Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Living and Learning with New Media

By Shawn Healy
The MacArthur Foundation recently published an eye-opening report titled Living and Learning with New Media, a product of their Digital Youth Project. While there is no shortage of reports summarizing the numerical trends toward new media among our youth, this report is unique in its qualitative look at youth engagement with the digital world.

The authors conclude that young people nowadays are "always on," connecting with friends via text messaging, instant messaging, mobile phones and the Internet. New media presents channels for "hanging out" in a virtual sense and allows friendships to move forward. By "geeking out," young people pursue domain specific information and become experts in their own right, therefore transcending "traditional makers of status and authority." Along the way, they acquire useful social and technological skills necessary to participate in today's society.

At the same time, a new form of "digital divide" has appeared, this one the disjuncture between restricted technological use in the classroom or library and its more liberated manifestations beyond the schoolhouse gate. Social networking is seen by many teachers and parents as a "waste of time" and therefore employ considerable restrictions, but some teens have identified "work-arounds" to circumvent these barriers.

Despite concerns about online predators, teens tend to associate with friends from school, summer camp, athletics, or church. Adult participation in these channels is considered "awkward" and "creepy."

Trial and error is rewarded through new media outlets, with low levels of investments and few consequences in the case of failure. Labeled by the authors as "messing around," it is seen as a transitional phase between "hanging out" and "interest-driven" participation.

The authors conclude that the digital age has provided opportunities that go beyond information-seeking, but also involve social and recreational opportunities. When youth are stifled in this capacity, they are locked out of a common culture and means of socialization. Restrictions are considered "blunt instruments" and perceived by youth as "raw and ill-informed exercises of power."


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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