Understanding behaviors and needs of teens across several media types can be enhanced by learning from documentaries, scholarly discussions, and interviews. Subsequently, librarians can better serve teens, and can become partners in discovery rather than “gatekeepers” (Martens, 2011, p. 51).
Two documentaries, published thirteen years apart, demonstrate that technology is evolving, that teens are targets of marketing, and that teens may not be aware of their involvement in a carefully crafted “feedback loop” which gathers data, designs marketing strategies, and yields profits (Goodman, Dretzin, & Rushkoff, 2001). Many teens have access to money and enjoy being part of the loop, whether they are aware or not. Bombardment with commercial messages keeps them involved with media and products. Corporations continue to commodify teens, especially girls ( Martens, 2011, p. 50).
In Frontline: The Merchants of Cool (Goodman, Dretzin, & Rushkoff, 2001), Douglas Rushkoff reports that teens are big spenders and corporations know this. Corporate “culture spies” (e.g., correspondents) find out what is “cool,” and corporations use technology, film, music, and books to market products to teens. The documentary emphasizes that corporations tap into teen rebelliousness, interest in sex, resistance toward mainstream culture, and thrill-seeking in order to sell to teens.
Frontline: Generation Like (Goodman, Dretzin, & Rushkoff, 2014), provides an update on technology, corporations, and teens. Teens are highly involved in online activities (Goodman et al., 2014; Latham & Gross, 2014, p. 55) and share popular culture with increasing speed and ease. Corporations continue to reap profits by targeting and engaging teens. There is also a new factor in the mix: “social currency” (Goodman et al., 2014). Through social media, teens are rewarded online with social contact, measurable validation, and exposure to growing audiences. There is, however, a “man behind the curtain,” and teens are working for him for free (Goodman et al., 2014; Martens, 2011, p. 55). With keystrokes, clicks, and yearnings for praise and distinction (Goodman et al., 2014), teens create data for analysis and marketing design, and they expose countless others to commercial products. When they contribute content, they add ideas that benefit online entities and the commercial interests behind them (Martens, 2011, p. 59).
The commercial activities of online entities and the lure of social environments may place teens at risk for privacy invasion, misuse of identity, and involvement with malintent. Most teens are not concerned about online safety (Pieters & Krupin, as found in Latham & Gross, 2014, p. 67), and teen interviews can demonstrate acceptance of the online world as trustworthy. They may feel empowered by receiving and sharing information; they trust brands as if they were friends (Goodman et al., 2014); and it is unlikely that they recognize exploitation or commodification (Martens, 2011, pp. 49-50).
Recent teen interviews (summarized in Quinn, A., 2014, September 28) confirm that technology and media are givens in their lives, and that they are aware of popular culture via formats including online media. They may search for reading materials online, but they make decisions about accessing materials across several media. Teens enjoy validation (e.g., identification with characters), and they are interested in storylines which provide escape and include rebellion, sex, and resisting convention. Behaviors and needs of teens who like to read, however, are not fully involved in technology. They have ‘non-tech’ reading models, and they talk about what they read with friends and family. Vivid facial and verbal expressions communicate involvement and enthusiasm that cannot be conveyed with the use of keystrokes, clicks, emoticons, or “likes.”
Goodman, B. (Producer), Dretzin, R. (Producer and Writer), & Rushkoff, D. (Consulting Producer and Correspondent). (2014). Frontline: Generation Like [Documentary]. Boston, MA: WGBH Educational Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/
Goodman, B. (Producer), Dretzin, R. (Producer and Writer), & Rushkoff, D. (Correspondent). (2001). Frontline: The merchants of cool [Documentary]. Boston, MA: WGBH Educational Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cool/view/
Latham, D., & Gross, M. (2014). Young adult resources today: Connecting teens with books, music, games, movies, and more. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Martens, M. (2011). Transmedia teens: Affect, immaterial labor, and user-generated content. The international journal of research into new media technologies, 21, 49-68. doi: 10.1177/1354856510383363
Quinn, A. (2014, September 28). Young adult reading interests: Going to the source. QUINNLOOK [Academic blog]. Accessible at quinnlook.wordpress.com