Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Age Before Beauty is the kind of website that sends shudders down my spine, since it invites viewers to speculate about the ages of narcissistic volunteers who submit their photographs, probably in the hopes of seeming unusually youthful or mature. My guesses were generally closer to the actual age of the person in the photograph than the average guesses of others. I would guess that this would have less to do with my powers of observation than it does with the design of the website, in which the prominently displayed median number looks to be an impossibly old fifty-four. This pseudo-collective intelligence website that borrows ranking conventions related to the "hot or not" or "kitten wars" genre clearly appeals to a youth-centric bias in many websites peddled to the Internet public by displaying those who are concerned with disguising their years and accrued life experience and by making "youth" to be the thing rated rather than "age." (RateMyAge is a porn portal, I discovered.)

This brings me to a rant that I've been meaning to make for a while, whenever I see grant programs aimed at "Digital Youth," conferences targeted to "Youth Culture," or opinion pieces about the "digital generation." Even if I think that papers about how Palestinian girls use cell phones are interesting, I think more prominent and well-funded scholars should be looking seriously at computer-mediated communication in the 30-70 set, the demographic in which policy is made and power relationships in families, offices, and political structures may really be changing the most.

The one thing the tut-tut mainstream media and celebratory people associated with certain philanthropic organizations share is this single-minded focus on the young, whether as multitasking anti-social cyborgs, naive potential victims of sexual predators, totally unconscious confessional strip-tease artists, or plucky little superheroes who are taking on industrialized education and the copyright establishment. It's all about "other" rather than self.

To the credit of people like James Paul Gee, there are certainly mature individuals willing to look seriously at their own discourse practices critically, but I worry that their disciples in game studies and Internet research are sometimes too much in love with the exotic digital young.

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