Xenophily, and “Teens Don’t Tweet”, Part XXIX

D’Arcy’s got a post on the recent Ethan Zuckerman presentation, and like me, he’s taken to this word xenophilia. It’s a neat presentation — if you haven’t watched it yet, you should.

Zuckerman talks about the limitations of Twitter and such things in the talk, but he actually begins with a success of Twitter — one that brought him into contact with a piece of Brazilian culture that he normally wouldn’t have seen (I don’t want to ruin the talk for you, for more details, see it yourself).

What struck me the most about his story was that it’s the sort of story that would be impossible on Facebook. Facebook, as danah boyd has pointed out, was successful in part because it catered to Xenophobes — it kept those nasty urban and alternative people away from the good people living on the well-pruned suburban lawns of Facebook. There was an entry requirement to the initial Facebook — you had to be of a certain sort of class that got to go to a four year college to be on there. The working class need not apply. And there was so much reassurance to our students that everyone on Facebook lookedjust like them that it felt safe.

[By the way, this is the reason why I will never watch that new Facebook movie coming out — I can’t see Facebook as brilliant — quite the opposite, it succeeded by tapping into the two most xenophobic markets in the U.S. — college students and Silicon Valley.]

What’s my point? Same as usual. In my personal experience, teens tend to be the most homophilious (is that a word?) of any age group. Normal caveats, not all teens, etc. But if you know teens personally, just try and tell me that’s not true — I swear there is something hormonal that happens at 13 that turns broad-minded, experience loving children into herd-obsessed pack animals. And there’s something that happens seven or eight years later that hopefully flips them back.

When we start talking about educational technology as “talking to students in their own idiom” we have to remember that just as in language, technological idiom comes with a whole bunch of baggage, some of which may actually run counter to our aims as educators. Teens may not tweet, they may not blog — but they may also not be doing these things because things like Facebook provide safe, unchallenging experiences for them. If that’s the case, our job is not to meet them in their own idiom, but to introduce them to new ways of talking.

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