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Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet

Author: Kathryn C. Montgomery
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007
Review Published: April 2009

 REVIEW 1: Tyler Bickford
 REVIEW 2: Lisa Dusenberry
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Kathryn C. Montgomery

I am honored that RCCS has chosen to highlight my book, Generation Digital, and I am particularly pleased to have read the two very insightful reviews by Tyler Bickford and Lisa Dusenberry. Not only have they both identified and articulated the book's main themes, but they have also provided thoughtful commentary, raising several particularly important issues that I would like to address in my response.

As Lisa Dusenberry points out, unlike a number of other recent works that have concentrated on how individual youth interact with new media, I chose to focus my book on the symbolic role that children and youth have played, and continue to play, in the policy debate and in the new-media marketplace. One of my goals was to provide readers with an insider's perspective of the political and corporate interests shaping the digital media culture and the policies revolving around it. This emphasis also grew out of my 12 years of experience as a policy advocate at the Center for Media Education (CME).

Tyler Bickford argues that concentrating only on the ways in which digital media address the psychological needs of adolescents ignores the fact that psychosocial issues are also important to adult engagement with these media. I would agree with that point. But adolescence is a particularly important period during which specific kinds of development take place that are quite distinct from what happens during adulthood. There is now a growing body of research documenting the ways that interactive media resonate with the teen experience, tapping into their processes of identity exploration, peer relationships, and autonomy. (The 6-volume MacArthur Series on Digital Media and Learning provides some excellent reading on these topics.) But most scholars of youth and new media have paid little attention to the ways in which digital marketers have closely tracked the psychological connections between digital media and teenagers' developmental processes, and designed their marketing strategies to tap into these important relationships. While a robust field has emerged to study digital media in teens' personal, social, and political lives, academic research on the role of marketing in youth digital culture remains seriously underdeveloped.

As for privacy policy, the emphasis on children at the expense of adults reflects longstanding concerns over children and media that played out during the debates over the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), something I thought a great deal about as I led the campaign in support of that law. Writing the chapter about COPPA gave me an opportunity not only to understand how international developments influenced the U.S. policies, but also to reflect on the nature of the "compromise" that the Clinton Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Congress made in choosing to regulate only children's privacy. I am very proud of that law, which has helped prevent marketers from engaging in some of the most exploitive data mining efforts targeted at children. But I also realize -- and did at the time -- that children were not the only segment of the population with a fundamental right to privacy. That is why I support the work of consumer groups that are pushing for broader privacy safeguards, including the Center for Digital Democracy (a spin-off of CME) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Nor did passage of COPPA prevent the growth of a highly commercialized digital media environment that continues to target kids, as Bickford points out. (I have written about some of these trends in more recent publications including a report I co-authored on interactive food and beverage marketing.)

Bickford's point about my lack of criticism in the case studies of youth social marketing initiatives is well taken. I chose to present these efforts in a neutral manner and let readers draw their own conclusions. But I would agree that some of these strategies, which draw so directly from commercial marketers, may be as problematic with "pro-social" causes as they are with product promotion.

Finally, I am heartened to see that the trends I documented in the 2004 presidential election have continued and that youth engagement with politics appears to be on the rise, with digital media playing an important role. Though I only devoted one chapter of my book to that issue (which was based in part on a larger report), I continue to work with scholars in the U.S. and Europe to track and evaluate youth civic participation in the new media.

It is exciting to see the growth of scholarship on digital media culture. I hope my book has made a contribution to knowledge in this area.

Kathryn C. Montgomery

<kcm@american.edu>

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