Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

We Enter a Time of Calamity: Informed and 'Informated' Youth Inside and outside Young Adult Fiction

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

We Enter a Time of Calamity: Informed and 'Informated' Youth Inside and outside Young Adult Fiction

Article excerpt

Young people's interactions with new media and communication technologies are currently popular subjects of debate and analysis in academia, the media and young adult science fiction. But while academic research increasingly highlights the complexity and individuality of the relationships between young people and new media technologies, pop culture artefacts such as recent young adult science fiction and the news media often resort to oppositional portrayals, particularly of what I will call 'informed' versus 'informated' youth. In such binaries, the informed young person is one who uses information and technology for personal growth and social transformation. Its opposite is the 'informated' young person. Hardt and Negri (2000) use the term 'informatization' to refer to the post-industrial economic processes of the postmodern era (p. 280), but I am using the term here to evoke the sense of being inflated, bloated or overloaded with information. The informed young person may be depicted positively in young adult fiction and the media, but its nemesis has become a fearsome spectre, reflecting popular anxieties and fears about the Information Age. The informated young person has access to unlimited information but is not informed, can communicate effortlessly across time and space but has nothing to say, and is surrounded by an ambient network of peers but remains isolated, alone and adrift. In this paper, I aim to explore how recent science fiction and other pop culture artefacts have depicted the relationships between young people and ICTs (information and communication technologies), especially in light of relevant scholarly research in order to ascertain the relevance such portrayals might have for young people's lived experiences.

One of the most fundamental features of the Information Age is the exponential growth and rapid evolution of ICTs, a pace matched only by scholarly research into this field. In particular, many theorists are investigating how technology is impacting on social relations, identity formation and communities of GenTech, the 'always-wired teen generation' (McNamara 2006). Buckingham notes an essentialist divide between perceptions of computers as entertainment machines exerting a negative, destructive influence on young people's lives, and utopian views of the transformative potential of educational electronic media, neither of which, he contends, takes into account the 'interplay of complex social, economic and political forces' that influence what sorts of technologies are developed in the first place (2000, pp.41-5). While these essentialist views of youth and technology are mainly evident in popular media and some recent science fiction, they also occasionally emerge in the scholarly research. For instance, the influence of violent game and media content on young people is a recurring and topical issue (see for example Gentile, Lynch et al. 2004; Uhlmann & Swanson 2004; Meyers 2002; Hogan 2005), even though some researchers are now suggesting that the relationship between, for example, young players and violent games requires more analysis to accurately gauge the medium's impact (Mierlo & Bulck 2004; Vastag 2004; Hourigan 2005).

In contrast to studies focusing on the negative effects of the 'entertainment media', much scholarly research has focused on the ways that new media are influencing young people's social and psychological development. For example, ICTs allow for new forms of identity work, a topic relevant to young people who are still forming their sense of themselves (see for example Calvert 2002; Filiciak 2003; Nakamura 2001; Turkle 1996). Young people are also extending and developing new literacies in technology-based environments: James Gee argues that video games can be an excellent learning tool in the Information Age (2003, p.7). Alvermann and Heron suggest that while young people's play-interactions with popular media may appear frivolous, such play 'actually involves multiple literacies embedded in complex communication practices' which can subsequently inform classroom pedagogy (2001, p. …

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