Friday, 21 November 2008

Digital social capital

Thanks to Sheila Yoshikawa, I can post a photo here of the seminar I gave in Second Life, on children’s use of virtual worlds. ‘Twas fun and people made some very interesting comments in the discussion of the data. One of the points we discussed was that the children in my study used 'Club Penguin' to meet friends and family. This is one of the findings of the 'Digital Youth and media' project run by Mizuko Ito and team in the US. They have released the report on their three-year study of children and young people’s informal learning with digital media. The report can be accessed here. It makes for fascinating reading, and the summary includes the following finding: 'Most youth use online networks to extend the friendships that they navigate in the familiar contexts of school, religious organizations, sports, and other local activities.' I think there are interesting issues to explore here in terms of digital social capital - do these online networks reinforce offline ones? What implications does that have for children who find online access difficult at home - are they further excluded from these communities of practice? Or is it, like those of us who avoid networks such as 'Facebook' and 'Twitter', that the connections you want to make will be made anyway, so little is lost in the lack of their use? I think that for different groups, this will play out in different ways and that for some children, not being invited to classmates' 'Club Penguin' parties will mean decreased social capital and a risk of further exclusion in offline spaces. This is an area worthy of further research - if only I could fit it in!

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