Sunday, November 27, 2005

At the Corner of Memory Lane and the Information Superhighway

Yesterday, I thought that I would visit my former employer, the California Youth Authority -- virtually, of course -- to see what kind of website they had built for themselves. I had fond memories of working for the CYA. In the years between college and graduate school, I directed after-school educational programs out of one of their teen centers. In this one-room schoolhouse in the city in which I now live, I had to cope with the challenge of working with gang members, but I had fun connecting "at-risk youth" to new technologies with a lab of donated Apples and PC's.

We even worked with PEN, one of the revolutionary "e-government" initiatives of the nineteen-eighties, which was designed to get local citizens wired into an incipient network that then took on a peer-to-peer life of its own. The gang members that I worked with had e-mail addresses long before many corporate CEO's! "Are the current CYA denizens building virtual lives of interest? " I wondered.

(There is a PowerPoint presentation about the history of the CYA with a lot of old-timey photos for those unfamiliar with the way the "camp" model replaced the older "reformatory" one . . . that is before "camp" became "boot camp" in recent years. Some of these camps were also linked to New Deal forest conservation projects. After the rioting of the nineteen-sixties, urban "delinquency prevention centers" were also founded, like the one at which I worked, but these were chronically underfunded.)

As cyberspace tourism, it was a depressing visit. The California Youth Authority has become the Juvenile Justice Division of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The image we see on the homepage is an officer's hat, a synedoche for armed authority. The needs of clients or their parents are largely underrepresented, and they are only directly acknowledged on the page for CYA Delinquency Prevention and in the Strategic Plan. There are some good techniques to engage young people with new media, such as those being promulgated by Ellen and Julia Lupton, but none are in evidence anywhere in the constellation of CYA websites that I visited.

Based on what I have seen on,, and sites on that reference particular gang affiliations, it seems clear to me that young people on the margins are discovering the potentials of the Internet for individual and group expression. But how that mix of creative and destructive energy will play out in relation to the larger public -- in both cyberspace and juridical space -- remains to be seen.

Many of these outlaw sites are being monitored by the LAPD, according to a 2001 article in The Los Angeles Times, "Authorities Watching Gang Web Sites." Ironically, some blame the "No Child Left Behind Act" for this new generation of web-savvy OG's.

As my husband likes to say, "You can't unsee the things that you see on the Internet."



Blogger Julia Lupton said...

Afterschool programs, many targeted at urban kids, are one place where community organizations, schools, and sometimes university people are thinking creatively about technology and kids. is a network of California programs run by the University of California. Their afterschool activities always involve computing of one sort of another, including "Digital Storytelling" and other cool stuff.

5:43 AM  

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