At a conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010, Pew Research Center analysts and outside experts discussed research findings about the Millennial generation, the American teens and twenty-somethings now making the passage into adulthood. In this second of three sessions experts on media and technology examine how Millennials are seeking, sharing and creating information.
Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent, PBS Newshour
Tom Rosenstiel, Director, Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism
danah boyd, Social Media Researcher, Microsoft Research New England, and
Fellow, Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Dylan Casey, Product Manager, Google
Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist, Pew Internet & American Life Project
In the following excerpt, ellipses have been omitted to facilitate reading. Find full transcripts, including audience discussion, and video of the full event at Millennials video page.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to welcome you back to the second of three panel discussions we’re doing today centered on new surveys and analysis by the Pew Research Center on the Millennials, the generation of teens and twenty-somethings who, as we know, are turning out to be distinctly different from the younger generations that preceded them. One of the things that most distinguishes them — some say defines them — is technology. Their use of cell phones, laptop computers, and not only the internet, but social networking sites to communicate with each other and to learn about what’s happening in the rest of the world.
When I first linked up with the Pew Research Center about five years ago on that reporting project for PBS and NPR to tell the story of this younger generation, I found young people eager to talk about how they interact with new media and how they get information. Here’s just a minute’s worth of what we heard.
(Begin video segment.)
MS.: I get New York Times delivered daily on email, so I check — I usually do the internet news.
MR.: Now, what do I do here? Videogames or law school? Videogames — (laughter) — law school.
MR.: Videogames are kind of — it’s a new medium. It’s going to be to the 21st century what film was to the 20th century.
MS.: I feel like our generation kind of has ADD in terms of you can’t just sit down and you know, let’s relax. OK, you know? I’d say quick, fast, in a hurry is pretty much our motto. We want it and we want it now.
(End video segment.)
TOM ROSENSTIEL: I’m glad that I’m the oldest person on this panel so that we have more points of view here. What I’m going to do for just a few minutes is talk a little bit about media use and news consumption of Millennials that we can infer from the survey data and from other data that we look at.
First of all, Millennials are the leading edge. They’re doing things with technology, and older generations are following. They’ll do things, and we’ll think that’s nuts; that makes no sense; that’s crazy. I’d never do that. And then two or 3 years later, we do that. (Laughter.) How many of the Boomers in this room are now on Facebook?
As I look through the data, I think that Millennials are what I would call on-demand grazers for news. They look for what they want, when they want it, and they graze across lots of different sources, although a limited number of sources. They share, they network. They’re mobile; they’re connected when they’re away from home. And as I look through the data, I think they’re already changing their behavior.
As you see in the slide, a lot of people think that technology makes life easier. Millennials are a little more likely to feel that way, but this doesn’t really define them. But one thing where they do jump out more is in the idea that it’s a good thing to share all these pictures, to post things about themselves, to say I’m doing my laundry now while they’re on Facebook or whatever. I’m betraying some of my own biases here.
Look at the difference in terms of Millennials being cell-only. Now, will that change once they buy houses and want to have, potentially, other phones? Who knows? But right now, no. They’re twice as likely to be [cell-only] as Gen-Xers and a lot more likely than others. They are connected wirelessly when they’re away from home through laptops, through cell phones, to the internet. I was trying to take the Millennials quiz on my phone earlier, but I don’t really know how to work the thing. (Laughter.)
This, to me, is interesting because look at the change in behavior. Millennials are less likely — a lot less likely to blog than they were in 2007. So I think this is a caution to us that what we see people doing now with technology may not be, necessarily, what they’re going to be doing later.
I think the technology doesn’t define them as much as reflect them. Millennials are more likely to be on social networks, to use cell and text, but I suspect that the rest of us are following them in that regard. They’re also more likely to post video, to tweet, but these numbers are not huge. Not everybody is doing this all the time, even in the youngest generation.
Now, we get into where people get their news: Television — this [includes] both cable and broadcast and local. They’re watching television, actually a little more than Gen-Xers, but certainly less than older generations. The internet, clearly more. Newspapers, somewhat less, and I think there may be some noise in that lowest number. Radio, interestingly, is something that everybody uses and the numbers aren’t changing a lot over time. So where are people going for news when they are online?
Well, the young who are online at all, 81% are online daily for news. The idea that young people [are] not interested in the outside world, I think, was wrong. [Y]young people were not interested in the old delivery systems, in appointment viewing, in having to consume your news at breakfast only — that’s what was going on. Now that they have a delivery system that meets their behavior, their needs, their personality, they’re avid consumers.[D]uring the election, this generation was as informed about politics as any other generation, less so now that politics is working so beautifully here in Washington that they don’t have to pay attention. (Laughter.) Where are they going online for news?
They’re going to aggregators — Yahoo, CNN — which is a site that’s got a lot of material that’s not CNN’s — Google, MSN, but key brands like the New York Times or Fox or any of them, those are not places that people describe as their main news source. In other words, they really are grazers. And we’ve got research that will be released later that’s not part of this report that indicates how widely they graze or not graze.
Technology reflects the personality of this generation, I think, rather than defines them. But predictions about them are very difficult to make. One reason is because I think Millennials are already changing because the technology’s changing, because their personalities are changing.
The other thing, and this is significant — the landscape is so different that actually asking Millennials or any other generation what their media use is like versus what previous generations did is impossible to do because tweeting and a lot of these technologies didn’t exist. We don’t know what Gen-Xers did when they were 18 in terms of tweeting. We didn’t have tweeting then.
So some of the data that we can look at in other areas about religious attitudes, about morality, about a host of other things that we can do longitudinally, we can’t do when it comes to media use. We’re going to have to turn to other researchers for that kind of thing, which tees up, I think, the rest of our group.
WOODRUFF: Amanda Lenhart, I’m going to come to you next because you study this all the time, the use of technology. What else — what would you add to the picture of this generation, how it uses technology.
AMANDA LENHART: [With regard to] your question about how the technology is acting upon young people, I’d like to step back from that idea and look more at a kind of holistic feedback loop, that it’s not just that we’re acting on the technology because we are and, certainly, users and teens and young adults use the technology in ways [that] often the designers themselves didn’t anticipate.
But you’re still using the technology as it’s presented in front of you. You can only really do what the technology allows you to do. And let’s remember, it’s also Gen-Xers and Boomers who are designing this technology as well as Millennials.
So it’s all of us coming together, using this technology. And you really still are constrained in the way that you’re using technology. One good example of this is the change that we’ve seen in the blogging numbers. So, you know, blogging has declined for both teens and young adults since 2006, 2007, quite dramatically.
One of the things we think is a cause of this is changes in the use of social networks. Back in 2006, MySpace was really ascendant. And on MySpace, blogging was front and center. It was at the top of your profile. It was very easy to do and you saw other people’s blogs. They were updated frequently. It was a big part of the MySpace culture.
Fast forward to today, people are moving to Facebook, not necessarily away from MySpace, as some of the data suggest, but moving over to Facebook and its affordances. But Facebook doesn’t have blogging. Facebook allows you to do something called notes, but it’s not something that the structure of Facebook presents to you. What Facebook presents to you [are] much shorter status updates. In fact, kind of a micro-blogging, and that’s where we see some of teens’ and young adult’s energies going.
So I think it’s a mix – — designers are cognizant of what young people want and design things to fit those needs and niches. But at the same time, your use of that technology is constrained by what the technology can do.
DANAH BOYD: I think first off, what Amanda is saying is dead on. What we’ve seen is the rise of social network sites at a time where, starting really with teenagers, they’re in a social situation where they don’t have the same kinds of freedom and flexibility that we took for granted in older generations.
And it comes back to what the earlier panel was talking about, issues of a lot of fear. Fear has been unbelievably pervasive in what we’ve seen with teenagers, and it’s continued on into young adults such that a lot of teenagers that I went and interviewed, they weren’t allowed to leave their home, right?
This whole thing that we grew up with, you know, be on your bike, get home by dark kind of attitude has pretty much disappeared. And so fear is a huge component of it. Another big component is over-structured time. Especially more privileged kids in the United States spend morning to night in activity to activity to activity to activity because their parents think that this is good for them.[Another factor is] a lack of geographic mobility, particularly in non-urban environments, where they’re reliant on parents for cars. And so social media came in at a time where young people were looking for places to hang out, and voila, here it is, here’s a place that becomes an online hangout space.
And so a lot of the behaviors that you saw, especially with teenagers look like what the teenagers were doing whenever we were hanging out before. Conversations boil down to, you know, joking around, gossiping, flirting, you know, so sharing information about that was going on around you.[When] we look at this, especially as adults, we’re like, this is terrible. How could these people spend so much time doing this completely useless task? And yet, at the same time, this is one of the most important learning skills we need out there, which is learning how to actually move around the social world. They’re learning how to make sense of hierarchies and social status. They’re learning how to say information and have it misinterpreted and have to backtrack and figure out how to say it again.
As they switch into sort of young adult spaces, and they finally have a little bit more freedom — both because they’re finally of age to drive, they’re in different geographic environment, whether they’re in the military, off at college, or, you know, in a work landscape — we see a sort of switch to more mobile uses, and a lot of the social media really combines with that. So the technology gets used as a way to say, hey, let’s meet up. Let’s gather in these places. The key thing to understand about the social network sites is that they’re first and foremost about connecting with people that you already know.
And I think there’s always this misunderstanding that they’re about networking and meeting strangers, which was what — when I was a teenager, that’s what I was doing online. But that’s no longer the case for most teenagers and most young adults. They’re there connecting with the people that they already know or the people they desperately wish to know — i.e., celebrities. (Laughter.)
And what’s really interesting in all of this is that adults [spent] all this time for the past five years telling young people this is a dangerous, dangerous place. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t talk to strangers. But now, I love that all of these organizations out there are now trying to go and reach young people through the social media.
WOODRUFF: I have to ask you because it’s been raised to me by a number of people. Because so much of their learning about social interaction is in front of a laptop computer rather than face-to-face, what are we learning about how they are dealing with people?
BOYD: Teenagers spend, you know, a huge chunk of their day sitting and staring at someone lecturing at them, right? So first off, we’ve got a structured environment where they’re still trying to pass notes and gossip and joke around in interstitial spaces that are in person.
Once we get into the young adults, they’re definitely interacting with people, and what you hear over and over again from teenagers is — when I ask them like why do you spend all this time online? They’re like because I can’t get together in person. Which would you prefer? Definitely getting together in person.
Now, that said, you know, many of you have your BlackBerrys in your pocket.
So the fact that they’re engaging in this means that they’re actually engaging in a whole multimodal way of interacting socially in ways that we expect in the professional world. We don’t expect a professional world that is purely face-to-face. We have to deal with the phone, we have to deal with text.
Now, they do have some variations about what they think is rude. And I actually think this is — this is a delightful generational difference. I talk to older workers in white-collar environments, and they’ll talk about, IM — it’s so interruptive. It’s so rude to the workforce. But somehow getting a phone call isn’t?
Right? It’s OK to like ring up anybody? And what’s amazing is you’ll see a lot of teenagers who will text one another and be like can I call you? It’s not saying that texting is always preferred, but it becomes an inverted social norm which is — this is a lighter-touch way of checking in before I’ve actually locally interrupted you.
LENHART: And just to support danah’s point, we have some data that suggest when given a choice of how to communicate, teens will actually, as she said, pick the face-to-face. But because of various locational and geographic constraints, they go to the cell phone, they go to text messaging and social networks as a default as a way to expand upon that.
WOODRUFF: Dylan Casey, what would you add to all this, and then bring us gently into your world, your focus at Google, on search and how that’s characterizing this generation.
DYLAN CASEY: In my professional life, we don’t collect age-specific data about our users, but we do collect a significant amount of data around what people are doing, especially on Google products. We anonymize it, but we look at it at the aggregate level. For the longest time, we looked at search trends as a way to make inferences about topicality or what was important or trying to determine geographically-based trends. And recently, proliferation of what I refer to as real-time search, allows us to identify what’s being said on the internet right now. And so it’s a slightly different dynamic.
Speed has always been important. But real-time [is] important because often times the content that is being published via these different mechanisms, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or a whole host of different publishing platforms, is generally only useful or relevant for a small window of time. Like, if I say, oh, the traffic on I-95 is really horrible right now, like, nobody cares that I said that a week ago, but you might care if I said that five minutes ago or a second ago or an hour ago. And so we really focused on the pipeline to get that content and put it in our index and then make use of it; like, make it searchable, make it relevant somehow. And so that whole process from thinking about it to product launch involves a lot of thought around how people are using technology, what kind of information and feedback do we get. And it’s interesting because we’re a metric-driven company. It’s all about numbers.[W]e’re very uncomfortable with doing anything that’s based on analysis that is specific to somebody’s personal information, right. Privacy is so important to us and has been from the very beginning. And it’s interesting because we have two twists on privacy. Internally, we’re completely open with our information. There’s no such thing as, like, secret projects. That’s the corporate culture — this idea that access to all the information about what we’re doing and what we’re thinking in research and meeting notes and stuff like that is essential for us to operate in a way that our founders and executives want us to behave. However, at the same time, we realize that we’re in this position of collecting so much information about our users and internet traffic and the internet itself and understand that if we don’t go to great lengths to protect that privacy, then we’ll basically just implode internally. And so it creates a certain amount of tension internally to try to understand how do we adjust to what we’re being told.
You know, like, I have a 4-year-old son who will probably never, ever understand the concept of a compact disc, right. To him, he’s just looking for play buttons. Whether they’re on devices or on the internet, he just wants to play music by hitting this button. And so he’s being shaped by technology, and then in turn, he’s shaping the way that we develop products.
For example, we recognized that a huge number of searches on Google were music-related or entertainment-related. And so we said, OK, we need to figure out how to address that. So we developed products and now you can go to Google and you can search and just hit a play button. And so there’s an interesting dichotomy and interaction ecosystem between how young people that are new to technology and new to accessing information are affected by it, and then in turn, how their interaction with that technology affects the actual production and development of it.
BOYD: Can I take up the point about privacy because it actually makes me think of something really critical. There is a large myth out there that young people don’t care about privacy, and I think that that really needs to be dispelled in all of this. Young people care deeply about privacy but how they actually think through privacy looks very different than older folks.
First off, there’s also a distinction between what we talk about in industrial conversations about PII — personally identifiable information — and what I talk about jokingly as PEI — personally embarrassing information. (Laughter.) And I actually think the latter is what young people are much more concerned about than the former. And they’re really thinking through, you know, what are the social elements there.
The other thing we have to sort of take into account in all of this is what kind of environment they’re living in and the kinds of ways in which they interact socially. So you and I might be having this conversation as friends in the schoolyard, talking back and forth. And you know, I tell you things; you might forget some of it. Some of it, you thought was really interesting and you decided to share with the room. And this is a perfectly reasonable way in which we have regular conversations.
Part of it is that this conversation — except for the fact that we’re miked and camera-ed and all sorts of other things — would be private by default, public through effort. What happens in a social media landscape is an inversion of that. It becomes public by default, private through effort.
And so we do hear teenagers talk a lot about this and young adults talking about this — like, yeah, I write that I’m bored but, you know, who’s going to really pay attention unless they want to talk back to me? So I’ll write that I’m bored publicly not because I’m announcing it to all people across all space and all time but because I would love to find somebody else who is bored amongst my friend group who wants to chat with me. But if I’m going to tell Amanda something that’s going to really embarrass her, I’m going to take it to a private environment.
What this means is with technology, there’s an expectation of trust about — just like there is with this conversation. If we had a private conversation, and I told you not to tell anybody and then you spread it to the entire room, I’d be really angry with you. [I]t’s a violation of trust. It’s not the fact that she couldn’t do it; it’s the fact that I expect her not to. The same thing ends up operating with technology, which is that once young people have worked out what they think are the social norms of that particular space, when the technology changes the rules, young people get upset
The other sort of factor in all of this is a calculation of what can be gained versus what can be lost. Young people by and large are calculating all of the things they might gain from being public. Being cool amongst their friends? That’s a big gain. Maybe getting the attention of a celebrity? That’s a big gain. The possibility of becoming a celebrity themselves? That’s a big gain. Most of you in the room, especially those with a political bent, are always thinking about everything you have to lose. And that’s the calculation you make with these spaces.
What’s really interesting is that this is inflected by socioeconomic positions more than anything else as we sort of see the transition. So young kids who are on the path to Harvard or Yale or want to be or their parents have wanted them to be since they were five, they’re going to make these calculations about all that they could possibly lose much earlier than kids who are not really thinking about college but are thinking about what it means to sort of get attention and get a job that was about publicity. So when a technology changes the system, they get upset because of the change of norms.
ROSENSTIEL: The old media platform essentially was a form of force-feeding. The news was bundled by editors or producers at a newscast or newspaper or a radio station, and you had some limited choices if you were reading the newspaper, which sections you were going to look at and which stories you’d read. And in television, you had fewer. I could tune out, and the research shows I would completely tune out, forget that story that you just did. And I’d remember the next one because it interested me.
So what’s going to happen now that we can’t force-feed in the media and that the news has essentially been unbundled? I as a consumer can find the story I want. And the data suggest that that’s what people are doing. They don’t consume news all at once. They consume it serially through the day. And there are these spikes. When people hear something, they get interested and they go look for that story.[Does that mean] society is going to fall apart now that I can’t force-feed what I think is important to you? I think what we’re seeing in the data suggests that when people decide that something is worth knowing about, they now have the power to go learn about it.
The campaign was very revealing. People of many different ages, even much younger than Millennials, became excited and became plugged in, became interested, used different channels of technology than had been used for politics before. So one of the key things for those of us in the information business I think is going to be how do we make stuff seem relevant? How do we make it clear that this is — this is a bus stop for you.
WOODRUFF: Do we just give up though on the idea that we who know the news business, know about journalism, should decide what’s important and —
ROSENSTIEL: No, and these guys probably have data on this too, but the data that I’ve seen suggest that people are still saying, what’s new? That’s, I think, an almost-human instinct. And the research suggests that people do go to top headlines. The research also shows that just going to Google and reading the headline, what the news source is — that it’s the New York Times or whatever — and the first sentence is for many people enough. I can get a lot of news by just grazing across. What you consider to be the appetizer, I consider to be the meal.
LENHART: I think what happens now is because everything is public by default, there’s no way to do what we do in our personal and sort of physical interactions, which is code switch. The way I act to my mother is different than the way I act to Lee Rainie, my boss, and the way I act to danah boyd. And when I’m with danah in person, I can make those calculations and calibrations. But when I present myself in a digital space, I don’t have that ability to make those kinds of nuanced choices. Or if I do, it’s a little bit of a blunt instrument. It’s like, you know, a hammer instead of a fine-grained laser tool.
And because of this, you get into situations where — I think this is an example you used at one point, danah — where there’s a young man — African-American — who wanted to be admitted to an Ivy League institution, and he had gotten in, and he had great grades and he was doing really well, and then an admissions officer goes and looks at his Facebook profile, gets access to it in some manner, and sees that he’s throwing gang signs and that he is associating himself with gang activity. And the officer thinks, oh my gosh, we don’t want this person to come to our institution because they’re going to bring this gang activity.
But what we’re not getting is that he’s doing that to be authentic in his friend group. It may not actually be that he’s a member of a gang, but he’s doing that to build that kind of rapport and authenticity in his network of peers, which is his audience, and the audience that he’s thinking of.
So what I think is a big challenge for all of us as we go out and start interacting with Millennials, interacting with teens, is remembering that when we look at their online-self presentation through a social network, on Twitter, you’re not the intended audience. And that if you’re just interacting with this person in another medium, the way they may be showing themselves to you would be very different. And we need to take that into account.
WOODRUFF: But aren’t they now able to make it private much more easily than they used to?
BOYD: No, not only are they not able to, but Facebook keeps making it harder. In December, Facebook changed the default privacy settings and proudly announced that 35% of the population went out of their way to change the settings. That means that 65% made their material public. And I’m watching this data streaming in, all of it, and it’s not meant to be public.
One of the most heartbreaking cases that I actually had to deal with in the fallout of this was a woman whose ex-husband was after her daughter. They had moved across the country to get away from the situation. The daughter and the lawyer and the mother had sat down, in very detailed discussions, talked about how to allow her to have a life, and having a life in high school required her to have a Facebook. [They went] out of their way to create a Facebook with all of the privacy settings set down, brought in a tech guy to help.
December rolls around. She didn’t know what she was doing — she clicked yes, straight through. Everything was suddenly public. And so one of the things that’s really frustrating in all of this is that most people — and Amanda’s data show this over and over again — [want privacy]. But the technology is not making it easy. And one of the things, I think, that really also needs to be highlighted is that the young people who are least privileged in our society have a lot more to lose by a lot of what goes on in these systems, and we really have to think about what kind of structures we need to put in place to help those who are most marginalized.
LENHART: Think about juvenile records. Your juvenile records can be sealed — if you commit a crime or engage in some kind of activity when you’re under 18, that doesn’t actually — that doesn’t count when you’re an adult and that’s partly because we’ve decided that young adults and people under the age of 18 at least don’t have the same kind of judgment that you do when you’re older. And yet now, we expect them to have that same kind of judgment in their ability to determine what’s appropriate for self-presentation, when we don’t necessarily expect them to have that kind of judgment in their actions.
BOYD: I would argue that actually this is changing for all people of all ages. We’re seeing a lot more persistence of data today, and I say that even for those of us who were speaking out in public. If you’re a journalist, you might have written a newspaper article that might have gone into microfilms in some library off there — now this is easy to pull back, the thing you wrote 10 years ago that was kind of embarrassing.
What is challenging for young people is that they’re trying to find spaces where there are other young people there. One of the things I’m kind of entertained by is that in most of my interviews lately, I’ve been reminded that Facebook is for old people because what’s fun about hanging out with your parents if they’re reminiscing about their own high school experiences? (Laughter.) I think professionally and socially and personally, we’re having to deal with a level of information persistence, information searchability, information replicability, information scalability, that we’ve never seen before.
WOODRUFF: We met another young woman in Birmingham, Alabama, who said, we think all the worst problems in the world, whether it’s AIDS or anything else, can be solved because we know where to go to get information. We want answers; we want to get it fixed! Do you at Google think about these kinds of things when you think that this younger generation is now grown up expecting answers immediately to almost everything?
CASEY: Well, yeah. I hear it every single day in one manner or another that speed matters. Statistically, we see that there are fewer people that are going to the internet, or at least our properties, just in a browse mode. Our news homepage, for example, gets far less page views than an actual news results page. But what’s interesting is that we also recognize that there is an appetite for just tell me what’s happening right now or tell me some information. And so the speed at which we can deliver that becomes even more important in that specific dynamic.
I referenced music a lot because it’s something that we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. This notion of the top 40 — is it the top 40 because those are the 40 most listened to songs? Or are those the 40 songs that the record labels want to promote the most? There’s research that suggests that people like to listen to music that they’ve heard before so that’s why this whole feedback mechanism gets created.
But then what happens when you start to say, well, here’s music based on what people are looking for, how do they know to look for it? Well, the social networks come into play. Originally, it was, I made this mix tape for you, this music that somehow I had gathered up in various ways, and I’m giving it to you. Well, now, that dynamic has completely changed in the way that people are creating playlists, and that gets stored in their online social profile and they choose to share that
Millennials, Media and Information Panel
WOODRUFF: Tom, bring this back to news and information and where it comes from. Is A consultant we interviewed a few years ago for this project said her most memorable comment from, I think, a young teen was, I don’t have to go looking for the news — when something is important, I’ll hear about it . My friends will text me, or it’ll show up on Facebook.
ROSENSTIEL: Right. You know, if you look at what was the most important finding in media research in the 20th century, it was that media don’t tell people what to think but what to think about. And now that that force-feeding is changing, they are getting their cues about what to think about from many more places.
So I think that part of it has to do with what’s important — what are my problems? What are my needs right now? If you go into a room and say, when’s the last time you learned something new, people will tell you about a situation that they were in where they actually had a need to learn this stuff. Now, it may be an artificial need — maybe a test tomorrow — or it could be that you’re suddenly on a sailing ship, you’ve never been sailing before, and you’re going to have to learn to tie these knots because — or you’re on vacation, and suddenly the Mayans are interesting because you’re there, and the ruins are in front of you.
So I think the issue’s going to be where are the cues coming from? Where are the agenda-setting, influencing things coming from? There are no longer controlled by the media, but the curiosity can be satisfied by the media.
BOYD: One of the things I think is really interesting is the degree to which young people assume certain things can be acquired and obtained through the digital media, and they don’t expect that they have to memorize or remember certain things because it’s there somewhere. And this presents us a whole set of new and interesting challenges.
First off, anything that Google pumps up at the top is right, regardless of how it was produced or all of the implications of that. This creates some interesting elements, especially as it relates to education. [O]ver and over again, I spend time in schools where teachers are like, anything in The New York Times is right; anything in Wikipedia is wrong. We’ve had ongoing, fraught questions about how news is produced and how we have to think about the truthiness, shall we say — (laughter), of said news.
I think it’s really interesting that at some level, young people, especially younger adults who’ve gone through college, get that there’s something mostly right about Wikipedia, even when things are sort of wrong. And here’s what I think is actually critical about Wikipedia, which becomes essential for thinking about these kinds of things, which is that every single edit on Wikipedia is publicly documented, which means that you can actually see the history and the biases of all of these people and all of the changes as this article got battled out to make.
You don’t get to see what happens in the editing room of a newspaper or how that news story got spun to have a specific kind of headline that of course gives a totally different slant to it. And what’s really interesting is to think about crowdsourcing as a meaningful means of information aggregation and access.
LENHART: [N]ow we have a whole bunch of different kinds of curators. We can get our curation from a blog, from that guy whose voice we really like or from the people that we follow on Twitter or from the people in our Facebook network, as well as from the mainstream and traditional media.
And so I think what’s really happening, whether it’s crowdsourcing, whether it’s Google, whether it’s news, is that we’re opening and broadening the opportunities for different curators to sort of show their slice of the universe, and you can now pick and choose what you want to hear and who you want to get your information from and get it from a variety of curated sources.
Google offers up so much informationl others offer up so much information. We can’t possibly absorb it all. But having different curators, I think, allows us to get different windows and yet still get the kind of customized information we’re looking for.
ROSENSTIEL: I think the point that Amanda and danah make points to another point about how the news business needs to change, which is that the news used to be basically shoveling information at people. Information is now a commodity in such wide supply that it has limited value, and you can’t really charge for it, at least at the moment.
But information that does more than simply provide facts to people, that may be unique, that can’t be found anywhere else, that authenticates, that accomplishes something more than simply telling you what movie was he in or who was that guy — that’s where news organizations that aspire to survive are going to have to go.
I worked at the L.A. Times for a long, long time and we had in the left-hand column on the front page, something that was called a “non-dupe,” and a lot of your prestige came from how many “non-dupes” you did. I’d been there about a year when I said, “Why is this thing called a ‘non-dupe’ anyway?” And they said, because it’s considered a non-duplicated story: something that can be found nowhere else. And essentially, I think, that’s where the news business aspires to go because you can’t make a living providing information that people can find everywhere.
WOODRUFF: All right. Questions from the audience?
Q: Eliza Krigman, National Journal. I’m particularly interested in differences within the Millennial generation, and my hunch is that technology has created more fissures within this generation than any other. For instance, I’m 27. I may not relate to how an 18 year-old uses their social networking because it changes so rapidly. And I’m wondering if any of the data in the study particularly would address that.
LENHART: I spend a lot of time looking across teens and Millennials where we could make those comparisons, as well as looking at Millennials themselves. And what we actually see with a lot of technologies, particularly social and interactive technologies, there’s kind of this hump that crosses over teens and Millennials. [Among] basically 15 to 24 [year-olds], there’s kind of an intensity of use which on either side drops off, partly for financial and parental reasons on the young side, and I think for life-stage [reasons on the older side] — you know, older Millennials are more likely to be married, more likely to be child-bearing and more likely to be in a different life phase.[Older Millennials are] a little less constrained by things like income, since more of them have jobs and money coming in than teenagers do. There’s less parental oversight or supervision, so that means you have things with Millennials like that they’re much more likely to text while driving. They’re more likely to have a cell phone, but they’re actually less likely to send text messages on a daily basis than teens are. So, there are some slight differences in there, but again, it’s a lot, I think, about income and freedom that really marks the differences between the two groups.
BOYD: I also think it’s absolutely critical that we highlight that there are huge variations across socioeconomic and racial lines in all of this, and I think that often when we talk about a generation, we obscure the fact that this is really, really significant, and it’s often in unexpected ways.
And so for example, I spent a lot of time tracking low income urban teenagers, for a while, and I was fascinated how they had what we adults would call smartphones long before their suburban, wealthier counterparts. Why? Because they had picked up the Sidekick, and the Sidekick was a really interesting device that with T-Mobile allowed you to go, and you could have a $30-a-month plan that would cover all data except for calling. And so that meant that you saw this entire group of low-income, primarily black and Latino kids in urban environments, going to T-Mobile every week, paying their $30 and having a really high-end internet access device long before we saw the iPhone come out. And so the inflections are not always that low-income usage is worse or limited compared to wealthier, more privileged youth, but that we have some of these inflections that we need to account for.
LENHART: And one of the most fascinating pieces in this report — and another report that we’re going to be releasing in a few weeks about cell phone use that focuses exclusively on teens — we see that actually, African American and Latino young adults, as well as low-income young adults, are much more likely to go online wirelessly. [If] you drill down, it’s actually on a cell phone or handheld — an iPhone, a Sidekick, a BlackBerry.
Q: Linda Wertheimer, NPR. What about gender and technology? How do the two genders use it?
LENHART: I should say that we are actually seeing some of these boundaries kind of erase over time.
But young women are the most intense users of technologies that connect you to others and that are expressive. The one exception to that is video, where young men are much more likely to engage with, post or watch videos online. I don’t know why that is and if others have thoughts on that, I would love to hear them.[Female use of social networking] is not that much greater. It is statistically significant, but we’re talking five or seven percentage points. Again, it is something. It is a distance that is closing, and in some cases has narrowed to a non-statistically significant point in the past couple of years.
Gaming is the other point where young men are much more likely to both own the hardware to game and then to play games and to do so for longer.
BOYD: When I was looking at creation — profile creation — I was delighted to find that a lot of the guys had their profile first created by a girlfriend who had basically dragged them in kicking and screaming. They may have been sort of engaged with it and then still enjoyed it, but it was different.
Qualitatively, when I start to — when I start to actually track what’s going on in terms of their status updates and the content that they’re producing, there are differences. [I]t’s much more, sort of, social, personal upkeep coming out of the girls. It’s much more, here’s what I’m doing, coming out of the boys. And so some of it is just traditional gender reproduction.[O]ne of the places we are seeing this play out is around remix culture versus fan fiction. These are two sort of elite practices where remix culture is primarily coming from the boys; fan fiction is primarily coming from the girls.And the latter is pooh-poohed as, sort of, not that relevant, not that interesting. It doesn’t get the same valorization that we have even to the remix culture.
WOODRUFF: Can you give us a one-sentence definition of what each one of those is?
BOYD: Remix — so say that you saw Monty Python and you saw Star Wars and you decided you’re going to make a remix video of the two talking to one another. All right? Classic sort of video reproduction remix culture.
Fan fiction — a classic example would be that you’re in love with Harry Potter as a character sketch and you decide that you’re really upset that two of the characters should have been together that weren’t together. So you write — you rewrite what should have been using the already existing fan culture.
Both are hardcore content production using already existing cultural artifacts, but one is valued much more than the other. And you see that both in how the media is covering it, how scholars are covering it .
Q: I’m a reporter for the Huffington Post. Specifically my concern is that stories that are very newsworthy like, say, civil strife in the Congo get crowded out by stories that are popular. Aggregators like the Huffington Post are guilty of that as well obviously. I wonder if crowdsourcing breeds a certain complacency in terms of scouting out news.
BOYD: There’s no doubt that when given a crowdsourcing decision-making, people will tend to consume things that are much more gossip-driven, things that are much more celebrity-driven, things that are much less, sort of, hard news. And I watch a lot of teens and adults do exactly that. But then on the other hand I’m not convinced that they were always watching hard news when they were watching news historically.
I mean, I spend — I always watch the local news whenever I am in a new city. And it’s amazing if you actually look at — it’s like, OK, there’s another fire, there’s another cat caught in a tree, there’s another — I mean, it’s not always sort of hard news either. So I’m not — I’m not convinced that this is entirely new. But there’s little doubt that the drive is to sort of soft news.
ROSENSTIEL: It’s a very complicated issue. But it’s not entirely new. And you can misinterpret the data. Or you can focus on things that will generate an audience very quickly and in the long run actually drive down your audience because you only focus on stories that generate a lot of attention and drive out the stories that a lot of different people are interested in.
It’s what I call, “the fallacy of 30%.” If you do only stories like O.J. and these Michael Jackson kinds of stories, you eventually drive out the people who wanted to get information about this subject, this subject, this subject and this subject. Imagine a front page where if you had a diversity of stories, you could attract 100% of your audience to at least one of those stories. If you only focus on stories that are blockbusters, you may attract 30% [but] you drive people away because they don’t find the things they’re interested in in there.
The other element of this is the transaction that funded journalism was, I would take money from real estate ads and car ads and I’d use it to cover the city council because I thought that was interesting. If the revenue becomes very attached to the specific content, it’s not clear how we’re going to subsidize the coverage of civic news that may not have a broad interest.
Q: One of the findings was about the way that this generation is more sympathetic to institutions. What do we know about how people attach credibility to pieces of news, especially among Millennials. Is there much of a different between having The New York Times brand on there and having a blog post? How does that differ from other generations?
LENHART: We don’t have a lot of data about teens’ assessment of credibility. I do know that teens certainly value transparency.
ROSENSTIEL: What we see — and the behavior isn’t drastically different by generation I think — is that people are not focused on specific brands. Two-thirds of the traffic to The New York Times comes through links rather than people going to the homepage. It’s what Dylan was saying too. These are very discriminating consumers. They’re very proactive. They take command.
And I think that as they become news consumers, they will begin to become very discriminating about whether that information has value to them. But that’s a long-term process because these are people who at this point are not heavy news consumers. I mean, as they become older Millennials, yes. But news consumption generally grows as you age
WOODRUFF: To the extent we’re told they respect their parents and they look up to their parents and the older generation, do they respect their parents’ news sources?
ROSENSTIEL: I think they respect Google’s judgment about what’s a news source. (Laughter.) You better get it right.
CASEY: [I]t’s not an easy thing to get right. It’s not as simple as saying, OK, well, we should promote this news story because it has the most number of clicks. It’s a very complicated algorithm.
And the reason that it’s complicated is because we recognize that it’s a really big task to ask computers to try to determine what’s important and what’s not. And we spend a lot of time and energy and intellectual power on trying to differentiate the significance and importance between popularity and social importance — or what you might think [of] as importance.
There’re different ways to try to accomplish that from the user’s perspective — whether you rely on your social networks to determine what stories are important or what content is important or what is the right search result or what is the right news story or whether you rely on your parents.[W]e see that 30% of almost all micro-blog-type updates, whether it’s from Facebook or Twitter or MySpace or various other platforms, contain links to news articles. And basically what’s happening is, this person — somebody is saying, hey, go read this article, or to some extent, there’s some intent back there. And a lot of these platforms are built in such a way that you’re kind of broadcasting to the public, and you’re also broadcasting to friends or people that have selected to follow you in some cases. [I]t’s a very complicated problem. We’re not even close to being able to having it solved yet. And I think it’s a really interesting to have a discussion around how use of the technology influences the way that the technology is developed to then in turn influence the use. And whether or not something is popular or important, I mean, that’s a discussion that we will continue to have forever.
ROSENSTIEL: I would just add this, that in our study of new media and blogs and social media that the vast majority of links that people are referencing are not only legacy media but these high-prestige legacy media. Like the BBC is enormously significant. And The New York Times and particular authors — particular writers have real prestige too. It’s not just the institutions.
Q: Melissa Cidade from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. As an older Millennial — and I hate that term, by the way — don’t you dare call me an older Millennial — (laughter) — when I went to apply for a job, I was sitting down at an interview, and the interviewer had a picture of me and my husband and our newborn daughter. And it dawned on me that I’m Googleable. I started thinking, oh, I better pull stuff down. And then I thought, [m]aybe it’s OK to be Googleable. Maybe it’s okay for the workplace to have a fuller picture of me as a person rather than just as a worker. And I think that’s in keeping with some of the data that we’ve seen about Millennials in the workplace, which is that they want better work-life balance, they want more satisfaction, they want to be seen as a person and not just a worker. So maybe it’s more of that reflective technology going on. Thoughts?
LENHART: I would say that what your example highlights is that you actually provided information to your interviewer that they couldn’t legally ask you — (laughter) — which is about your marital status and your parenthood status. And that’s a big issue with young adults and with teens, and what does it mean in the future? Are we going — when are we going to have the Facebook president? I think we are. And at some point it will be interesting to see whether or not our values as a society begin to change and incorporate that — ultimately that will become a mark of authenticity. Like, what do you mean you don’t have a Facebook profile? What were you doing? Were you an adolescent ever? And so I think there may be that shift.[W]e’ve seen it in terms of drug use in the presidency. [W]e’ve shifted in our values and attitudes toward that and toward what makes you an authentic young person. And so I think we may have to do that with social media as well.
BOYD: [A]gain, this goes back to what people have to gain from publicness. I’m definitely of the sort of first generation of folks who grew up — like, I’ve been blogging since — for 13 years at this point — right? — which is ridiculous. They weren’t quite blogs at that point. You can find all sorts of really weird stuff about me. And part of it is living down that past and proceeding with the future and creating a presence that is ongoing. What I have gained personally from being public has been tremendous.
But let us note that this is also a point of absolute privilege. I have the privilege to be extremely public and to actually gain from that. And most likely, you do as well. In ways that we also have to account for those who are more marginalized by these systems and are coming from systems or going into professions where they are likely to deal with the marginalization.
And so one of the questions. which I think is to Amanda’s point, is what are we allowed to take into account in our hiring decisions? And I think that we need to have that conversation. When somebody walks into the room, we most likely can read their gender and their race, but we are not allowed to take these into account in a hiring decision. You’re not allowed to ask about marital status; you’re not allowed to ask about parenthood status. Even if you can get access to this, should you be allowed to actually take that into account?
CASEY: [W]e can’t leave it all up to either the owners of the technology companies or to various regulation. You know, everybody has to take some sort of responsibility for content that they publish and make publicly available. And I think that’s just the space that we’re in right now.
BOYD: But let’s also remember that this is not just what you individually choose to put up there; it’s what your kids have chosen to put up there about you. It’s what your, you know, it’s what your parents are putting up about their kids. It’s all directions. So we can’t always talk about personal responsibility either because we have to deal with people within a broader social situation. And we have to find a way to navigate and give people respect even when they may have made wise decisions, but the people around them didn’t.
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