Texting Toward Utopia: Kids, Writing, and Resistance
reviewed by Jennifer Mitton-Kukner - November 12, 2015
Texting Toward Utopia: Kids, Writing, and Resistance by Ben Agger offers a progressive alternative to thinking about the childrens experiences with writing. Agger joins a growing body of researchers and educators who have challenged traditional notions of literacy and related literacy practices (Kalantzis & Cope, 2008). In offering a fresh perspective on kids texting lives, particularly in how they connect, communicate, and represent themselves using mobile technologies, Agger considers youth literacy practices as forms of identity and resistancedemocratic practices if you willas they encounter and use emerging technologies in an age of fast capitalism (p. 32). Agger provides plausible reasons for why youth feverishly engage in texting, tweeting, blogging, messaging, and posting and for why those forms of writing may be counted as real and meaningful. The book is based upon three interconnected ideas: the ascendance of mobile phones and the decline of traditional print-based texts (i.e., books); emerging technologies and their interplay with youth literary practices; and the importance of acknowledging youth writing as real, valid, and evidence of democracy in the making.
Agger portrays the online and electronic participation of youth as situated within the decline of traditional books and the rise of mobile phones, and he provides further evidence in subsequent chapters for why youth are not reading and writing in a traditional sense. Agger describes youth as an important minority group whose secret writing and screen capabilities live in response to the rigidity of schooling and technologies that enable them to be young authors of their own lives (p. 14). The author provides concrete examples of how youth writing in a digital age are shaped by an accelerated sense of production, consumption, and instantaneity. Kids are writing, Agger insists, but not in traditional modes; rather, they are reading and writing using devices to connect, communicate, and structure identities. In their efforts, they are creating a non-traditional body of knowledge. While Agger notes the quantity of writing that is emerging in this time of instantaneity as impressive, he asks the reader to consider the boundary between real and electronic writing, noting the dangers of a thin discourse through electronic writing in which meaning-making happens on the fly. Provocatively, Agger refers to this period of time as e-sociology, an age in which electronically mediated literary practices [may be viewed] as valid and valuable in their own right (p. 63). To further this idea, he identifies the multiple ways youth engage in cell phone use, texting, instant messaging, social networking, and blogging as evidence of a new way of knowing or of being-in-the-world.
In Part Two, Agger explores how timeor iTime as he proposesshapes and informs the online connections of youth, their lack of connection in school, and their perceptions of time. Because of the advance of smartphones, Agger explains, there are no clear boundaries between personal and professional lives, as school and its related tasks leak into personal time. Since schools and adults, steal time from youth, Agger suggests that youth have become time rebels (p. 111)staying up late, postponing homework, and writing zealously in their community with others as a way to dodge adults and impending deadlines. Agger does not paint a rosy portrait of schools. He emphasizes that structured timetables and creeping homework, combined with an overemphasis on factual knowledge with little connection to deep understanding and reasoning compounded by endless grading and tests, have created a resistance amongst youth to schooling and formulaic learning. Agger explains that youth writing is a response to the monotony of schooling, a way of connecting and communicating to forestall the boredom of school and to share their anxiety and apathy (p. 165).
Agger also shows ways to understand the writing of youth as evidence of kids seeking community with others while also seeking relief. For present day youth, this is a time of over-sharing, an era of documenting efforts to belong, to make sense of selves, and, even, to share pain. Agger notes that decoding youth writing is not an easy task, and given their access to instant publishing, youth self-revelations are common and point to the fragile border between writing and living. In response to the kinds of personal aspects that youth share about themselves, Agger emphasizes the importance of treating their writing as serious outcomes of deliberate authorship (p. 180). The final two chapters invite the reader to consider the pedagogical possibilities of understanding the writing lives of youth as nested in fast capitalism and iTime. Agger notes the importance of finding ways to reach youth and to encourage the development of their physical health and respect for big ideas as found in a wide variety of texts (digital and print-based). He also discusses the promise of schooling as places of generative learning, places where kids social networking lives are acknowledged as efforts to create meaning and frame identities within tumultuous times.
Agger provides liberal examples of how to view kids writing in an era of advancing information and communication technologies. Agger discusses perceptions of time and of the use of time, which can provide strong insights into youth online behaviours. This section showcased some of the best writing in the textmoments where you felt and heard Aggers optimism about and admiration for how and why youth passionately engage in writing. While this text does not focus on practicalities such as literacy strategies (i.e., how to engage youth in literary ways), it does encourage thought about pedagogical innovation in schools.
The big ideas of this book offer insights into how youth are making meaning about themselves and their worlds using a wide variety of digital texts (Alvermann, 2008) in ways that provide windows into the connections between identity and literacy development (Gee, 1996). This book is particularly well-suited for supplementary reading, teacher education courses focused on adolescent literacy, and research methods in literacy. In such contexts, I anticipate that Aggers writing would provide possibilities for rich conversation, particularly in how to engage youth in reading and writing across content areas in ways that are interdisciplinary, sustaining, and motivating.
Alvermann, D. (2008). Why bother theorizing adolescents online literacies for classroom practices and research?. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 52(1), 819.
Gee. J. P. (1996). Social literacies and linguistics. London, UK: Routledge.
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. (2008). Digital communications, multimodality and diversity: Towards a pedagogy of multiliteracies. Scientia Paedagogica Experimentalis, XLV(1), 1550.