Popular music and digital media are constantly entwined in elementary and middle-school children's talk, interactions, and relationships, and offer powerful cultural resources to children in their everyday struggles over institutionalized language, literacy, and expression in school. In Schooling New Media, author Tyler Bickford considers how digital music technologies are incorporated into children's expressive culture, their friendships, and their negotiations with adults about the place of language, music, and media in school. Schooling New Media is a groundbreaking study of children's music and media consumption practices, examining how transformations in music technologies influence the way children, their peers, and adults relate to one another. Based on long-term ethnographic research with a community of schoolchildren in Vermont, Bickford focuses on portable digital music devices - i.e. MP3 players - to reveal their key role in mediating intimate, face-to-face relationships and structuring children's interactions both with music and with each other.
Schooling New Media provides an important ethnographic and theoretical intervention into ethnomusicology, childhood studies, and music education, emphasizing the importance-and yet under-appreciation-of interpersonal interactions and institutions like schools as sites of musical activity. Bickford explores how headphones facilitate these school-centered interactions, as groups of children share their earbuds with friends and listen to music together while participating in the dense overlap of talk, touch, and gesture of their peer groups. He argues that children treat MP3 players more like toys than technology, and that these devices expand the repertoires of childhood communicative practices such as passing notes and whispering-all means of interacting with friends beyond the reach of adults. These connections afforded by digital music listening enable children to directly challenge the language and literacy goals of classroom teachers.
Bickford's Schooling New Media is unique in its intensive ethnographic attention to everyday sites of musical consumption and performance, and offers a sophisticated conceptual approach for understanding the problems and possibilities of children's uses of new media in schools.
Tyler Bickford is Assistant Professor of Children's Literature and Childhood Studies in the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh. Trained as an ethnomusicologist, his research focuses on the children's music industry and children's own experiences of music, media, and technology.