Are Kids “Internet People?” A Peek Into Digital Youth & Pop Culture

beaver.jpgThere’s a clever animated send up of media moments making the rounds called “Internet People,” created by cartoonist Dan Meth (yes, that’s his real name, poor guy) with music by Micah Frank (and featuring the horn section of Bruce Kapler and Al Chez from Paul Schafer’s CBS Orchestra on David Letterman’s Late Show).

The funniest thing about Internet People is that you don’t even know you ARE one until you watch it firsthand. In denial? Give it a go.

These guys brilliantly poke fun at web culture’s viral video craze and media outtakes that land on the nightly news in sound bite style. They use sardonic wit and catchy clips to comedically skewer pop culture’s silly fixations. From the web celeb wannabes to the surround sound media of avatars, emoticons, and digerati, just as you’re about to click “forward to a friend” you realize the joke’s on YOU, because you actually “get it.”

That’s right, Internet People only works if you understand the digital references and I clearly do. Every single freakin’ one of ‘em. (as my tween might say, ‘omg!’) Scary. Sneezing baby pandas, LonelyGirl15, Jib-Jab, Chocolate Rain’s Tay Zonday, the Star Wars Kid, Rocketboom, pokes on Facebook, the works (full list here in their blog’s comment section).

I started thinking, “ok, so Dan Meth (story here) is a hilarious 30 year old guy with an eye for creating a cartoon community touchstone… but do KIDS get this?” If so, how much of it? Does it depend on age? Media diet? Level of saturation? Internet savvy?

After all, this is more complex than those adorable otters holding hands, or amazing images set to music on YouTube…this is lucid satire with an edgy insider wink that’s pretty dang sophisticated in its own self-mockery.

Will content be ‘Adult Swim’ or ‘Nicktoons?’ Rated/Unrated? Quality control or UGC free-for-all? Product placement or content pure? Clearly, Dan’s more than a ‘one-hit wonder’ so we’ll have to see where kids factor into this media mix…

In the tradition of CTV (Comedy Central) his maverick Channel Frederator is well on its way to being an open source cartoon mecca for the internet.

They’ve even created a “raw” social media tribe to lure new talent and form a community hub. “Unveil your work and post a video!” Every aspiring youth cartoonist I know would want to tune into that UGC frequency.

As it is, 57% of internet users watch videos online and forward to a friend, so I started groping for research on tweens/teens in the Generation M report on 8-18 year olds to balance out the Pew Internet studies. Then it dawned on me that:

a.) studies often tell you more about the researchers than the kids and

b.) I have a smidge of an answer in my own gene pool

My 12 year old is outdoorsy and not a techie by any means; though she’s gaining interest quickly in ‘anything funny,’ e-mailing friends, YouTube lyrics, and games and such…so SHE could probably be a solid bellwether for the general ‘kid-culture’ zeitgeist to assess whether average kids were ‘internet people’ or not! Revelations?

She knew the NumaNuma song way back in elementary school long before she was even REMOTELY online…She bops around singing “bomchickawahwah” with zero context of the trashy Axe videos, it’s lunch-table chatter, sight unseen, just fun to sing and say…

And just today I heard her empathize with the beauty pageant brain freeze of Miss Teen South Carolina even though she’d never even seen it on TV (or online).

In fact, word has it the gaffe became part of 7th grade classroom fodder as ‘life’s most embarrassing moment’ turned into shorthand when kids sniped at each other, ‘What, are you from South Carolina or somethin’? Doh!’

Point? Media is ambient surround sound.

Kids live in an internet world whether they themselves have access or not.

They don’t have to hang at the keyboard 24/7, or even sign on…

They know what happens on TV shows without watching them, and know lyrics to songs without ever seeing the band. Kids trade pop culture currency like Bella Sara cards. (don’t know those yet? Think Pokémon with a whinny, I’ll cover that tween girl horsie phenom soon…)

Media pervasiveness is here to stay, impacting kids on a broader scale of wrap-around exposure, so management and critical thinking skills are a given. It’s not an ‘on/off’ switch…It’s endemic, so it’s important to gain some modicum of understanding.

If kids lack frame of reference or media context (due to access, the digital divide, parental bans, or media illiteracy) they’re essentially running their digital lives on peer hearsay and pass-around snippets, while remaining out of the loop in terms of tangible knowledge systems and information flow.

Likewise, parents and kids can bridge some massive generation gaps by simply learning to speak in a similar tongue. And no, I’m not saying we all have to be “internet people,” I’m simply offering that when it comes to children, we need to listen so we can hear.

The Global Kids’ project accomplished this feat beautifully: In this article, Digital Youth Discuss the Digital World explains how they gave teens a public, online voice via the 2007 FOCUS forum to share their views from digital ethics to freedom of speech and new learning styles.

After over a month of teen postings (1000+ messages from 26 countries) the forum culminated in this whopper of a 57pp. report, tackling some digital issues I’ve been wondering about too. (like how kids feel about ‘helicopter parents’ hovering in GPS ‘track-a-kid’ mode with new technology, or how kids’ discern truth and credibility amidst a bounty of resources, or whether e-friends are e-qual to school chums, etc.)

Three different youth media experts (Lindsay Pettingill and Carrie James from Harvard’s GoodWork Project, and Mimi Oto from UCB’s Digital Youth Project) took turns discussing the outcomes of the forums with author Rafi Santo here. But since I’m fundamentally fixated on what kids themselves had to say (‘go to the source’ is my journalistic motto) this snapshot summation of student’s themes appealed. He wrote:

“One theme represented an acknowledgement amongst youth that the flow of information created by digital media is not only unstoppable, but is in fact fundamental to how society functions.

Others teens spoke to how identity flows from and is expressed through media choices. Still others expressed how online and offline worlds have distinct qualities, but were clear that the same legal, social and political dynamics are at play within both. One of the strongest calls to action, if you will, were conversations in which teens stated that they’re navigating these digital landscapes in large part without the help of their parents.”

Hmn. Interesting.

That’s a stark contrast to the way MediaPost just wrote about tweens (vs. teens) positioning mom as an “online concierge of safe, educational content and Web sites.”

The Ad Age online media blurb said, “Providing high-quality branded experiences online makes teachers and parents co-marketers…If they see this is a Web site that’s safe and that there’s learning involved, they will encourage kids to access the site the first time and revisit it multiple times.”

Teachers and parents as co-marketers?

Ahem. Log that in your awareness synapses folks.

MediaPost goes on to say it “takes more than $1 million to develop a site that’s exciting, constantly fresh, fun and educational.” (um, garsh, you wonder why I’m still stuck with this text rich blog so far?)

Lordy-lou, thank heavens for stuff like Internet People…It’s fresh, fun and FREE. (Dang I want this crew on our creative team…think of the positive potential like the FreeRange Studio gang!)

Right now, Internet People is number two on the viral video charts and quickly closing in on a million. That’s views, not dollars. Though this too may come…

After all, er…um…This is the internet, people.



  1. Well, I knew more references than I thought I would. Maybe five?

    This is an excellent post and really got me thinking about how much the internet has become a part of culture, even if it is “not allowed in my house.” Ditto for television shows. I recently found out that my daughter had seen “High School Musical” at her cousin’s house, but couldn’t identify if by name.


  2. See? It’s amazing how much trickles in from the media chalice even if we don’t ‘drink it’ necessarily! Thanks for the ping…and hey, at least it was HSM at her cousin’s house instead of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ or “Manhunt2” eh? 😉

    Yep, I firmly believe critical thinking skills are the way to go in ALL forms of media…kids are exposed to all kinds of tastes, values, entertainment, and ambient messaging, NOT found “in your house” so management is key.

    p.s. Just yesterday my ‘worst case scenario’ ambient advertising “ugh” surfaced…A skiboat parked in our neighborhood carried the bold red message, “Ball till you fall”—(which has slalom course ski validity as well as crude double entendre)…My daughter zinged me with a sidewards glance and said, “Mom, do you know who owns that boat?—It’s the guy that’s the registered sex offender!”

    Ahem. Yes, 12 year olds “talk and compare notes.”

    Sure enough, I’m head of our Neighborhood Watch program, and lo & behold, the boat was indeed his…Bleh.


    “Point? Media is ambient surround sound. Kids live in an internet world whether they themselves have access or not. They don’t have to hang at the keyboard 24/7, or even sign on… They know what happens on TV shows without watching them, and know lyrics to songs without ever seeing the band. Kids trade pop culture currency like Bella Sara cards. (don’t know those yet? Think Pokémon with a whinny, I’ll cover that tween girl horsie phenom soon…) Media pervasiveness is here to stay, impacting kids on a broader scale of wrap-around exposure, so management and critical thinking skills are a given. It’s not an ‘on/off’ switch…It’s endemic, so it’s important to gain some modicum of understanding.”

    Ain’t it the troof, ain’t it the troof!!! NO, but seriously– this is exactly it. Working with kids in extended time programs for the park district proves this to a T (basically extended time, or ET, is a program where kids get to school at 6 am, hang with counselors in a camp environment until school starts, then come back to extended time from 3 – 6 when their parents can get them after work).

    They’re so up on all slight pop culture references– but only as peach fuzz. Ask them what it means, or how it started, and they have no idea.

    Kids model others, it’s how they adapt to situations. Pop culture is a common thread amongst most of the social public. Everyone has some point of reference to pop culture, hence the term “popular culture”. And kids, who listen/watch their parents & peers mimic these certain scenarios. Why? Because it’s cool, funny, liked– need more details than that from a kid? They’ll shrug and remain confused.

    I’d love to do a study on kids & social scenarios & mimickery. There’s a question that just popped into my head: Are kids who rely heavily on pop culture & the next big thing doing so do to an insufficiency in their role model network? Or is it an energy/mental-stimulation thing– they’re swift thinkers, eager to stimulation, wanting to be challenged & conquer social scenarios? Or is it both, depending on various situations (which is probably the answer).

    Anyway– you’re clearly brill, Amy 😀

  4. You make FABULOUS points here, Izzy, and I too would love to look at that ‘ET’ perspective…(we call it ‘extended care’ here in Ca. for camp progams, like this one w/the Tech Museum of Innovation/Klutz toys etc. where I serve on their Advisory Board: and their founder/CEO serves on mine! 😉

    I might ask Glen if we can team up on some observational work together next summer on this, via collegiate interns/peppered into the mix from a psychological/behavioral perspective AND a Communication studies crowd…You’ve given me some great ideas here…It’d sure be interesting to send a stealth camera into those environs to film/document the media dynamic, as it fits right into my own work with “Body Blitz: Media Shaping Youth” in terms of documentary film-making…but this would be more of a generic ‘pop culture’ mimickery angle…(voice, attire, sound bites, role play, etc.) Hmnnnnnn….only so many hours in the day…whew.

    Just what I need, another passion project. heehee

    I keep having to self-rein and mantra to myself, “focus, girl, focus…” as my brain is pinging all over the place with ideas for Shaping Youth!

    As always, YOU’RE “brill” and I just need to FOCUS enough of a time swath to get your INTERVIEW on this blog!! ack.

    (I’m still messing w/my akismet prob so unable to leave msgs. on YOUR blog w/out them getting caught in the WP akismet filter…How, how, HOW did I manage to “spam myself” and get blacklisted? All my link-heavy resources, no doubt. sigh. Ah well…Can’t change from spots to stripes…I believe in heavy linkage so people can find the resources they need and dig deep!)

    Back at it to post on the 9-11 deconstruction of “hard news” media next…Standby.

  5. I have been on “the net” for over 35 years…the net has been a part of our small group’s culture for a L O N G time. It has been interesting to watch the evolution…from a dependable resource to a cultural morass of disappointment and failures (undependable emails, spam).

    It is a tool we haven’t learned to use yet and we are letting ourselves be led around by the $%#. Most Americans have NO idea how far behind the US is in the use of the Internet…and they never will.

    I think the stats are still that less than 20% of Americans have passports so they have no idea what the bigger world is like. Sad.

    BUT AMY…your blogs are gems to everyone!

  6. Now, Bill…m’dear…You clearly have your cranky pants on. You sound like your pal Doug Engelbart when he gets a bee in his bonnet (btw, is he coming to dinner with us on Sat at JingJings?) That said, your brilliance and insights make me ‘double-take’ the context here, especially since you’ve been on the leading edge of the NextNow for…well…35 years! So consider this:

    While I agree that our culture needs to ‘go global’ and Americans are myopic dolts at times, (and yes, the spam/cultural morass is duly noted) I’d counter-argue that the internet has the power to evolve in POSITIVE ways to further this discussion and digital dialogue!

    Every day I work with kids that have had their eyes opened to new cultures, friends, peaceful solutions to massive problems…uniting for change from the environment to human rights and beyond.

    The more we grow and understand these digital natives and get inspired by the positive potential rather than the drek…we can harness the ‘viral marketing’ of pop culture’s fascinations to do GOOD things on a global scale.

    Again…think LiveAid, LiveStrong bands, all those pop culture ‘trends’ that the internet lit up and launched en masse to make sustainable differences in the world.

    And yes, the US lags considerably in technology/innovation of using both the internet AND mobile media in meaningful ways, but I say we work to improve it, and align to endorse a ‘bigger world’ one world vision…

    Let’s talk more on this Saturday…And if our favorite octagenarian is there, I’d love to hear from dear Mr. Engelbart on this too. I pinged Scoble on Facebook to see if he’d make it but my guess is he’s in baby mode so unavail…Chin up, keep the faith, illustrious leader of all good things!

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