Work, Youth, and New Media
Defining “Work”- Youth engage in many activity that can be regarded
as work, such as school, chores, and extracurricular activities, but
what do we really define as “work”. In a narrow sense, we can say that
anything that has an economic gain is work. In a broader sense,
anything that requires effort and time even if it has no immediate
monetary gain, is still work. It’s in the latter that we see many young
people working hard in new media.
Preparatory Work- Much of the work that we see youth engaging in
today is preparatory work such as education, skill building, culture
building. “Prep work” is used to prepare young people for jobs in the
future. They help them develop the attitudes and motivations
necessary to become successful in our business world, as well as the
skills associated with it.
Is “New Media” Part of the “Prep”?- In a world that is becoming
increasingly centered around the internet, social media, and the
developing status of new media, we have to question whether we
should be training kids in how to use and become successful with new
Work, Youth, and New Media
Youth Labor of the Past- Previously, young people, even as they near
adulthood, have always been a part of the unskilled labor market.
While teens can take jobs as early as 15, these jobs are usually low-
wage low-skill jobs. As the world of new media pushes forward, the
youth are challenging just how “low-skill” they are, and are succeeding
in high-skill, high-tech ventures, even if they do not result in immediate
Unpaid Digital Work- Much of the youth presence in the technological
world is in unpaid digital work. Open-source software, nonmarket peer
production, crowdsourcing, and virtual economies are some examples
of where the youth have taken to working. The current generation of
young people are more motivated by the good of a community over
immediate personal gain, and many spend hours upon hours working
on something such as a fan-sub or an open-source piece of software
because they want to make the community they belong to a stronger
place. Whether that community is anime related or software
development related it doesn’t matter. They may be motivated by
recognition or reputation, but the lack of monetary compensation
points to a desire to improve what they love.
There is a definite distinction between the ways that low income
families and more well off families view the internet and the
emergence of new media.
Low Income Families- Low income children more often view new
media and the emergence of the internet-boom as a route to upward
mobility. In this way they may view the computer as less of a toy, and
more of a tool. Instead of exploring the internet, they are creating
things and learning skills that they hope will allow them to find a
technologically related job.
Middle Class Families- Middle class children have computers and new
media integrated into their lives. They are connected at home. Their
parents use the internet for both work and leisure. These children are
often held much less responsible for household chores and
responsibilities, so they have more of an opportunity within that luxury
to explore computers and casually integrate them into their lives.
Much of the work that young people are involved in with technology is
in the form of training. While many young people are working on their
own to hone their skills with new media, many are also engaged in
more formal veins of training.
Much of the formal training with computers in schools is contested due
to economic class differences as well. In-class technology and new
media work is seen as time where the middle-class and computer
literate kids can work on developing their useful skills, but at that same
time the less computer literate, poorer youth are often using this time
for fooling around on the computer as opposed to building any real
Out of class work can also be seen in an economically tainted light.
Where middle-class parents may see it as acceptable for their children
to use their already integrated computers for socializing and fooling
around, thus giving them the freedom to build skills, lower class
parents more see these tasks as a waste of time, and are much more
likely to focus on real-work skills on the computer.
Training is seen by many parents and kids as an upward mobility
opportunity, and therefore is encouraged to be integrated into schools.
Many parents encourage their children to use the computer for
productive tasks so that they can have the opportunity to turn those
skills into jobs. This is seen most strongly in lower income families.
Training in computers and new media can be compared to vocational
training, such as traditionally seen in automotive, carpentry, and
nursing. Where vocational training has yet to truly catch up with the
new media age, after-school programs and formal training with
productivity software can somewhat fill that gap for those seeking
employment in the field.
While the days of the paper route and the McJob will probably never
die for teenagers, many young people are taking it into their own
hands to create a little revenue through new media. While full-time
high tech jobs are almost exclusively for adults, young people with
high-tech skills recognize that those skills can be monetarily
The three main areas where young people are finding a way to cash in
on their real-world skills are below:
Publishing and Distribution
While many young people are distributing their work on the internet, it
is a fairly uncommon occurrence for them to be making any money
doing so. Most of the young people distributing their work are
attempting to gain recognition, or promote themselves. Artists,
musicians, audio and video producers, are all sharing their work on the
internet for free hoping to build reputation and get their name out
there. These are not immediate financial gains, but sometimes they
can translate into them down the road.
Some young people are able to make some money off their work,
either through selling the work physically, or from building enough
popularity to gain revenue from ad space. While this is rare, it is
SnafuDave is both a web comic creator as well as a web site manager
for other web comic creators. He is in his early twenties and has finally
been able to live off of his web comic ventures. He started making web
comics in college, and moved into hosting web comics for others soon
after. While he is able to collect revenue from the web comics site, it is
all funneled back into improving and maintaining the site.
It took him a while and lots of dedication to make himself successful.
For a long time he was pushing his comics through any outlet that
made sense. Publishing them for free on sharing sites across the net
to gain recognition.
Through merchandising his web comics, and the web comic site, he is
now able to work exclusively on his media pursuits and doesn’t have
to work a day job. This is quite uncommon though, as most of the web
comic makers he works with have other jobs. Even when you are
successful in new media, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can live off
Another area where the youth can break into the labor market with
new media is through freelancing. Freelancing is done on a job-by-job
basis, usually the person is hired to do that job for a certain rate and
with a certain timeframe.
Most kids start off being unpaid and their work is mostly in the
“helping” category This is due to older generations not having a grasp
on electronics and new media technology, so the young people are
designated as the ones who diagnose problems, teach them how to
use certain things, and fix things when they go wrong. Mostly this
starts out as unpaid
Some young people are able to break into the more formal side of
freelancing by doing tasks online for small amounts of money. There is
a demand for freelance work with the web and new media production.
There usually isn't much money to be made in this market, but young
people with skills on the web can monetize their skills in this way.
There is a possibility for youth to become entrepreneurs in some
sense, and create themselves as an online enterprise. This is the new
“lemonade stand” model, where kids take the skills they have, and find
ways to create a business by tapping into demands, oftentimes of
This type of work differs from the other two types in that it is neither
about a transition-into-work, such as vocational training might be, nor
does it embody the spirit of “helping out” that can be found in youth
freelancing. Instead, enterprising work allows young people to develop
the ability to create their own revenue down the road. It is a type of do-
Whether it's selling Playboy images at school that they printed off their
computer, or charging kids to put music on their iPods, young people
will find a way to capitalize on their skills. They find a way to tap into a
demand, and market their own skills to fill that demand.
Nonmarket work is work done by the youth which don't promote
immediate financial gain. Much nonmarket work is the type of work we
might think of right off the bat, such as sports teams, youth groups,
and music lessons. While they are work, they are not paid in any way.
They are there to help kids expand their cultural palate, and learn the
dedication and drive they will need to succeed in the future job market.
Less formal nonmarket work by young people can be seek all over
new media and technology today. They are creating fan-fiction,
subtitling movies for other fans, or doing parody comedy on YouTube.
Nonmarket work is the place where middle to upper-class kids are
able to hone their skills for future possibilities. It is often thought of as
a “pipe dream” of sorts by lower income families, who don't believe in
the possibility of a job in the creative-production field.
Nonmarket Peer Production- Open source software development, fan-
subbing, wikipedia authoring, game modding, etc. are all examples of
nonmarket peer production. This is where youth engage in activities
that benefit a other people because they enjoy doing it. It isn't for
financial gain, but instead for the benefit of the “free economy” online.
One way that technology is enabling young people to understand
markets is through virtual currency markets online. Eddie was a player
of the game Neopets. Though, he didn't do it the way most people did.
He was playing exclusively to make money. This money was not real
world money, but just capital in the game. He played the markets, he
knew the best games for creating capital, and he simply amassed
loads of neocapital.
These virtual economies, such as the one Eddie played on, are not
exactly like the true markets. They don't necessarily create greats risks
and great rewards. They are easy to manipulate and predict, while real
markets are highly volatile on an hour-to-hour basis. This said, playing
through these virtual economies can be valuable for young people
who are exploring how currency works. The understanding in this case
that time = money was the take-home lesson for Eddie.
While the internet and the wave of new media have not fundamentally
changed the labor market for the youth, it has changed the way many
of them look at their possibilities and their personal abilities. New
media is giving kids a different outlet to market their skills, and
demonstrate their abilities.
While most work engaged in by kids today is still unpaid, some are
finding ways to break into the labor market, and utilize their skills for
monetary gain. Alongside that gain, there are many more who are just
working on improving their skills, and gaining marketable knowledge
and abilities through their use of new media, and technological
Kids may always have paper routes and take jobs and McDonalds,
watch out for more and more of them starting their own web design
companies, monetizing their YouTube accounts, and gaining
recognition online for their musical talents. The internet has widened
the range of possibilities for young people, and they are capitalizing on