Last updated: January 23, 2012 - 9:30am
Dr. Danah Boyd — a senior researcher at Microsoft, an assistant professor at New York University and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard — is a widely respected figure in social media research. With a number of influential scholarly papers under her name, she travels relentlessly, tweets under the handle Zephoria and has fans trailing her at TED conferences, at South by Southwest and elsewhere on the high-tech speaking circuit. She is also a kind of rock star emissary from the online and offline world of teenagers. The young subjects of her research become her friends on Facebook and subscribe to her Twitter feed. “The single most important thing about Danah is that she’s the first anthropologist we’ve got who comes from the tribe she’s studying,” said Clay Shirky, a professor in the interactive telecommunications program at N.Y.U. and a fellow at the Berkman Center.
Children today, she said, are reacting online largely to social changes that have taken place off line. “Children’s ability to roam has basically been destroyed,” Dr. Boyd said in her office at Microsoft, where a view of the Boston skyline is echoed in the towers of books on her shelves, desk and floor. “Letting your child out to bike around the neighborhood is seen as terrifying now, even though by all measures, life is safer for kids today.” Children naturally congregate on social media sites for the relatively unsupervised conversations, flirtations, immature humor and social exchanges that are the normal stuff of teenage hanging-out, she said.
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