May 9, 2014
Why Future Verse Works: What Scholars, Educators, and Parents Need to Know About Millenials and Media Literacy
The toughest part about being a scholar may be in how one sifts through decades or centuries of studies, statistics, and views of other scholars, reporters, and educators. Often times it is difficult for a scholar to be able to say how their research is a part of a larger field, be it conceptually, temporally, but most of all accurately. In researching social justice, preteen usage of mobile media and digital technology, how said usage informs user behavior as well as how human performance informs communicative technologies, this paper shows how such research has aided in the development of a new social justice app for preteen users.
Initially the Future Verse app was an app consisting of quotes and aspirations for preteens who at such a fragile age, are subject to self-esteem issues. However as the research began to unfold it became evident that a larger social justice bout was happening around this demographic. Further assessment of these scholarly reports indicate that scholars, educators, and parents, are constantly debating and gauging the way preteens utilize mobile media and digital technology with a very narrow scope. These three stake holding groups have further informed and often confirms many hunches that were at the basis for the development of Future Verse in terms of preteens and privacy, their mobile media usage (specifically smart phone, app, and web users…), and most importantly their literacy.
To inform the design of Future Verse the following documents were reviewed. A 2013 dissertation for a proposed Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology, from the University of California Los Angeles, by Yalda Tehranian entitled, “Social Media, Social Kids: Sociocultural Implications of 21st Century Media for Development in the Preteen Period. The second is an article published in The Washington Post in May 2013, by Cecilia Kang entitled, “Preteens on Instagram Raise Privacy Concerns.” “The next is Tip of the Iceberg: Meaning, Identity, and Literacy in the Preteen Virtual Worlds,” by Eric M. Meyers, and an article from Young Consumers by May O. Lwin, “Online Usage, Motivate, and Information Disclosure for Preteen Children.” These articles have informed Future Verse as a response to the way scholars, educators, and parents are currently writing off this demographic and their ability to behave in traditional face-to-face contact and to read and perform outside of their digitally oriented communities, by adding to the demographic artillery of mobile technologies that can be used to combat these negative generalizations.
While scholars, educators, and parents have various informed opinions about the implications of preteen indulgence in shared virtual environments, analysis of these texts show that the conversation is meant to give either of these groups an edge over the other in, “Who gets to be right about our children’s future with their new ubiquitous technologies,” with some level of scholarly, primary, or otherwise informed research. A brief overview of what each author is supposing or arguing will be given, followed by an analysis of each, and finally how they have all influenced not only the goals of Future Verse as an app but how their sorts of thinking has shaped the potential effects of the app’s result as a SVE’s impact on the socialization of preteens.
The issue of privacy as it pertains to online and mobile media usage is a conversation thoroughly investigated by media critics and scholars. For The Washington Post to publish as article on preteen usage of a popular photo-sharing site is not far removed from being a public concern. The article follows one young boy’s journey on the Instagram site, his parental guidance/interference with how he performed on the site and most importantly the sites failure to protect children and inform parents adequately about the sites’ means to acquire user information. It mentions that a petition being filed on Change.org requesting that Facebook, owner of Instagram, privatize underage accounts.
As means to become better informed about what motivates preteen internet usages and the circumstances in which they divulge personal information, May O. Lwin offers stellar findings and conclusions as what behaviors must be considered. The article sites information seeking, entertainment, and socializing as three common motives for internet usage. Information seeking and socializing had the most results in which time of usage informed children ages 10-12 habits of privacy concerns. The findings from this study imply that information seeking was positively associated with privacy concerns while the opposite is true for socializing. To understand the privacy behaviors of children these ages researchers took into consideration the techniques and tactics of user data collection, maturity levels of young users, and their motives and incentives that dictate how they navigate through the World Wide Web, coupled with the uses and gratification theory. The gem of this study is that while information seeking tends to involve a more informed user rather than a social seeking counterpart, the former user is less likely to divulge private information such as name, address, phone number, location, and school.
It is important to have a grasp on how preteens divulge their personal information and how scholars attribute that to their socialization. When developing Future Verse as an app privacy was heavily considered primarily because the users were not yet adults. It was also important to develop an app that did not add to the sect of apps that involve extreme narcissism and toss users into a popularity scrimmage for the “likes,” of other users. It was once considered to add a social media environment to Future Verse in which the app’s avatars may interact as a means to popularize the app among preteens. The site that initially inspired an app that gave preteen a plethora of affirmative quotes about self-esteem, ability, image, and progress, is a weekend program in North Philadelphia that mentors and tutors junior high school children.
In an environment where cellular phones are denied to mentors, tutors, instructors, and students, it was a bit a challenge to observe the children’s use of their mobile devices. However, when recreational time occurred, and when students were interacting with mentors 10 to 13 years their senior, a conversation about how both parties engage in mobile media arose in almost no time. It became apparent that most children did have smart phones, and a lot of them had the same apps. The top app of the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders was Instagram. Students questioned why anyone would not have the app, insinuated that having a popular Instagram page was a direct indicator of one’s social status, and it became apparent that children these ages are enticed by this sort of programing.
An immediate goal for an app was to combat the noise levels of narcissistic programing, and invite preteens to a more helpful realm in which they are affirmed not by physical or material displays of popularity, but to codify and appreciate their growing up. With developing an app that encouraged and affirmed this demographic it was not difficult to design the privacy settings because a goal was to use as little information as possible. There is no need for a user of Future Verse to divulge their name, physical location, or school; however they are allowed to select a gender and age for their avatar. The next aspect of the apps design is aligned with the historicizing agenda of its creator, and research questions that were developed and explored through the remaining pieces of literature.
After deciding not to incorporate a social media aspect, even just within the app community, making the app popular was still a goal. What would make these kids use or like this thing? There is no gaming aspect to this app. Thusly the need to understand and explore preteens in the context of shared virtual environments and how user-app-interaction would result in the user embracing or utilizing any of the apps positive scriptures was quite necessary. The first stop on this creation train, involved a bit of nostalgia. Citing the popular preteen phenomena of the 1997 Tiger Electronics release of Giga Pets, and later on EA and Maxis’ 2000 release of The Sims is necessary as both were used to develop the actual design of the app.
Giga Pets was a tiny keychain that fit in the palm of one’s hand, which was also a virtual pet. Users had to feed, clean up after, bathe, and play with their Giga Pet. The mobile media was interactive, simple in terms of its four keypad design, and loved by all children who had it. It was at first regarded by parents as a means to possibly teach responsibility, it was despised by educators as a distraction in the classroom, but perhaps it was just a fun thing to do for children. The Sims is now a sage with many versions and expansion packs, means to play, and does not seem to be losing its relevancy as a SVE. Together these older forms of mobile media and digital technologies became the framework for Future Universe, and dictated the second half of the apps research.
Decidedly to gain the affection and perhaps popularity among potential users, Future Universe would take on an SVE program and feature the use of an avatar. This was also a choice made because it would be very difficult to include users of different races, gender ids, and ethnicities because persons within said categories may experience totally different social situations that other means of coping are better suited for. So the app is set “in the future,” and features a boy and a girl and an “alien,” avatar in which users can only name and age. Now the research became a matter of how to get the user to embrace and apply the affirmations given to the avatar on its journey, to their real life instances, and a gaze into how mobile media usage informs preteen behaviors.
The Meyers article and Tehranian’s dissertation are the platforms that further attributed to Future Verse’s design. Sections of either study present great facts on preteen internet behaviors, but were not suitable for direct application to the app’s design. Tip of the Iceberg: Meaning, Identity, and Literacy in Preteen Virtual Worlds may perhaps be the most useful article of them all.
Beginning with an anecdote of a librarian reading to a group 7 and 8 year olds being informed of a popular shared virtual environment, the study sites SVEs and an emergent genre in which there lies a space for New Literacy, Identity, Learning and Problem Solving, and finally Community. Meyers diffuses three categories of SVEs, insists that there is a sociocultural definition of literacy which defines expertise and socialization offhandedly, and calls a greater understanding for how preteen media literacy ought to be or may be assessed.
The study shows how SVEs are developed for specific types of children within a preteen demographic, and some of the social implications that follow. For sites that require membership or premiums, there is a pressure to maintain that premium on parents from users. Creators consider world premises, the avatar, and the point of view as well. While the “AdverWorlds,” and “Commercial Worlds,” deal will real world products or are accessed at a financial cost, and finally there is the Value Worlds are non-commercial and do not seek to entice users with advertisements or their money. It is more about the experience rather than the user’s finance. An important note about the user’s behavior is given in the article and that is most users are heavily involved with the world’s activities such as shopping and customizing, and may involve virtual currency.
This study was most impactful for Future Verse because it defined a lane for the app that wasn’t available in terms of gaming. Trying early on to liken the virtual world of Future Verse to games with story lines or avatars such as Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, or Super Mario Brothers, worked as a model for how the apps’ world would be represented in its physical form. However, because there was no overall goal or theme to the avatar’s journey, the app has installed other features to get the user to participate in interaction. Understanding SVE as Meyer’s exhibits makes Future Verse a more relevant and feasible app.
The study sites Fisher, Marcoux, Meyers, and Landry, 2007; 2009, as recent research that, “preteen everyday life information behavior suggests that information seeking and problem solving are embedded in a wide range of social practices, including activities at home, school, public social spaces, and online. This is where the assessment of this study and the following study, became crucial in one, identifying where Future Verse fit in mobile media, digital technology, and SVE universes, two understanding that the demographic is under scrutiny.
There seems to be a discussion floating about preteens that insist they are too involved in their mobile devices, they have too much access to the world through the internet, and that they as a result of performing with, against, or apart from these mobile media, are less capable of basic or traditional human interaction. Perhaps as the famous Will Smith song goes, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” there is some truth to that statement. The following analysis of Tehranian’s dissertation speaks to the volumes that preteens are widely misunderstood as less human, less literate, and more endangered as learned members of the species.
There is an extreme lack of support and huge asinine claims made in Tehranian’s dissertation. While it is necessary to say that the document is in defense of a Philosophy of Psychology degree, there is a use and some misuse of media studies that support many of her claims. Overall the document informs that there is a huge increase or popularity of “fame,” culture in television media over the past 50 years. (U.S.) She insists that such a widespread frenzy of individualism draws preteens away from physical and traditional forms of socialization and interaction. It is agreed that mass media entertainment are fast and effective at directly and indirectly purporting the behaviors of its audiences. However she leaves no room for accountability. She supports her hypothesis with a number of facts about how much television or online usage preteens generate. Arguably mass media cranks out ideas at large and to large audiences and incur large responses, there is hardly anything scholarly about that observation.
While doing a somewhat decent job at “proving,” this, Tehranian and the board that approved this dissertation did not consider many crucial factors to assessing this demographic and worse some extremely unfair ones.
Tehranian cites Gardner, 2013, as saying this preteen generation is, “the first generation to be defined by technology and innovation.” This cannot possibly be true. Humans have been alive for centuries, every generation encounters newer technologies, and all have been defined by such innovation. A more sensitive approach to this demographic is that they are newly adept in ways that their older influences are not. They do have wider and more expedient access to information because of their technologies, however this dissertation gives the impression that this is inherently bad. Au contraire it is older generation’s inability or unwillingness to immerse themselves in preteen culture, to make an attempt to understand the generation’s usage of such technologies, and to open up their own understandings that frame preteens as a hopeless stretch of DNA that cannot function without a screen.
Tehranian elimintated “screens,” for five days among a group of 6th graders to see if they could recognize and understand human emotion. This implies that preteens are detached, and that there is a detachment happening from using mobile media. Perhaps if Disney’s Belle would have entertained the singing provincial town that she lived in, as opposed to reading a book, she too would have been less of an individual? In reading this document it serves one little to find examples of programming that projected individualism over collectivism, unless one sites how popular Hannah Montana was as a preteen TV program. The document is poorly organized onward; nonetheless, the stats and the theories in place in this dissertation were disheartening.
After mulling over the new studies and theories found on preteen interaction with avatars and SVEs, it became apparent that Future Verse does more than encourage preteens. It allows them to embrace timelessness and character in an age where their predecessors make little effort to understand them, but make large claims against them as productive members of human society. So in efforts to further confuse, confine, and condemn scholars, parents, and educators, and really empower preteens, Future Verse takes place in outer space. It’s futuristic, the avatars are just as tech savvy as the preteens they are designed after, and nobody using this app should feel bad about going on this journey.
Tehranian, Y. Social Media, Social Kids: Sociocultural Implications of 21st Century Media for Development in the Preteen Period.
Meyers, E. M. Tip of the Iceberg: Meaning, Identity, and Literacy in Preteen Virtual Worlds. J. of Education for Library and Information Science, 50. Retrieved May 9, 2014, from http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.temple.edu/stable/40732585
Lwin, M. O., Miyazaki, A. D., Stanaland, A. J., & Evonne, L. Online usage motive and information disclosure for preteen children. , 13. Retrieved May 9, 2014, from the Summon database..
Snowden, Collette. (2012). “As It Happens: Mobile communications technology, journalism, and breaking news,” in N. Arceneaux & A. Kavoori (Eds), The Mobile Media Reader. New York: Peter Lang. P. 120-134.
Goggin, Gerard. (2006). Cell Phone Culture: Mobile technology in everyday life. London: Routledge. Chapter 8, 143-161