How will youth work use the digital media in ten years’ time?
Over the last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the year 2025. Visions of youth work and technology have been presented in forums such as a SomeCamp event workshop, in a training day organised by the Kalliola Settlement association and by the 10-year jubilee celebration planning committee of Finnish Society on Media Education. Flying cars and automated youth centres may not become a reality within the next ten years, even if technology is taking huge leaps forward. However, it is certain that, by 2025, technological devices will be increasingly common and the Internet of Things will be an everyday phenomenon.
In 2025, it may not be considered weird for a youth-centre refrigerator to send a grocery list to a youth worker’s smartphone at the moment its GPS function detects that she has arrived at a wholesale shop. The Internet of Things will integrate the physical world with the web as inanimate objects autonomously connect to the information network. Such devices already exist, and more are being developed. Only time will tell which devices will have an online connection as a standard accessory, which devices consumers will start using and which ones will be harnessed for youth work.
On the other hand, I believe that, like media consumption, the use of technology will become fragmented: there will be no nationwide hit applications, but different user groups will start using devices tailored to their needs.
Another technological advance worth mentioning is the increasingly common and evolved wearable screens. Smartwatches are already available, and device manufacturers are frantically trying to come up with a way of projecting a touch screen onto the back of a hand or arm. Another common trend is personal tracing based on devices such as activity wristbands. Will they be a passing fad or still in use in ten years’ time?
Media’s increasing importance as a growth environment
The development of mobile technology has already served to blur the interface between the online and physical worlds, making the web omnipresent and constantly available. The Internet is a permanent part of young people’s everyday lives, where the online and offline worlds do not constitute separate environments but naturally alternate and interlock. Indeed, the digital media should be understood as a focal operating and growth environment linked to every dimensions of a young person’s life. This means that there would nothing to gain by separating digital media youth work off into its own special type of work, either now or in the future.
Social media have changed our understanding of the media and information over a relatively short period of time. Anyone can now produce content online and young people should be encouraged to express themselves. By producing content, young people also become media savvy as consumers. Having to think about points of view, framing, cutting, titles and so on helps young people to understand that media texts produced by other people are the result of various choices.
In recent years, in their use of social media young people have switched from public Facebook commenting to private groups. They want to discuss issues in smaller groups, such as WhatsApp groups. At the same time, communications have become increasingly visual, with people making and sharing lots of meme images, for example. I foresee both of these trends intensifying in the future.
Some have claimed that journalism is in crisis now that not everyone is willing to pay for professionally produced media content, preferring amateur bloggers and vloggers instead. This means that traditional media companies need to come up with new earnings logics. The media literacy of online audiences is being put to the test by ever-changing forms of advertising and the emergence of new kinds of content producers. From the perspective of media literacy, current key questions will remain valid in the future: who produced the information, why has it been brought up, from what viewpoint is it depicted and what has been left unsaid?
Big data has received a great deal of attention lately. While, at best, it improves the user experience of various online services, it may also be true that we have failed to grasp just how widely the information we publish online can be combined and to what purposes it can be used. For example, what rights do we grant to view or use a photo of a meal that we upload on Instagram? Or does this even matter?
Cooperation in creating services for young people
As technology and the media develop, youth work is also undergoing constant change. Just over a hundred years ago, its key objectives were persuading young people to abstain from alcohol and encouraging them to participate in party political activities. After the wars, these objectives expanded to include the dissemination of information and advice and keeping young people off the streets. Encouraging young people to participate in society is considered one of the focus areas of youth work today. What will be the key objective in the future?
The various objectives, role and forms of youth work reflect the society and general values of any given time. Finnish municipalities are about to gain greater independence which will enable them, for example, to deviate from the Finnish Youth Act (72/2006). I am concerned about how this will affect young people’s equal opportunities in terms of access to youth work activities and the status of professional youth work. Hopefully, the status of youth work as a supporter of young people’s social inclusion and agency will have been fully recognised and acknowledged by 2025.
I believe that we will see a rise in young people’s services produced by means of network cooperation. Of course, organisations, parishes and various municipal administrations are already engaged in strong cooperation – which will surely increase in the future.
Digital approach to work is no longer discussed
The development of digital media has effects on youth work on many different levels; we could classify them as follows:
- Infrastructure level. Forms of digital media will become increasingly versatile, the Internet of Things will become part of everyday life, and the use of various gadgets will become increasingly common among young people and youth workers. In ten years, youth centres and other spaces frequented by young people will provide online connections that enable larger-scale gaming activities, for example.
- Operational level. Youth work mainly uses the web as a medium for communications and keeping in touch with young people (see the preliminary results of Verke’s survey of municipalities). Perhaps, in a decade’s time, the possibilities provided by digital media will have been explored on a broader scale and the online world will have become a natural part of youth work activities. What kinds of participatory methods or forms of youth work do digital media enable?
- Content level. As technology and the media play an increasingly major role in our lives, we must learn to understand them better. How is media content produced? How might we learn to better understand the operating principles of technical gadgets? Youth work could already involve learning about the logic behind digital technology, for example with the help of LittleBits robots. This robot was built by the participants in the SomeCamp.
For example, a SomeCamp work group envisioned the following uses for the Global Positioning System (GPS) in youth work: a young person could receive an alert by smartphone if the local youth services were holding an event nearby, or another interesting event was taking place. She could also check if her friends were there. Another vision suggested that youth work tied to spaces and youth centres would disappear altogether, as virtual glasses and various applications enabled young people to assemble online. Youth workers could devote time freed up from working in physical premises to online youth work solutions.
Even today, youth workers can no longer delegate their technological acquisitions to the organisation’s IT unit. From a youth work perspective, every work community needs to consider how technology might best contribute to work done alongside young people. In the future, every youth worker will increasingly need to be at least somewhat acquainted with young people’s media cultures and technological development. Not everyone needs to know everything now; ideally, every youth worker could focus on their interests, including with respect to digital know-how.
Future working life will be increasingly characterised by the fact that the boundary between work and free time is being blurred. Although this does not bother every worker, many employees are still using fairly inflexible work time practices. Online services for youth work are challenging from the viewpoint of working hours: if I play an online game with a young person I know in my free time, am I a youth worker or a gaming buddy?
I hope that a digital approach to work will become prevalent in youth work by 2025 at the latest. At that point, we will no longer be talking about online youth work or a digital approach to work as separate phenomena, since using digital media in youth work will be self-evident. Perhaps we will no longer even use the concepts of digital or social media.
I will take my next step in exploring digital technology in a couple of weeks, at an e-sewing night organised by the Tapiola library. When we next meet, maybe you will recognise me by my flashing and beeping coat.