mark Kelly, a former Space Shuttle pilot and husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. It tells the story of Meteor, an experimental NASA mouse who saves a shuttle mission by scurrying into a tight control-panel seam and retrieving a critical lost key. The story is very (very) loosely based on a true story -- there was a Meteor, but he never left his cage, but he did indeed display delight and aplomb in a microgravity environment. The whole rescue thing is a fiction, albeit an adorable one.
What really makes this book isn't its basis in "truth," but rather the amazing illustrations by CF Payne, who walks a very fine line between cute and grotesque, with just enough realism to capture the excitement of space and just enough caricature to make every spread instantly engaging. There's also a very admirable economy of words in the book itself (which neatly balances a multi-page afterword about the space program, with a good bibliography of kid-appropriate space websites and books for further reading). It's just the right blend of beautifully realized characters -- Meteor is particularly great -- and majestic illustrations of space and space vehicles.
The Anar Foundation and Grey Spain created a lenticular street-poster about child abuse that shows a "secret" message to people who view it from a kid's eye-height.
ANAR Foundation manages in Spain the european unique phone number 116 111, to attend children and teenagers under a risk situation. On this telephone number, only for minors, they can find the help they need in a totally anonymous and confidential way. But, how can we get our message to a child abuse victim, even when they are accompanied by their aggressor?
Knowing the average height for adults and children under 10,GREY has created two different messages. Using an outdoor lenticular we show adults an awareness message, while children see a message where we offer them our help and show them the telephone number. A message only for children.
Glad they're using this power for good and not evil. Wait until the grocery stores get hold of it and start loading the pester-power ads at kids' eye-height.
Vincent sez, "Our high school film class from Oak Park High in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada made this zombie-themed PSA to spread the message about a worker's right to refuse unsafe work.
It's a big issue. In Canada, in 2010, 1014 workplace deaths were recorded in Canada - that's almost three deaths every day! Between 1993 to 2010, 16,143 people lost their lives due to work-related causes in Canada.
A 2003 survey showed that compared with other developed countries of the OECD, Canada isn't doing too well. Of the 29 developed nations 24 had significantly lower workplace death rates than Canada. Using the factor of deaths/100,000 workers, Canada was only safer on average than Korea (29 deaths), Turkey (20.6 deaths), Mexico (12.0 deaths), Portugal (8.7 deaths) and then Canada with 6.1 deaths per 100,000 workers.*
Our class used humour because we thought it would be an effective way to create a memorable message. Our PSA won first place in the Manitoba Safe Work video contest, and it is now competing to be the top Canadian video.
You may remember our school, which has made other popular videos that you have featured on Boing Boing, including 'Jedi High,' 'Anti-Racism Girl,' and 'The Pink Shirt.'"