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November 20, 2007 |

We are moving into the analysis and writing phase on our digital youth project. Here is a short essay reporting on some of my research with anime fans.

One important dimension of our research is to develop an understanding of the diversity in ways that different youth engage with digital media, and what some of the factors are that lie behind this diversity. While broad demographic indicators such as national context, socioeconomic status, gender, age, or race have been analyzed as sources of diversity in digital media adoption, we still have very limited understanding of the specific practices, social contexts, and cultural identifications that inflect digital media use in different ways. For example, while we may know the general demographics and numbers of US teens who have decided to participate in an online site such as MySpace, we know little about why particular youth decide to opt in or out of participation, and what the variables are—personal, social, cultural—that factor into these decisions as part of an unfolding life history. Why is it that some youth decide to participate in some online sites rather than others? How do social categories in youth culture such as “geeks,” “jocks,” and “cool kids” inflect participation online? How do specific hobbies, interests, and friendships factor into young people’s decisions of where to go online? As the palette of options for online participation continues to expand, it is critical that we look at the relation between the diversity in youth culture and the diversity in online engagement. The “participation gap” as Jenkins (2006) has suggested, is not simply about haves and have-nots in relation to universal resource, but about intentional decisions people make between different but equally engaged forms of online participation.

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