For the September meeting, we discussed a report from Data and Society, namely Lenhart & Owens’ (2021) The Unseen Teen. This report conducted interviews with current and past employees of platform development companies around how the concepts of digital health and wellbeing were treated. Specifically, the focus was on how the platforms consider the digital health and wellbeing of adolescents (aged between 13 and 17) in their design stages. The report then sought to make actionable recommendations for platform developers, civil society, and governments around adolescent digital health and wellbeing.
Within the reading group session, we discussed how (despite the title and initially stated focus) teens went largely unseen, while developers took centre stage. This was seen to have positives and negatives, with the primary positive being the impact the report can have outside of academia. The idea of engaging with a wider audience is something we regularly discuss in our meetings and this includes participant populations: being able to conduct interviews with app developers was therefore seen as a positive, as well as the accessible writing style of the report. One of the primary drawback identified was around defining the terms digital health and wellbeing, specifically how teens themselves, their parents, and other (non-developer) experts may understand the term.
Ultimately, the question became: how would we do things differently? This question, evidently, is not easy to answer (especially without access to the dataset). One suggestion was to first analyse the findings from the report through Carol Bacchi’s ‘What is the problem represented to be?’ approach, seeking to understand the underlying assumptions made in the report’s data analysis. The question of what we would do differently is one we intend to continue with and come back to over time, hopefully producing some sort of useful addendum alongside the report.