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Connected Youth

John Canny, University of California, Berkeley
Jason Hong, Carnegie Mellon University

Pages: pp. 10-11

Today's youth are the first generation to grow up with pervasive computing as part of their everyday lives. More and more, they're shaping the frontier of digital media in general, and pervasive computing in particular.

Teens and preteens made social media a commercial success. It isn't unusual for them to own and carry a mobile phone, music player, and portable game console. Increasingly, these devices are becoming networked, offering youth more ways of staying connected to each other.

The young are also fierce early adopters, with successful devices and services propagating faster in their market segment than any other. These pervasive technologies in turn are reshaping kids' lives. They're the "connected generation"—the first to go through life never more than a few clicks away from friends and (occasionally) family. They're hooked, and they can never go back.

Studying this generation provides an opportunity to peer into the future, to see pervasive computing as an essential, integrated part of life. In this special issue on connected youth, a series of articles examines youth's pervasive-technology use from several angles. The issue features applications with a youth focus, studies of how youth are appropriating pervasive technology, and a glimpse of how our lives will change when "pervasive" technology finally lives up to its name.

In "Using Mobile Phones to Nurture Social Networks," Daniele Quercia and his colleagues seek ways to strengthen adolescents' relationships to combat depression. To this end, they investigate the feasibility of automatically inferring the strength of teens' relationships on the basis of collocations and phone calls, and then using this information to nurture online and offline contacts. This research is part of a recent trend of using sensor data to infer social network information. The authors offer some new algorithms and evaluations that improve our ability to model what people are doing in the real world.

In "It's Time to Eat! Using Mobile Games to Promote Healthy Eating," J.P. Pollak and his colleagues look at using persuasive technologies on mobile devices to convince young children to eat healthier. They present the results of a Wizard of Oz study wherein children cared for a virtual pet by sending it pictures of what they ate. The healthier the food was, the happier their virtual pet was.

Rafael Ballagas and his colleagues focus on younger children's relationships with their grandparents in "Story Time for the 21st Century." They present the findings from a series of ethnographic field studies investigating how families use video communication and what the weaknesses are. Informed by this fieldwork, they designed, implemented, and evaluated Family Story Play, an interactive communication system to help grandparents read stories to their grandchildren over the Internet.

Meg Cramer and Gillian R. Hayes look at policy issues involved in technology use in educational settings. In "Acceptable Use of Technology in Schools: Risks, Policies, and Promises," they point out that although schools are a fundamental part of youth's lives, they tend to have policies restricting mobile phone and social media use. Unless these issues are overcome, they might negatively impact pervasive-technology deployment. The authors discuss the challenges involved, framing their survey in the context of acceptable-use policies. They also present possible ways to incorporate pervasive technologies in schools.

As you can see, we have a great special issue. We hope these articles will spark an ongoing conversation about today's connected youth and expand the research frontiers in this exciting area.

About the Authors

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John Canny is an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests include human-computer interaction, educational technology, health IT, and technology for developing regions. Canny has a PhD in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He's a member of the ACM and ACM SIGCHI. Contact him at
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Jason Hong is an assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. His research interests include ubiquitous computing and usable privacy and security for ubicomp and antiphishing. Hong has a PhD in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley. He's a member of the ACM and ACM SIGCHI. Contact him at
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