After reading Josh Miller’s Tenth Grade Tech Trends post, I knew I had to seize the moment and write my own Tenth Grad Tech Trends post. Before we start, let me give you some background as to why I’m providing a second take on teenager tech trends.
I am a teen librarian. What my role in the library basically boils down to is this: I work and interact with teens ages 12-19 for 37.5 hours per week. My role as the Teen Librarian at the Portland Public Library in Portland, ME is to provide the best possible service to teenagers ages 12-19 in the greater Portland area. One of the biggest areas of service that we provide is with technology. I see teens adopting, using, and experimenting with technology on a daily basis. If you walked into my teen library on a typical after school day, you could easily mistake this part of the library for a technology petting zoo. Technology is at the front and center of these teens lives, and I've got a front row ticket to the show. With that in mind, I now share with you some of the observations I've made over the past few years.
NOTE: All of the teens that use my library are between the ages of 12-19 and reside in the Greater Portland, ME area. As you can see from the 2011 US Census data, we’re a small urban area when compared with the rest of the USA, yet we are the largest urban area in the state of Maine.
A majority of the population in Portland, ME identifies themselves as white (85%) but the key to understanding Portland, ME is to notice the statistic for those that identify themselves as black (7.1%) and compare that to the percent of people that identify themselves as black in all of Maine (1.2%). Portland, ME has a very large immigrant community of New Mainers who are originally from Somalia, Sudan, Congo, Ethiopia, and other African countries, and many of the teenagers using my library identify themselves as part of this group of New Mainers.
GENERAL TECHNOLOGY USE:
At our library, everyone with a library card has access to our public computers for 1 hour per day. These are Lenovo machines running Windows and are primarily used to access the internet and also for Microsoft Word. During the school year, teens have access to Netbooks through their schools (parents do have to give the OK for access to the netbooks). When the teens have access to these tools, our public computer use is low. You can view statistics on our public computer usage with teens here. As you can see, usage rates are higher in the summer when teens do not have access to netbooks.
My takeaway: Locate the technology and there you will find a teen.
Two weeks before writing this post, I wrote about a typical day in the life of a teen library on my blog. 25 teens in the library on a typical after school day were using technology. Out of those 25 teens, 23 of them are connected to Facebook (meaning that they have a browser window open with Facebook running). I did not get exact statistics, but many of these teens were using Facebook chat to talk with friends while at the same browsing profiles.
Another thing I’d like to point out is that every week I’m asked at least two to five times to assist a teen with resetting their Facebook account or setting up a new profile. Most of the time, the teens have forgotten how to access their old profile and no longer have access to the email address they used to originally sign up for the account (echoing Josh’s takeaway about email).
For the teens of Portland, ME, Facebook is THE WAY to connect with their friends and family. It provides them with a place to connect with friends, chat, upload photos, and play games.
YOUTUBE and other MUSIC/MOVIE SERVICES:
Many of the teens using the library have YouTube up and running in their browser in addition to Facebook. YouTube offers them access to many movies and TV shows in their native language (I have particular memories helping two teens find videos on YouTube in Italian) and also acts as their default music player of choice. Teens will queue up their jam of the moment and keeping it running on repeat while multitasking on Facebook.
I used to see teens trying to access torrent sites through the library to download entertainment, but that has stopped over the past year. These days, all entertainment consumption goes through YouTube unless is happens to be post holiday and the teens have got a new iPod or phone. In those times, many come in seeking assistance with redeeming an iTunes gift card to purchase music to load onto their new device.
YouTube is an entertainment platform for these teens. It serves as a place to access free music, movie, TV shows, and more. In the rare case that a teen owns their own device (and most of the time, it’s an Apple product), they will download music with a gift card. Streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora have not crept their way into these teens lives.
TUMBLR and TWITTER:
I maintain a teen themed Tumblr for our library and have made efforts to introduce teens to the service, but most have responded with “I don’t really see myself using that”. A few teens have followed me on Tumblr and most of the times I see them reblogging photos and memes shared by other accounts they follow. I have yet to see one teen use Tumblr as a blogging platform. At my library, Tumblr has become a tool for me to use to share images and memes on the digital signs at my library. The web version of the Tumblr hardly ever gets visited.
When I first started at my library in March 2010, I was shocked to see that some of my hardcore library users were using Twitter. For them, it was not used as a link discovery service. Instead, these teens used it as a public instant messaging service. A majority of tweets were @ responses to their friends. They were public conversations.
Those teens have since graduated and a new group now comes through the library. Like my previous group of teens, there are a select few using Twitter. However, it isn’t as a public instant messaging service like the previous group. Instead, Twitter is a place where they follow celebrities. I asked one teen to show me a list of who he follows today: it was all celebrities…Rihanna, Lebron James, etc. As for what he posted, it was mostly what I’d call stream of consciousness ramblings about teenage life not directed at anyone in particular.
There are few teens in my city using these platforms, yet they have not been adopted by the masses. What amazes me is how different sets of teens are using these services to fit the needs they have in their lives at the moment.
INSTAGRAM and SNAPCHAT:
I won’t beat around the bush with these two. I have never seen a teenager use either one of these services.
Josh’s sister and her friends are a lot different than the teens of Portland, ME! I wonder why there is such a difference.
FACETIME/iMessage and SKYPE:
The teens that have iOS devices will use these tools if they have access to them, but Skype remains the popular tool when it comes to video chats. I asked one teen who usually comes into my library once a week to only Skype on her laptop and her response was “are there any other things to use to have video chats other than Skype?” That just about sums it up to me.
People will stick with what they know. Skype has been around since 2003. People have had ten years to get acquainted with the service and will stick with what is familiar to them.