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Too Old to Rock'n'Roll?

Associate professor, Department of sociology and political science, NTNU.

Research on digital literacy has concerned the growing gap between on-school and off-school digital competencies. This has spurred an interest in the free-time use of ICT among children and young people. In much of the research literature focus (and faith) has been on the use of computer games and, lately, social networking sites. This article analyses another set of widely used digital applications among young people – those related to file-sharing and networked distribution of music. In particular, this is investigated in relation to the family context and the negotiations over file-sharing among young people and their parents. The study uncovers the huge interest and engagement in music among young people – and how central digital competencies are developed when domesticating digital music technologies. Furthermore, this engagement seems to be shared across genders. Another observation is that – in the family context – file-sharing of music is not a source of conflict, but more often an arena for collaboration and mutual interaction – making file-sharing a meeting-place between generations in a domain where other points of connection are scarce. The article ends with a discussion about how the educational system could tap into the interest in digital music technologies in order to foster the development of both constructive and critical digital competencies.

Keywords: File-sharing, downloading, mp3, digital music technologies, digital piracy, ICT, digital divide, digital competencies, new media literacy, domestication, boundary making, remix culture, convergence culture.

File-sharing – the forgotten literacy?

This paper will investigate how file-sharing and other music-related ICT activities are negotiated among young people and their parents, in order to understand the development of “file-sharing literacy”, in both the more technical and the wider socio-political sense. Among the main findings from research on children and digital literacy is that children and young people are using ICTto a more varied and greater extent in their leisure time than for educational purposes. Here important competencies are developed (Søby 2008, Ito et al. 2009, 2010). At the same time schools are using ICT to only a limited degree in their pedagogical practice. Taalas argues that “(t)here is a growing gap between the practices in school and the ways in which pupils use the various media in their free time for informal learning and social existence” (2008: 240). In the same vein, Buckingham describes “a digital divide between in-school and out-of-school use” (2007: 96).

It is therefore widely agreed that there is a lot to gain from a better understanding of the nature of leisure practices and competencies. The use of computer games has long been a focal point for this interest (see e.g. Prensky 2001, Carr et al. 2006, Gee 2008, Linderoth 2009). Lately, there has been a growing interest in the deployment of social networking applications like Facebook and YouTube (Kløvstad and Storsul 2008, Ito et al. 2009). But a wider range of ICT tools has also been examined. Taalas’ (2008) survey of pupils’ free-time activities in the digital domain includes the following list: e-mail, www-sites, Messenger, Skype, IRC (Internet relay chat), online forums, online games, off-line computer games, console games and learning software.

All the more surprising is the almost total neglect of file-sharing activities in discussions related to digital literacy. Actually, this omission does not only pertain to the more specialized research concerning children, digital literacy and the school-home-nexus, but also to the whole field of children and media studies. None of the articles in The international handbook of children, media and culture (Drotner and Livingstone 2008) takes up file-sharing. Neither will one find discussions on the topic in core textbooks like Livingstone (2002), Buckingham (2007), Tønnessen (2007) or Hagen and Wold (2009). It appears that file-sharing has simply been forgotten from theme lists and questionnaires when researchers have conducted their studies.

However, it is strange that the subject did not arise anyway. This is strange because we know that ICT-based sharing of music and film – music being the focus in this paper – has been a widespread activity among young people (and some of their elders as well) for more than ten years, at least since the event of Napster in 1999. In 2005 we conducted the Pandora survey (of which more later), where it was revealed that 71% in the group aged 12–15 and 85% in the group aged 16–19 were downloading music from file-sharing networks monthly or more often. The Internet was also widely used for a number of other music-related activities, such as searching for new music, listening to chart samples, finding information and pictures of artists, sharing music with friends via MSN, e-mail or the like (see Heimsvik et al. 2005). Our findings have, by and large, been confirmed by a series of surveys initiated by music industry organizations themselves, which have documented a steady increase in downloading that has only recently begun to flatten out (Eilertsen 2005, 2007, 2009, IFPI 2010).

So, beyond doubt, file-sharing and other music-related activities are an important part of children’s off-school engagement with ICT. How, then, can we account for the lack of interest from those researching young people and digital literacy?

An important reason may be the fact that file-sharing is a controversial practice. A considerable proportion – I will consider this in the next section – of the file-sharing activities are in fact illegal, after the revision of Norwegian copyright law in 2005 (see Haugseth 2005). This revision followed similar revisions in the EU and the US. The music (and film) industry associations have lobbied intensively for this enjoining of copyright laws. They have labelled file-sharing as “digital piracy”, and over the last decade have applied an array of juridical, technological, economical, rhetorical and moral strategies to conquer it – including threats to schools of severe lawsuits if pupils are caught downloading on the school’s equipment and networks. So, this might be a reason for educationalists to avoid the issue of file-sharing.

However, I will argue that the controversial nature of file-sharing activities, in some respects, makes them especially interesting to explore in relation to the concept of digital literacy. The Norwegian White Paper St. meld. nr. 30 Culture for learning defines digital literacy as a layered competence consisting of creative and critical elements: “ICT skills comprises the use of program ware, to seek, localize, manipulate and control information from various digital sources, while the creative and critical ability also requires the capacity to evaluate, interpret and analyse digital genres and media forms” (2003–2004: 48). Another way to formulate this would be that digital literacy consists both of practical skills and the ability to reflect upon the practices. Given the disputed character of file-sharing activities and the external pressures put on this activity, this area forms a strategic site for investigating the development of both creative and critical competencies, both of practices and moral reflections.

This is also exactly why I have chosen to focus on the negotiations over file-sharing in the family. While the schools by and large have contained the phenomenon, we will see that this is not the case among most parents. As will be elaborated later, the domestication perspective will be used as the main theoretical approach in the analyses (Berker et al. 2006, Levold and Spilker 2007, Lie and Sørensen 1996, Silverstone et al. 1992). My central research questions are:

  • How are the new music technologies domesticated in the family context – both at the practical and the evaluative level?

  • Furthermore, how can these processes be understood in comparison with the domestication of other ICTs within the household?

In the final section I will address the implications for school teaching.

The piracy controversy

I will begin by going more thoroughly into what has made file-sharing a controversial technology. On the one hand, there are the viewpoints from the music industry – or more precisely the recording industry associations. Predominantly, they have argued that file-sharing is harmful, because it enables consumers to acquire music without the owners’ consent and without paying for the use of the products. They maintain that it is the right of the property owners to decide how their assets should be exploited and used; unauthorized file-sharing is illegal and immoral – and economically damaging for the music industry.

Of special interest in relation to this study are the efforts to morally “enlighten” the public. In February 2007 the Norwegian record industry associations launched a large campaign against file-sharing named Piracy Kills Music. The target group for the campaign was young people aged between 15 and 25, and the campaign was rolled out using TV, newspapers and the Internet. A special web site for the campaign, www.piracykillsmusic.no, was also established.1 The stated purpose of the campaign was to inform the public about the prevailing law. As one of the initiators, Terje Klausen from GramArt, said: “Surveys have shown that 50% of this age group lacks knowledge of law in force concerning down- and uploading of illegally copied music files”.2

This broad campaign was followed up by a more specialized campaign targeted at the educators – parents, teachers, youth club leaders and ICT personnel in the schools. Two new web sites were established, www.musickillscreativity.nowww.ansvarliginternett.no3 and www.ansvarliginternett.no3, and informational material was sent out to all 3,000 secondary and high schools in Norway. The brochures listed a long list of actions that the schools should take to increase the safety of their data systems and prevent their use for unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material. They also included detailed suggestions for the shaping of the schools’ ICT regulations and outlines of information letters to be sent to staff and pupils. The central message to the school authorities was clearly evident even on the front page of the leaflet: “Do you know that you’re responsible for what the school’s computer equipment is used for?”3

However, the arguments of the recording industry have not been the only ones in circulation. Opposing viewpoints have been voiced by academics, media commentators, consumer activist organizations such as Electronic Frontier Norway4 and the Piracy Group5, and from file-sharers themselves. Actually, the Piracy Kills Music-campaign received quite harsh treatment in the press, which has tended to be pro file-sharing (Jönsson 2008, 2009). Activist organizations have mocked the campaign, launching counter-campaigns like PiracyKillsNoMusic6 and Piracy Frees Music7.

Also, academic commentators have predominantly been critical of the strategies of the music industry (see e.g. Lessig 2002, 2004, Fisher 2004, Gillespie 2007, Anderson and Thierer 2008, Boyle 2008). Lessig (2004) has voiced a strong critique against the use of the term “piracy”, which he argues that – if anything – can be used only to apply to those who sell unauthorized copies of music, not to those who download for personal pleasure. He also develops a typology of four different forms of file-sharing:

  1. as substitutes for purchasing content;

  2. to sample music before purchasing it;

  3. to get access to copyrighted content that is no longer available elsewhere;

  4. to get access to content that is not copyrighted.

Lessig comments: “From the perspective of the law, only type D sharing is clearly legal. From the perspective of economics, only type A sharing is clearly harmful. Type B sharing is illegal but plainly beneficial. Type C sharing is illegal, yet good for society (since more exposure to music is good) and harmless to the artist (since the work is not otherwise available)” (2004: 68–69).

Another distinction is suggested by Nag (2010), between “large-scale sharing”, in file-sharing networks, and “small-scale sharing”, occurring between acquaintances via MSN, e-mail, social networking applications or mobile devices. Actually, the Pandora survey showed that the latter form of sharing, which is legal,8 was almost as frequent as downloading from file-sharing networks: 50% did this on a weekly basis compared with 55% doing file-sharing (Heimsvik et al. 2005).

Another line of critique argues that the social costs that are a result of the record industry’s strategies are too high. It contends that there is something fundamentally wrong with a law that labels the bulk of people under 25 as criminals. Further, an effective enforcement of the law would demand forms and degrees of surveillance that would represent a threat to democracy (Lessig 2002, 2004, Fisher 2004, Boyle 2008, Wikström 2009).

Finally, some commentators have argued that file-sharing is beneficial for the production and dissemination of cultural products. It stimulates creativity and innovation in the cultural sector. File-sharing also entails a democratic potential, by turning more and more people into producers of culture. A survey from Pew Internet Research underscores this last point: 26% of American teenagers had remixed content they had downloaded from the Internet (Lenhart et al. 2007). Such observations have led Jenkins (2006) to suggest that we see the rise of a participatory “convergence culture”. Lessig (2008) has, in a similar vein, argued for the proliferation of a “remix culture”.

Based on arguments like the ones above, activists and researchers have looked for alternative solutions to “the piracy dilemma”. One suggestion has been to establish new systems for the licensing of cultural content as alternatives to the existing copyright regime – the most famous being Creative Commons-licensing.9 Another has been to argue for the legalization of file-sharing – but in combination with the establishment of an alternative compensation system for artists (Fisher 2004, Bernault and Lebois 2006, Spilker 2007, 2009).

Domesticating controversial technology

The heated debate around file-sharing forms the context for the families’ appropriation of file-sharing technology. I will analyse their approaches from the perspective of domestication. The domestication perspective is concerned with both the practical and the evaluative aspects of media appropriation. I will therefore argue that this approach is especially suited to study the development of digital literacy, when digital literacy is understood as a concept consisting of both practical and reflective/ evaluative components. First formulated by Silverstone and colleagues in the late 1980s, one of the basic tenets of the domestication perspective is to analyse media consumers as media users (Silverstone et al. 1992, Silverstone 1994). The first empirical work within this tradition concentrated exclusively on the household as the unit of analysis. Later the term “domestication” has been given a more generative meaning, focusing on the act of “taming” something wild (technology/media) wherever that occurs, e.g. in the workplace, in a school setting, or by certain groups of people (see Helle-Valle 2007, Levold 1997, Spilker 1998).

The domestication approach implies that the appropriation of media/ technology is analysed at both a practical and a moral level. In a study of migrant knowledge workers’ domestication of ICT, Berker and Levold clarify why this is an important methodological point: “To only focus either on negative or positive evaluations, while ignoring the actual use, or also just to register use without asking for evaluations, both types of analyses will lack the relation between morality and practice” (2007: 47).

Hoover and Clark’s (2008) broad study of the domestication of media in the family context amplifies this. They found a contradiction between the parents’ normative beliefs and actual practices. But instead of understanding this simply as a failure of values (or of parenting) – they pointed to how the distance between morals and practice was a source for negotiations that created a dynamic relation to media within the families. Thus, there is a critical relation between morality and practice, and the domestication approach aims to analyse their interaction and entanglement in the everyday life of users.

Green (2001) has made the suggestion that domestication could be analysed as a process of boundary-making – how the creation of boundaries forms an important part of developing both practices and morals. In this article the central focus is on possible generational divisions. Such divisions can be the result of a set of interrelated factors: different preferences, different competencies, different moralities. In the case of file-sharing, we know that this is predominantly a youth activity. Given the controversial nature of the activity, I further expected that it could give rise to negotiations, conflicts and regulative efforts on the side of the parents – in short, that it could function as a boundary-maker within families. What types of practical and moral boundaries have resulted from the activity?

I have also been interested in the relationship between the creation of boundaries concerning file-sharing and negotiations over other types of ICT. One of the ways in which the domestication approach differs from earlier perspectives on media use, is the focus on the context of use (Hoover and Clark 2008, Livingstone and Drotner 2008). The domestication approach is interested in the relationship between the domestication of particular media contents or technologies and the other activities of the household. “Domestication may be seen as the process through which an artifact becomes associated with practices, meanings, peoples and other artifacts” (Sørensen 2006: 47).

I will especially focus on file-sharing as opposed to other ICT. Several studies have shown the paradoxical attitude parents have to children’s and teenagers’ use of ICT in general (see Jordan 2003 and Hagen and Wold 2009 for more lengthy discussions). On the one hand, digital literacy is perceived as an essential entrance ticket to future job opportunities. Much investment in ICT equipment is rooted in this belief, and ICT use is therefore – at least in principle – encouraged. But on the other hand, ICT use is imbued with concerns. There are concerns that young people will get access to dangerous content and/or persons through the Internet, and there are also concerns over the waste of time and money when young people sit in front of a screen instead of developing more “healthy” skills, interests and relationships. Green thus calls the computer “a symbol of the ‘damned if you do/damned if you don’t battle that parents wage with the future on behalf of their children” (2001: 51). I ask: How does file-sharing tap into this picture?


In this article I will perform a synthesizing analysis, drawing on evidence about the domestication of file-sharing in the family context from three sets of empirical data. The three data-sets, one quantitative and two qualitative, have all been gathered within the frame of the larger NFR-project Pandora’s iPod: Music and morality in the Information Society (2005–2008). The overall aim of the project has been to carry out a broad, case-study based investigation of digital music distribution within the Norwegian context, comprising both production and consumption perspectives.10

In 2005 we conducted the Pandora survey, a survey where 700 young people aged between 12 and 29 were asked about their attitudes towards and practices relating to digital music distribution.11

Two sets of qualitative in-depth interviews were conducted as follow-ups to the Pandora survey. In the winter of 2006, we interviewed 28 teenagers aged between 14 and 18 about their experiences with digital music distribution, in a series of seven group interviews. Each group interview consisted of four informants, two girls and two boys from the same class. Three of the interviews were with pupils from secondary school, the rest with pupils from high school.12 Some of the most interesting aspects to come out of these interviews were the teenagers’ stories about how file-sharing was negotiated with their parents.

In the spring of 2007 we therefore conducted another set of interviews, this time with teenagers (of the same age group) and their parents. This gave us the chance to compare the young people’s stories with those of their parents: 19 informants were interviewed, in a series of eight family interviews. All informants have been given other names. In the family interviews we in addition use (P) for parent and (Y) for young person to make it easier to separate them.13The analysis has been structured around the three research questions:

  • How is music technology domesticated at the practical level?

  • How is it domesticated at the evaluative level?

  • How can these processes be understood in comparison with the domestication of other ICTs within the household?

While all data-sets contain evidence relevant for the exploration of the two first research questions, only the questionnaires for the family interviews included questions about the use and evaluation of other ICTs.

Anytime, anywhere

In our material it is striking how music is part of nearly all of the activities that young people are engaged in throughout the day. They are using a whole array of new distribution and playback technologies to tinker with music – including, for some, game consoles and mobile phones. Mp3-players were popular among our informants, owing to their portability and capacity. However, it became quite clear from the interviews that the PC with Internet connection is the nexus of the new everyday life of music. The connected PC is the main vehicle for retrieving, storing, organizing and playing music. The Internet is furthermore an important source for finding information about artists, searching for new music and listening to samples. As mentioned before, in the Pandora survey 71% in the group aged 12–15 and 85% in the group aged between 16 and 19 were downloading music from file-sharing networks on a monthly basis. Nearly the same numbers were sharing music with friends via MSN, e-mail, Skype or the like.

In the Pandora survey, we asked the young people to define themselves in terms of music interest: 90% of them stated that they were either much or very much interested in music. Thus, music is an important element in the daily life of the vast majority of today’s young people. Importantly, this is a defining feature that has a relatively “democratic” distribution. In terms of gender, there were no significant differences.

Generally, the huge interest in music demonstrated by the informants is intimately connected to the new technologies for distribution and dissemination. In this passage, Stina gives a vivid description of her Saturday evenings in front of the PC:

Well, first I just go in and look… Maybe I have found a song that I like from a film, and then I’ve searched for that song. And then I’ve seen another song with almost the same title, and then I download everything that pops up. And I listen… Much of what pops up is not exactly what you’re looking for, but maybe you like some of it, and then you continue searching, and in the end you get a lot of amusing stuff, and you download all the songs from the bands. It’s exciting. It’s very exciting to sit and mess around with it on Saturday nights… (laughter)…It’s my life, in a way…

This is a good example of how the PC and the Internet are used for tinkering and exploration. Music constituted an almost omnipresent part of the everyday lives of the young people. They cannot themselves imagine that their interest and engagement in music would have been as big without the PC, Internet and the music-related activities and experiences made affordable through the net.

In contrast, the picture we discovered for the adults was more varied. On the whole, parents displayed less interest in and enthusiasm for music and music technology. Most had some CD-s and even vinyl, but their use was extremely varied. For some, the music collection only stood and gathered dust; Usage was totally occasional and accidental. Others used the music for certain occasions – such as when doing housework, reading, or when the spouse was out of the house.

Three of our informants had considerable experience with the new digital music technologies. Felix (P) and Marthe (P) had coupled their loudspeakers to the PC – and were now using only the PC for music dissemination. Felix (P) had installed and learned to use BitTorrent, and had downloaded everything he had found of the old favourites from the 1960s. Fredrik (P) had first tried to find a way to digitalize his collection of LP-s – but found out that it was too demanding and time-consuming. Instead, he had eventually downloaded a share of the same music.

However, even if only three of our informants had personal experience with the new music technologies, others expressed a desire to acquire it. Mia (P) saw only advantages:

Away with all these CD-s. Rather download. It occupies much less space. Just have a play list. But so far this is only a dream. Perhaps it will be in the future.

In Mia’s case, the desire was to substitute the CD-s with a play list. For others, the mp3-player functioned as an entry point. As Helle (Y) stated: “Mum has got an mp3-player, so now she has to learn to download too”.Overall, the parents were less occupied with music and music technology than the young people. However, the picture was varied, and for most of them music had some importance on some occasions in their everyday life.

All together now

My analysis has thus far revealed differences between the young people and parents in how they approach music and music technology – as well as differences especially within the parent group. The next question is whether these differences in use, habits, interests and needs are followed by differences in moral evaluations – and whether these prospective differences lead to concern among parents and conflicts within households. How do young people and their parents morally relate to and negotiate over digital music distribution?

Most of the youths defended their downloading practices. Frequent arguments of justification were the simplicity of downloading, the high price of CD-s and the greediness of record companies and big artists. Some argued that the practices were not harmful and fuelled interest in the music. They all had some ideas and opinions about the law in force regarding copyright and digital music distribution (even if some thought they knew more than they actually did!). There was a marked difference between pupils in secondary school and pupils in high school regarding their knowledge and reflections in this respect. The secondary school students had generally a quite vague notion of the law and its justification. The pupils from the high school generally had a more detailed and complex understanding of the law – and some told us that they had followed the debates and had several discussions on the topics.

As I noted earlier, some of the most interesting things that came out of the initial group interviews with the young people were their stories about how file-sharing was negotiated with their parents. Let us look at one example:

Mia: Well, it’s more like – parents don’t know anything about it. They cannot handle it. You know, they are 40 or 50 years old, they… Torgeir: Dad knows a great deal, but he is…. Mia: Yes. But mum and dad don’t know anything about such things. They can hardly… Mum doesn’t even know how to open a Word-document. And she gives a shit in such things, really.Torgeir: My dad is as pissed at the record companies as I am, so he thinks it’s perfectly all right. Stina: It’s mum who sits and asks me to download, so… Like: “Download some Abba, Stina, come on now!” (laughter)Tom: Yes, my parents have also wanted me to download music for them. Because if they want to listen to it themselves, it’s like “can’t you burn a CD for me” and that way. So maybe I should take the payment, then… (laughter)

In fact, none of the informants in the young people’s interviews reported that any restrictions were imposed by their parents regarding file-sharing.

Part of the motivation for the family interviews was to get the parents’ side of the story – as well as to get a more nuanced picture of the negotiations within the family. In our eight families, varying patterns in how music technology was negotiated were identified.

Only in one family had the parents actually prohibited downloading. Johanna (Y) had earlier downloaded everything she desired. But then her parents discovered that “downloading was like stealing, and one could get punished for it”. Johanna (Y) had to remove Limewire from the PC and stop downloading. She said that she understood her parents’ reactions in a way: “I understand that one has to stop getting things on track. But it’s so easy”. Johanna (Y) further told us that she had stopped downloading for a year or so. But all her friends download and send music files to her by way of MSN. “It’s nearly the same”, she admitted, and her mother Mari (P) wondered: “Where is the principle?”

The family of Fleming (P) and Jenny (Y) is perhaps the family that is closest to Johanna’s family. Fleming (P) told us that he was highly sceptical of his daughter’s downloading practices: “Personally I think it’s a nuisance”. But he thought it was a challenge to prevent it. Fleming used the phrase: “Download, burn and delete”. At least he thought it was unnecessary to fill up the PC with music files “by the bucket”. However, Jenny (Y) told us that she didn’t share the concerns of her father. She argued that file-sharing was commonplace, and that she had no worries in that respect.

In some of the other families, both young people and parents mentioned that they thought it would be fair to pay for the music, for the sake of the artists. However, they raised questions about whether downloading was harmful and to whom. Marthe (P) said: “I’m not sure whether the record industry needs to earn that much money”. Felipe (P) engaged in the same arguments, but was concerned that it would become more expensive and difficult for new artists to get released. He also argued that the relationship between the Internet and music was ambiguous, in that the Internet offered new ways for artists to distribute their music.

In Felix (P) and Fredrik’s (P) families the attitude was more along the lines of “is it possible, then we’ll do it”. Felix said that they didn’t have any scruples even if it was illegal. Fredrik (P), himself not a downloader, argued in the same vein:

If one doesn’t want people to download, one has to do something. Remove mp3 or install some protection that makes it impossible. So I don’t have a moral dilemma there, really. There are other things that are more important!

A final approach to downloading was represented by Mia (P) and her son Geir (Y). Geir was an active downloader, and had no restrictions from the parents. As mentioned earlier, Mia (P) also induced Geir to download for her. Her most important argument was that downloading was part of the new youth culture. She saw a lot of positive aspects with downloading and sharing music, and was highly critical of the new copyright law:

It’s a law that is impossible to enforce. As a teacher I have one rule: that I don’t make rules that are impossible to follow up on. And the way downloading is now, it has become part of the soul of the people – at least of Geir’s generation.

In this family, the emphasis was on the positive value of file-sharing in itself – echoing the arguments of activists and researchers who have argued for alternative solutions to “the piracy dilemma”.

We have seen that different arguments have been put forward in family negotiations over digital distribution of music. Referring to the steadfast attack on file-sharing carried out by the record industry, I earlier on asked whether file-sharing acted as a boundary-maker and a source of conflict between the generations.

It seems fair to conclude that in our material it was not a source of conflict. Even in the two families with somewhat restrictive parents, the file-sharing activities did not seem to cause great turmoil. Furthermore, the enforcement of prohibitive rules in these families was also rather weak. In Johanna’s (Y) family, she was in principle not permitted to download, but her circumvention strategies were not sanctioned in practice. In Jenny’s (Y) family, her parents tried to put forward a rather double standard: we will turn a blind eye to your downloading activities, but please hide your traces.

In the other families, downloading was accepted, for various reasons and with some reservations. There are some additional points to be made from these interviews. First, the new music technologies were something that were discussed – and could be discussed – in all our families. Second, in several families these technologies functioned as a source and opportunity for active cooperation and socializing between the generations.

In this way, the family interviews supplemented a picture we had seen inside the contours of the young people’s interviews, in which we were given plenty of stories about such cooperation and socializing. I have already mentioned “download some Abba, Stina”. The informants also gave several examples of how music was distributed between family members. Reidar told us:

Dad is downloading… Mum and dad, both download from Limewire. Ask me to download music for them and such things. My whole kin does it. Grandma comes and asks me if she can burn a CD on my PC…

And, in parallel with the distribution of music, ICT literacy may also be exchanged. This occurs in both directions, as in this example:

Siril: In a way it was dad that helped us to get going… Maybe he’s not so legal himself…Johanne: In my case, I taught dad how to do it. And after I started to download, he started to download too…

So what we have seen is that many families do come together around the new music technologies – to share music and ICT literacy, to spend time together, and to stay involved in each other’s lives.

Negotiating ICTs

The last research question concerned the relationship between the negotiations over file-sharing and negotiations around other ICT. In the family interviews, we asked about the attitudes towards and regulation of ICTs in general.

Regarding general attitudes, parents in our study seemed to be in line with the picture earlier research has depicted. The motivations to invest in computer equipment and broadband access were largely connected to “usefulness” – work, school and educational purposes. Felix (P) said that they had bought a PC for Gabriel (Y) and installed broadband when he started high school: “The information about homework was actually only given on the net”. But Felix also said that a further motivation to install broadband was a curiosity to learn what the new technology could offer. Generally, the parents expressed that they thought it was important that their children learned how to master new ICTs.

However, the use of ICT was not without tensions. We have seen that only one family tried to regulate downloading activity. But when it came to other types of ICT use, most of the young people experience some kind of restriction. The most striking example in our material is the case of Geir (Y) and Mia (P). We saw how Mia encouraged and cooperated with Geir around his downloading activities. When it comes to other types of computer and Internet use, the picture is rather different. Mia has been rather strict with setting limits. “Do you remember the rules?” she asked Geir, and Geir listed them: not to search for pornography; only have people he knows on his MSN-list; not to upload pictures or share private information like his mobile number or last name. She also regulates the time Geir is allowed to play computer games – only two hours a day on World of Warcraft: “But if he comes home with a bad result on a school test, it might be more severe restrictions, especially on the playing time”.

Mia (P) stood out in our material, by so actively encouraging file-sharing while enforcing quite strict regulations and expressing strong concerns regarding other types of ICT use. Felix (P), in contrast, was also clearly pro-file-sharing, but told us that he had few concerns and imposed no rules on Gabriel’s (Y) ICT use in general, saying “he should learn to take care of himself”. However, most of the other parents were closer in their attitudes to Mia. They expressed some forms of concerns and were trying to regulate the computer activities in some ways. Recurring concerns were damaging content, contact with strangers and waste of time. Fredrik’s (P) credo was “get out, do something else!” We see here that our parents, regarding the use of ICT in general, were acting in accordance with what Green (2001) termed “the damned if you do/ damned if you don’t battle”.

In a study by Levang (2008), young people were interviewed about all aspects – except file-sharing! – of their everyday life with the Internet and the role of their parents in it. Her main conclusion – certainly with several modifications – is summed up by a quotation in the title: “Totally far out to consult the parents”. I have no reason to draw such a drastic conclusion from our material. However, we found concerns and conflicts related to several aspects of the young people’s use of the Internet and ICTs. File-sharing was not prominent among these. When Fredrik (P) said that there were “other things that are more important” he was referring to these other concerns, especially time spent on computer games. In fact, our material suggests that file-sharing in many families was viewed as a quite “healthy” activity – and as a space were children and parents could get together in a digital everyday life where such spaces might otherwise be scarce. Or as Johanne put it: “The only thing dad and I talk about is music, nearly”.

School’s out forever?

This concluding section discusses findings in the light of the debates over digital literacy. It especially focuses on the implications of the findings in relation to the alleged growing gap in the practices between in-school and out-of-school use of ICTs (Buckingham 2007, Taalas 2008, Tømte and Søby 2009). The young people in a study by Gansmo (2007), for example, depict Data (with capital D) in the school setting as boring and rule-oriented, while data use in off-school settings is viewed as varied and seamlessly integrated in everyday practices. Without doubt, schools have a challenge to find ways to establish themselves as institutions that can offer frames and assistance with regard to the development of new media skills. Ito et al. argue that the current situation “requires a cultural shift and a certain openness to experimentation and social exploration that generally is not characteristic of educational institutions” (2010: 347). Furthermore, they stress the importance to look for potential sites for “productive adult engagement and intervention” (2010: 341).

This thinking is behind much of the current interest that educators and policy makers have taken in children’s and young people’s off-school engagement with ICTs. As mentioned in the beginning, this interest has so far centred on the use of computer games and, more recently, the use of social networking applications. The findings represent a strong argument for adding the use of file-sharing applications and other music-related activities to this list.

There are some characteristics about music and music technologies that perhaps make them especially appealing. First of all, everyone relates to music. And as this study has shown, young people, in general, express a strong interest in music. They have an active musical life – music is used in a large variety of occasions throughout the day. They have, to a great extent, domesticated the new music technologies, centred on the Internet-connected PC, but also mp3-players. We might say that the possibilities offered by the new technologies, inspire young people to engage in an active, creative, social and portable music life (see also Sæbø 2007). And it is important to underscore that these activities are not limited to an elite or avant-garde – or to a gender – they are very much, as Geir’s mother Mia (P) stated, part of the whole generation.

What kinds of literacy are developed through the domestication of digital music technologies?

Among the practical ICT skills mentioned in the White Paper Culture for learning (2003–2004) are the uses of program ware “to seek, localize, manipulate and control information from various digital sources” (2003–2004: 48). Clearly, through their everyday life with digital music, young people receive experiences that comprise all these skills. When they go on the Internet to search for music, they learn to choose between services with different possibilities and limitations. Once the material is stored on the PC (or the mp3-player), there is the challenge of organizing it. Actually, several of our informants reported that they experienced something of a “music overload”, which is not surprising when one has to find a way through thousands of songs on the hard disc. One widely applied solution to this is the creation of play lists. Some told us they spent a lot of time making play lists, for various occasions and moods. A further set of competencies are involved when music is to be transferred from the computer to other devices, like mp3-players, CD-players or mobile phones. Finally, there are the competencies needed to exchange and distribute music in what Nag (2010) has termed “small-scale sharing” – through MSN, e-mail, Skype, Bluetooth or the like.

Clearly, this adds up to a quite advanced set of ICT competencies. The great majority of our informants were engaging with digital music technologies in a way that Ito and colleagues have described as “messing around”: “Young people begin to take an interest in and focus on the workings and content of the technology and media themselves, tinkering, exploring, and extending their understanding” (2009: xviii).

But what about the more reflexive, evaluative competencies? According to The White Paper, practical and creative skills are not enough, however advanced. Young people should also be able “to evaluate, interpret and analyse” digital media (2003–2004: 48). In my view, the case of digital music offers a strategic site to reflect on the development of Internet and digital technologies – as well as the future of entertainment and of culture. I have not tried to “measure” the level of reflexivity on these issues among our informants – but clearly it was very varied. Some, like Torgeir (Y), had developed well-founded viewpoints. Torgeir saw his defence of file-sharing as part of his socialist commitment. For many others, the attitude was more like, “it is possible, then we’ll do it”. Not surprisingly, there was a higher awareness of and knowledge about the controversies surrounding digital music distribution among pupils in high school than among pupils in secondary school.

There are also some reasons to believe that the general level of reflexivity might be higher now than when we conducted our interviews. Initiatives like Piracy Kills Music and PiracyKillsNoMusic and the continued debate around file-sharing could have made contributions in that direction. And these are issues that young people are both interested and engaged in. Ito and colleagues note that: “Few kids (…) were interested or involved in traditional politics, even though they might be highly energised by their local politicking” (2010: 352). Therefore, I maintain that the case of music might offer a special opportunity to couple the development of practical literacy with reflection on cultural, social, political and economic contexts.

Some of my most intriguing findings are connected to the relational or social aspects of digital music practices. In addition to the practical and the reflexive competencies, I would point to the development of a set of relational or social competencies. Researchers have earlier looked for new forms of sociability in file-sharing networks – without finding very much of this (Giesler 2006, Haugseth 2008). It should, however, be noted that most file-sharing technology and file-sharing networks are based on radical social principles: you act as equals with your fellows – that’s why the networks are also called peer-to-peer networks. And in order to get, you have to give – that’s why file-sharing networks normally demand that you open your computer for uploading to be able to download (e.g. Oram 2001).

However, the sociability in the prolongation of the activities in the file-sharing networks is of a less abstract character. When young people discuss music, exchange files and learn ICT in their peer networks, through Nag’s (2010) small-scale sharing, they are exploring ways to connect and communicate. Young people spend a lot of time and effort in building relations where music and music technology play a significant role. Even more important and surprising were our observations related to the negotiations between children and parents. We found that music and music technology did not function as a boundary-maker (Green 2001). Rather, it functioned as a boundary-breaker and a bridge-builder. Children and parents were coming together, both bringing interests and expertise to the table. Thus, the new digital music technology showed its potential as an arena for sociality and communion, cooperation and mutual learning – also between the generations. Young people and their parents were rocking’n’rolling together…

But what about the pupils and their teachers? Following the line of reasoning above, there could be a lot of things here that the schools could tap into in their efforts to close the in-school/off-school gap related to ICTs. I have pointed out some arguments for why I believe new music technology could be a constructive site for school intervention. First and foremost, there is the appeal of music and music technology across genders and generations, and the potential for development of advanced practical, reflexive and social competencies.

It is beyond my scope here to develop detailed recipes for how schools should go about this – and others are without doubt better suited to this. However, Jenkins’ (2006) notion of a “convergence culture” and Lessig’s (2008) notion of a “remix culture” possibly contain some fruitful clues. The notion of a convergence culture points to the bottom-up switching between different media forms, while the notion of a remix culture denotes a sharing culture where young people rip and mix media content, creating derivative works, fan art, blogs, remixes, mashups. There exist several resources, in the form of free software and websites, which could be helpful in this respect. Jenkins and colleagues have initiated the program “New Media Literacies” to experiment with new forms of teaching (see Jenkins et al. 2009). They have set up a website, www.newmedialiteracies.org, where some of these resources are collected. In the Norwegian context, the group Urosprederne offers a film and a website, www.urosprederne.no, that is arguably more balanced than the material from the Piracy Kills Music-campaign.

Employing new music technology in teaching could be relevant for different school subjects. It could be relevant in ICT teaching itself and in media subjects (see Gilje 2007) – but also in subjects like music, social studies, mother language and second language acquisition. New music technology could also be suited for interdisciplinary projects. Finally, I would like to suggest the possibility of developing such projects into off-timetable projects, where the schools provide resources and institutional cover, but where frames are looser than the time schedule in the ordinary school day. It is worth noting that such “looser” youth media projects, usually with social aims, have some merit (see Lessig 2004 – video-making, Jenkins et al. 2009 – fan sites, Lange and Ito 2010 – My Space-profiles and hip hop-music). However, as these authors point out, a precondition for successful projects is adult participation that makes room for young people’s expertise and initiative.


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1The website has now been taken down, and users are redirected to www.piracykillscreativity.no (02.12.2009).
2”Piracy Kills Music – et nødvendig og riktig grep”, Ballade 05.03.2007. http://www.ballade.no/nmi.nsf/doc/art2007030510220453457084 (02.12.2009).
3The brochure can be downloaded from http://cpanel8.proisp.no/~piracjhv/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/opphavsrett-og-sikkerhetsguide.pdf (02.12.2009).
6www.piracykillsnomusic.no (02.12.2009: Web site down. But see http://www.itavisen.no/368293/piracykills-no-music for documentation).
7www.piracykillsmusic.net (02.12.2009)
8Provided that the shared content comes from a legal source.
9www.creativecommons.org (03.12.2009)
10See http://www2.svt.ntnu.no/ansatte/ansatt.aspx?id=264
11See Heimsvik et al. (2005) for more information about the survey.
12See Kershaw (2009) for more information about the interviews.
13Pia Johansen (2007) wrote her master’s thesis based on the family interviews. Many thanks to Pia for the use of her material. Parts of the arguments in this article are spelled out in more depth in her thesis.

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