“Good” vs “Bad” Technology: An Unproductive Debate


Latest in the arsenal of moralpanic studies of digital technologies is a recent article published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, written by psychologists and education scholars from UCLA.  The piece, entitled: “Five Days at Education Camp without Screens Improves Preteen Skills with Nonverbal Emotion Cues,” announces the study’s ultimate thesis: engagement with digital technologies diminishes face-to-face social skills. Unsurprisingly, the article and its’ findings have been making the rounds on mainstream media outlets over the past week. Here is the abstract: more...

Let’s talk about Sext Baby


The Today Show recently did a special on sexting, and NBC reporter Abigail Pesta wrote a piece about it, with a video link, here. Much of the piece is based around the expert opinion of Catherine Steiner-Adair, a psychologist who wrote a book on the topic based on interviews and observations with teenage students in the U.S.

In what follows, I leverage a rather harsh critique of the piece and the research that it cites. I do so because I think they show promise, but go wrong in very important ways. This critique is meant not as a fight, but as a push to researchers, policy makers, and general citizens to check their assumptions about the relationship between bodies, behaviors, and technologies. And moreover, it is an imploration to address root level issues, rather than seeking out blamable objects with naive hopes of eradicating social problems through destruction of material stuff. more...

What the Media is Getting Wrong about Steubenville, Social Media, and Rape Culture

Note to readers: This article and its corresponding links discuss rape, victim blaming, “slut” shaming, and rape culture generally.


Image from Youth Vector
Image from Youth Vector

The disturbing events in Steubenville, Ohio have spurred some insightful reporting and analysis (collected by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images) that, one would hope, raise awareness about rape culture.  As a social scientist that studies social media, I am particularly interested in how privacy and connectivity have been framed within the context of the case. I cannot help but notice the sloppiness with which many reporters write about the “dangerous mix of alcohol, sex and social media that many teens navigate nowadays.”  Studying the role of social media in everyday life may appear as trivial or superficial: something fun or novel to study. But Steubenville shows us exactly why writers and scholars need to understand social media better. more...

A Quick Note On Emoticons

Emoticon, stitched with DMC rayon embroidery floss on 14-count light green Aida by Deviant Art user ~crafty-manx

As part of my research I spend a lot of time preparing and conducting science lessons with 8th graders. Today they got to learn how to make moss graffiti. After a quick botany lesson they were allowed to paint whatever they wanted onto a large canvas drop cloth. What surprised me the most was the students’ overwhelming desire to simply write their names. If they didn’t write their names, they usually wrote a short phrase. Out of about 80 students, there were only a handful of drawings. Almost every student decided to write text. Some of that text, strangely enough, took the form of emoticons. Why would anyone choose to draw an emoticon? more...

Examining Cultural Change: Children’s Tattoo Toys

As part of my research into the popularization of tattooing, I have accumulated quite a few interesting links on tattoo toys for children. I don’t mean those temporary tattoos we all used to get from the vending machines at popular chain restaurants. This toys I am talking about have drawn flack from parents as being “inappropriate” for kids, creating an example of a burgeoning “moral panic”. Some examples include: tattoo inspired toddler wear, tattoo machines for kids, and of course, tattooed Barbie dolls.

The new Tokidoki Barbie is causing quite a stir


Cyber-Support on Formspring

George Washington University students have taken action against sexual assault on their campus, and, interestingly, are using the social media site Formspring. Several student organizations have banded together to create the “3000 campaign” (which makes reference to the estimated number of GW students who will experience sexual asaault). The campaign adeptly uses Formspring to allow students to anonymously report sexual assaults. The Formspring page is here. See DC sex and gender columnist Amanda Hess’ excellent coverage of this story here and here.

Cyborgology editors PJ Rey and I have made the point before that social media is often painted as dangerous without looking to the new ways in which it provides support. Yes, bullying occurs on Facebook, but we can also think about how social media has been leveraged to provide social support, for instance, with Dan Savage’s YouTube-based It Gets Better Campaign. I also recently discussed Egypt’s Harassmap, which helps women organize over social media to fight harassment. The site that has been arguably most notorious in the recent fervor over cyber-bullying is Formspring.me (for those who do not know, users on this site answer questions often asked anonymously). The site is connected with a suicide and researcher danah boyd has stated that, more...