Tag Archives: youth

Lost languages as teen cyphertools

We’ve talked about social steganography before; for teenagers and other folk restricted to communicating in public and/or monitored virtual spaces, a shared coded language becomes a necessity for the communication of ideas which you don’t want the watchers (be they parents, governments or whatever else) to be able to parse.

But why invent a new language when there are dozens of them lying around, discarded in the margins of a globalised culture? Via Kottke, Mobiledia reports on kids reviving nigh-extinct local languages as a way of carving out their own cultural spaces:

Samuel Herrera, who runs the linguistics laboratory at the Institute of Anthropological Research in Mexico City, found young people in southern Chile producing hip-hop videos and posting them on YouTube using Huilliche, a language on the brink of extinction.

Herrera also discovered teens in the Phillippines and Mexico who think it’s “cool” to send text messages in regional endangered languages like Kapampangan and Huave.

Almost as soon as text messaging exploded on the world stage as a means to reach anyone, anywhere, and anytime, young people began to find a way to scale it back, make it more exclusive and develop their own code or doublespeak to use on the widely used devices.


the adoption of a discarded language makes perfect sense, to keep texting’s cachet among teens exclusive. And linguists are pleased that dying languages are helping teens communicate, keeping the languages alive in the process.

“This really strengthens the use of the language,” said Herrera, who is pleased to find this naturally occurring, albeit somewhat unconventional, solution to the problem of dying native tongues.

In fact, according to Dr. Gregory Anderson, young people need to be the ones reviving a dying language. The director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Salem, Oregon, says that somewhere between the ages of six and 25, people make a definitive decision whether or not to say to stay or break with a language.

Score up another point against the Rejectionistas.

Related: via The New Aesthetic, here’s a Flickr pool titled “Faces Illuminated by Displays”. Welcome to The Now.

The kids are, contrary to media coverage, all right

Why are there so many negative stories about teenagers in the media? Because that’s what older folk like to read.

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick of Ohio State University gave 276 volunteers an online magazine to browse. She found that older people preferred to read negative news about young people, rather than positive news. What’s more, those older readers who choose to read negative stories about young individuals receive a small boost to their self-esteem as a result. Younger readers, in contrast, prefer not to read about older people at all.


We gravitate towards information that confirms our opinions, and tend to avoid that which will undermine or challenge us. It is just one of the many examples of cognitive biases at play in decision-making and judgment. Having our prejudices confirmed makes us feel better about ourselves, that is why we get the gleeful urge to say “I told you so”. This study may be most revealing because it does not demonstrate a general schadenfreude, but a one-directional, specific effect that should give us pause to think about the media’s coverage of young people.

It’s confirmation bias all the way down!

Hiding in plain sight: social steganography

There’s always room for another compound neologism! Via Bruce Schneier, Danah Boyd on social steganography:

Carmen is engaging in social steganography. She’s hiding information in plain sight, creating a message that can be read in one way by those who aren’t in the know and read differently by those who are. She’s communicating to different audiences simultaneously, relying on specific cultural awareness to provide the right interpretive lens. While she’s focused primarily on separating her mother from her friends, her message is also meaningless to broader audiences who have no idea that she had just broken up with her boyfriend. As far as they’re concerned, Carmen just posted an interesting lyric.

Social steganography is one privacy tactic teens take when engaging in semi-public forums like Facebook. While adults have worked diligently to exclude people through privacy settings, many teenagers have been unable to exclude certain classes of adults – namely their parents – for quite some time. For this reason, they’ve had to develop new techniques to speak to their friends fully aware that their parents are overhearing. Social steganography is one of the most common techniques that teens employ. They do this because they care about privacy, they care about misinterpretation, they care about segmented communications strategies. And they know that technical tools for restricting access don’t trump parental demands to gain access. So they find new ways of getting around limitations. And, in doing so, reconstruct age-old practices.

And in doing so, make Google CEOs look surprisingly clueless.

(Incidentally, Schneier does this, too; most people who aren’t sf fans don’t know that Schneier’s an sf fan, but he leaves little Easter Eggs from time to time if you know what to look for.)

Weaponising Mozart

Roll up, roll up! Observe, ye gentlefolk of the globe, how the UK continues to skip gleefully down ever-stranger corridors of surrealist authoritarianism and ephebiphobia! In a bizarre inversion of certain mechanisms and escapements eviscerated from a clockwork orange, disobedient school pupils are being forced to listen to classical music during detention sessions [via MetaFilter]:

In January it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the midlands of England, was “subjecting” (its words) badly behaved children to Mozart and others. In “special detentions,” the children are forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced.)

One news report says some of the children who have endured this Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable. As one critical commentator said, they will probably “go into adulthood associating great music—the most bewitchingly lovely sounds on Earth—with a punitive slap on the chops.” This is what passes for education in Britain today: teaching kids to think “Danger!” whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem or some other piece of musical genius.

Personally, I’m less bothered by the choice of music (which indicates little more than the desperate clinging of the chattering classes to pre-Victorian definitions of goodness, virtue and quality) than I am for the increasing parallels between the treatment of children who refuse (or simply fail) to conform to the contorted straight-jacket postures demanded of them by their parent societies, and the treatment of prisoners-of-dubious-legal-status in The War on an Abstract Noun ™. And look at how the subtext of the article, beneath the secretly-admiring hand-wringing over authority-run-amok, worries that classical music might be culturally devalued by this usage. Oh, horrors!

When disaffected kids turn to rioting and civil unrest – in the UK, the US and elsewhere, and soon – these starched authoritarians are the ones who will wonder what could possibly have driven them to such behaviour. What type of ingrates would try to smash the bars of the cage so graciously provided them? After all, it’s all done for their own good*.

[* – By “for their own good” they mean, of course, “for anyone else’s good but theirs”. I was in a really good mood this morning, too. ]