A look at digital habits of 13 year olds shows desire for privacy, face-to-face time

Sonia Livingstone, an LSE social psychology prof, gives us a peek into the results from The Class, a year-long, deep research project into the digital lives and habits of a class of 13 year olds at an ordinary school.

Livingstone and her research partner, Julian Sefton-Green, published their findings in a book from NYU Press, new this month: The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age. Their work is part of the Connected Youth and Digital Futures project, which kicked off in 2008 with Mimi Ito's still-relevant, must-read report, which subsumed 22 PhD dissertations, including danah boyd's groundbreaking work.

The Connected Learning project has become hugely influential in tech and education, spawning Minecraft-based curriculum and projects aimed at delivering technology literacy and mastery to kids of color and kids from poor backgrounds; it also provides the theoretical backdrop for kid-oriented library makerspaces.

In this article, Livingstone walks us through the daily routine of her research subjects — the way networks ebb and flow through their face to face interactions, family time, homework and leisure. Her account sharply highlights danah boyd's finding from her indispensable book It's Complicated, that teens prize face-to-face time above computer and phone time, but it has to be time with their peers and away from adult supervision — a rare commodity in the era of bubblewrap child-rearing (credit to Clive Thompson for spotting that).

This insight into the lives of 28 teenagers reveals how diverse their lives and approaches are. While most possess phones and use Facebook, they use them differently to pursue different interests, sometimes deployed to connect with others and sometimes to tune them out. There are many reasons for this, but the more we know about teenagers' lives the clearer it becomes that young people are no more interested in being constantly plugged in than are the adults around them. What they want is to have the choice of when and where to disconnect from the often rulebound and conflicted world of grown-ups they find themselves in.

Digital devices and the uses they put them to have become teenagers' way of asserting their agency – a shield from bossy parents or annoying younger siblings or seemingly critical teachers, a means to connect with sympathetic friends or catching up with ongoing peer "drama". In fact the overriding importance of agency to teenagers is shown in the way they avoid the growing digital embrace of their schools – teachers' use of digital media in class or email or the internet to contact them at home is met with whispers and even slower walks home, so as to extract the maximum time spent with friends and unobserved by adults.

As adults and parents, we might spend less time worrying about what they get up to as teenagers and more time with them, discussing the challenges that lie ahead for them as adults in an increasingly connected world.

The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age (Connected Youth and Digital Futures) [Sonia Livingstone and Julian Sefton-Green/NYU Press]

The Class: living and learning in the digital age

[Sonia Livingstone and Julian Sefton-Green/LSE]

A day in the digital life of teenagers
[Sonia Livingstone/The Conversation]

(via Clive Thompson)