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Instant Identity: Adolescent Girls and the World of Instant Messaging

Author: Shayla Thiel Stern
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang, 2007
Review Published: October 2009

 REVIEW 1: Andrea J. Baker
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Shayla Thiel Stern

Thanks so much to the University of San Francisco's Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies for choosing my book, Instant Identity: Adolescent Girls and the World of Instant Messaging, as a book of the month for October. This research was done several years ago now -- before Facebook and MySpace were prevalent -- but I wanted to make the point that I believe the findings on gender and identity still apply to digital media applications, including social networking, that youth use today. For example, the iterative quality of status updates and comments for those updates on Facebook and the posting of photos along with the ability to "like" the photos or comment upon them or share them with others strongly mirrors the basic qualities of how adolescent girls use Instant Messaging. In social networking, however, as much depends on the use of visual imagery as oral/written imagery to negotiate identity.

Some of my current research explores this dynamic and further questions how race and class (in addition to gender) figure in to the ways adolescent girls use new media. I am also looking at current U.S. news media's representation of how adolescent girls use digital media tools, and the dominant news narratives are often at odds with what most girls are doing online; these representations of girls in what I call a "public recreational space" marginalizes girls, and it is quite similar to historical news coverage of adolescent girls in public recreational spaces like the dancehall or athletic arena. In other words, our understanding of how adolescent girls use new media does not exist in a vacuum outside the mediated world: It is part of a long history that overwhelmingly painted girls as either naive victims in need of protection or sexually-devious reprobates in need of saving.

As my research stands upon the foundation of research on girls using traditional media to articulate and negotiate gender identity, I hope this research on IM can be a foundation for research on new media and girls in the future. I also hope it moves beyond academic circles and becomes useful for parents, educators, law enforcement officials, and others. I thank the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies for the opportunity to reach this wider audience.

Shayla Thiel Stern


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