The Digital Is Kid Stuff

Making Creative Laborers for a Precarious Economy

2021

Josef Nguyen

How popular debates about the so-called digital generation mediate anxieties about labor and life in twenty-first-century America

Josef Nguyen interrogates the ambivalence within discussions about today’s “digital generation” and the future of creativity. Focusing on the constructions and valorizations of creativity, entrepreneurialism, and technological savvy, Nguyen argues that contemporary culture operates to assuage profound anxieties about—and to defuse valid critiques of—both emerging digital technologies and the precarity of employment for “creative laborers” in twenty-first-century neoliberal America.

“The children are our future” goes the adage, a proclamation that simultaneously declares both anxiety as well as hope about youth as the next generation. In The Digital Is Kid Stuff, Josef Nguyen interrogates this ambivalence within discussions about today’s “digital generation” and the future of creativity, an ambivalence that toggles between the techno-pessimism that warns against the harm to children of too much screen time and a techno-utopianism that foresees these “digital natives” leading the way to innovation, economic growth, increased democratization, and national prosperity.

Nguyen engages cultural histories of childhood, youth, and creativity through chapters that are each anchored to a particular digital media object or practice. Nguyen narrates the developmental arc of a future creative laborer: from a young kid playing the island fictions of Minecraft, to an older child learning do-it-yourself skills while reading Make magazine, to a teenager posting selfies on Instagram, to a young adult creative laborer imagining technological innovations using design fiction.

Focusing on the constructions and valorizations of creativity, entrepreneurialism, and technological savvy, Nguyen argues that contemporary culture operates to assuage profound anxieties about—and to defuse valid critiques of—both emerging digital technologies and the precarity of employment for “creative laborers” in twenty-first-century neoliberal America.

Josef Nguyen is assistant professor of critical media studies at the University of Texas at Dallas.


Contents


Introduction: What We Are to Make of Creative Digital Youth


1. Minecraft and the Building Blocks of Creative Individuality


2. Make Magazine and the Responsible Risks of DIY Innovation


3. Instagram and the Creative Filtering of Authentic Selves


4. Design Fiction and the Imagination of Technological Futures


Conclusion


Acknowledgments


Notes


Index