Friday, March 7, 2014

Digital Gates: How Race and Class Distinctions Are Shaping the Digital World (Watkins)

S. Craig Watkins is the author of The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Networking Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for our Future in 2009. He has also published two other books on hip-hop culture. Watkins teaches at the University of Texas in Austin in the departments of Radio-TV-Film, Sociology, and the Center for African and American Studies. He is a member of the MacArthur Foundation’s research network on ConnectedLearning. Watkins is also conducting a series of case studies that examine how educators are using social, digital, and mobile media to design the future of learning.
            In the chapter “How Race and Class Distinctions Are Shaping the Digital World,” Watkins discusses how people, mainly college-aged, use social media sites to connect with others and maintain relationships. He writes that the majority of users prefer Facebook to MySpace, and that social class is a major determinant of young people’s preference for using either site for social networking. He argues against the commonly accepted view that social class, race, gender, etc., do not matter in the digital world, and instead makes the claim that using these two sites actually creates a larger bias and divide among class and SES specifically. Social networking actually mirrors users’ offline lives in regards to preferred friends and acquaintances and maintaining feelings of “safety” by excluding things deemed unsafe or unfamiliar.
            When surveyed in 2007, 84% of white students preferred Facebook, whereas only 66% of those who identified as Latino preferred Facebook to MySpace. In the survey, Latinos and Hispanic students were more likely to name MySpace as their preference. Studies also found that students whose parents have a higher education level are more likely to be Facebook users. When asked about their opinions, users described MySpace as “creepy, crowded, trashy, fake,” and “uneducated” and referred to Facebook with far more positive comments like, “selective, clean, educated,” and “private.”
            Many students expressed contempt for the assumed demographics of MySpace, believing that the site is primarily used by “digital undesirables- black, Latino, and angst-ridden teenagers- people they consistently describe as ‘creepy’” (Watkins, 83). Watkins likened Facebook’s restricted college-oriented user base to living in a gated community: “[people who] desire safety, security, community, and ‘niceness’ as well as wanting to live near people like themselves because [they fear] ‘others’” (Watkins 86). He writes that despite the popular belief of the digital age changing lives and becoming a “social utopia,” it has not changed whom we form strong social ties with.
            Watkins’ book was regarded with much praise from other authors and academics. His work is heralded as “a must-read for parents and educators,” and “bracing yet reassuring, often surprising, and always substantive.” Other comments from the general public on are a bit more negative, stating such comments as, “[kids] will find this information obvious,” and feelings that although published recently published (2009), the material already feels out of date. Overall this book received a rating of 3.21 (out of 5) from 38 ratings. 

S. Craig Watkins, "Digital gates: How race and class distinctions are shaping the digital world," in The Young and the Digital (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009), pp. 75-101. 

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