Johanna Sumiala & Leena Suurpää
It must be clear that media are not just types of technology and chunks of content occupying the world around us… If anything, today the uses and appropriations of media can be seen as fused with everything people do, everywhere people are, everyone people aspire to be. There is no external life to media life – whatever we perceive to escape hatch, passage out, or potential delete key is just an illusion. In fact, we can only imagine a life outside of media.
This citation from Mark Deuze’s book Media Life (2012, x) hits the point. In today’s world, young people live fully mediatized lives. This generation 2.0 travels between physical and virtual worlds – or should we say between offline and online. For these digital citizens’ principles such as belonging, intimacy, time, space, and engagement seem to be anything but the dual dichotomy between physical as something more real than virtual. And yet, we should be careful not to conceive this new reality as a utopia of novel borderless social and cultural order. Many hierarchies of power, unequal division of cultural and social capital and symbolic boundaries are at play when young people live and experience their lives in these highly mediatized spaces. The contemporary wandering between on- and offline worlds is not just an exciting world of global trends and new experiences but also a realm of contradiction, conflicts and struggles for space and recognition.
Perhaps surprisingly, media scholars and youth scholars at least in Finland have been somewhat slow in adapting to this new media landscape in the study of young people. This, we may claim, is partly due to the insistence in media studies to keep dividing the world of communication into three approaches e.g.: production, representation and audience. This thinking has difficulties in grasping a social world in which a receiver becomes a producer with a click of a mouse. ‘Prosumer’ is one term to attempt to grasp this dynamics in this participatory culture of sharing and liking.
Another aspect has to do with the role and place of society in media studies focusing on young people. Scholars such as Nick Couldry among many others have challenged media studies to take more seriously the question of mediatization of social reality. In this line of thinking media and communication cannot be understood as separate from society but as deeply embedded into its social and cultural logics and dynamics.
The lively dialogue between youth and media studies may help us to rethink contemporary young people’s everyday dynamics, and to encourage scholars dealing with youth issues to come up with new vocabularies and methodologies to grasp young people’s experiences of equality and inequality, visibility and invisibility, belonging and segregation, in a sensitive way. The issues related to the youth and the media are value-laden and contested, surrounded with diverse stereotypes. Young people have always been – and still are – a focal point of both romanticizing and pathologizing imaginaries. This implies both a challenge and an opportunity, encouraging us to interrogate the interdisciplinary potential of new tools of delicate investigation in a digital age. While it is a cliché to state that digital technologies impact profoundly on the daily life of young people, less attention has been paid to opportunities that digital ethnography with its audiovisual dimensions might offer to the practice of research design, in particular with regard to the engagement of young people with the different phases of the research practice.
With these intriguing thoughts in mind, the interdisciplinary project Youth Street Politics in the Media Age – Helsinki and London compared was launched around one year ago. The project is an inventive experiment as it brings together the paradigms of youth studies and media studies that regardless of their shared research traditions (ie. the Birmingham school) have recently had relatively little to do with each other.