March 11, 2008

Online Boys: Not Just Wallflowers

As the title of a recent New York Times article (“Sorry, Boys, This Is Our Domain“) suggests, teen girls have already laid their claim to the farthest-reaching corners of the creative Web. The one glaring exception to that trend is the way boys have embraced online video; when compared with teen girls, boys are twice as likely to have posted videos online.

The article highlights findings from a Pew Internet & American Life Project report (“Teens and Social Media“), showing that online teen girls ages 12 to 17 outpace boys in nearly every realm of content creation — whether that’s blogging, maintaining a Website, or sharing original music or photos.

But it’s not as if teenage boys are simply sitting on the sidelines with their camera phones, waiting for the next testosterone-fueled stunt to come to mind.

When compared with adults, teen boys are still far ahead of the pack in many content creation activities, and the ranks of enterprising Web-savvy teens count plenty of creative and prolific boys among them.

Ben Cathers, for instance, was just 12 years old when he started his first business providing online advertising in the late 1990s. By the age of 17 he was producing his own syndicated radio show, and by age 19 he had founded his own search engine technology company.

Aseem Badshah started padding his distinguished resumé at the age of 11, when he became the youngest person to earn the Microsoft Office User Specialist certification. By the time he reached high school, he had already started developing a Website for students called ThinkEssay.com. At 18, Aseem now runs Scriptovia, a collaborative online community that allows students to upload papers and receive feedback on them.

And finally, any mention of teenage boys expressing their creativity online would be sorely lacking without mentioning the viral comedic song-stylings of Bo Burnham. Like many emerging young writers, actors, and comedians these days, Bo found success with the pasta-on-the-wall approach to sharing his work online.

After posting the first videos of his songs on YouTube Inc. in 2006 (mostly to share with his brother who was in college at Cornell), Bo witnessed the view count skyrocket past 1 million in a matter of weeks. Now, with a cult following and a booking on Comedy Central under his belt, Bo doesn’t hesitate to submit some of his most politically incorrect songs as part of his college applications.

So, while relative to girls, boys look to be late bloomers in the participatory media garden, they’re far from being complete wallflowers, either. Furthermore, as the Times article smartly notes, even though girls outnumber boys as content creators, the gender gap among adults in computer and mathematical occupations remains daunting.

As I sit here, thinking about all of these creative, tech-savvy teens who religiously update their blogs, social networking profiles, and Flickr pages, I’m reminded of how overdue I am to update my own Facebook profile and my personal blog, and of all the photos and videos I’ve promised to share with my friends and family. This, I’m afraid, brings another daunting prospect to light: I’m definitely not a teenager anymore.

This post is also available at the Thinkernet Forum here.