Teens’ desire for attention is not new. Teens have always looked for attention and validation from others – parents, peers, and high-status individuals. And just as many in business argue that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, there are plenty of teens who believe that there’s no such thing as bad attention. The notion of an “attention whore” predates the internet. Likewise, the notion that a child might “act out” is recognized as being a call for attention. And it’s important to highlight that the gendered aspects of these tropes are reinforced online.
So what happens when a teen who is predisposed to seeking attention gets access to the tools of the attention economy? Needless to say, we see both exciting and horrifying events play out. We see teens like Tavi Gevinson propel her interest in fashion into a full-blown career before the age of 14. And we see countless teens replicating the trainwreck activities of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and other celebrities. When teens leverage social media to propel themselves into the spotlight, they fully (and with reckless abandon) engage in a set of practices that Terri Senft and Alice Marwick talk about as micro-celebrity. They work to manage their impressions, cultivate attention, and interact in ways that will increase their fame and social status.