Thursday, March 05, 2009

Tech Trends in Teen Fiction

During the past couple of years, a trend toward technology-based social commentary has been cropping up in teen fiction. From Lauren Myracle’s lighthearted use of email short-speak in TTFN, TTYL and L8R G8R to the dark vision of a future with a “jack” in your brain proposed by M. T. Anderson’s Feed, there has been much speculation in teen lit about what the future will look like, based on the electronic “toys” that seems to morph daily as we progress from cell phones to iPods to Blackberries and beyond.

One early example of looking at teen habits as predictors is Scott Westerfeld’s 2004 novel, So Yesterday. In it, he delineates the roles taken by teens in determining and giving direction to the fashion sense of the rest of us. It is reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, based on fusion theory, in which he examines the forces that cause social trends to “tip” from small groups to big groups. In Westerfeld’s version, there is the Pyramid: Innovators at the top—the first kids to wear way-too-big pants on purpose, to stick a safety pin in something, to wear a baseball cap backwards. The Trendsetters are the second level, the people who adopt the innovations and make them cool. Below them are the Early Adopters (the people with the latest whatever), then the Consumers (they have to see it on TV before they think it’s cool), and at the bottom, the Laggards (who ignore all innovations and will wear a mullet until their hair falls out). Cell phone photos are an essential component of the cool hunter’s repertoire as he looks for the latest trend.

Also check out Westerfeld’s series, Uglies, Pretties, Specials and Extras, in which the government uses medical technology to physically alter people to make everyone pretty, so no one has an advantage over anyone else because of appearance. that all “the operation” does?

From 2007, there’s Hacking Harvard, by Robin Wasserman, in which a crew of high school computer hackers team up to see if they can get a “slacker” admitted to the most prestigious Ivy League school in the country.

Finally, a recent novel that shows the explosive interaction of technology and current events was reviewed here by Buena Vista’s young adult librarian, Anarda Williams, as her favorite book of 2008. In Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, she liked the audacity of having teenagers challenge a Homeland Security Department run amok, and found especially interesting the technological resources they used, which could be “current, about to be current, or only in your dreams current.”

March 8-14 is Teen Tech Week. Enjoy some tech-oriented fiction! And if you are a teenager (6th through 12th grades), please come to Burbank Public Library’s TTW event on Friday, March 13, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., in the community room at Buena Vista branch. We will be issuing The Procrastinator’s Toolkit (what every teen needs to know to rip through homework even if it’s the very last minute), asking for input on teen pages for our new website, having a texting contest (with prizes), and making jewelry from recycled computer parts. Oh, and pizza will be served!

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