Teen Steganography

I found this short article in Wired to be fascinating:

In 440 BC, the Greek historian Herodotus first described a trick that spies used to send hidden messages. They’d write something on the wooden back of a wax tablet, then cover the message with wax bearing its own message. If enemies intercepted the tablet, they wouldn’t suspect it contained anything strange. It’s called steganography: hiding one message inside another.

Two thousand years later, teenagers are doing something similar to communicate with one another—on Facebook…

The solution is what researcher Danah Boyd has dubbed social steganography. Teenagers now post status updates that have two layers: A bland surface meaning intended for parents, and a deeper, richer significance that can be decoded only by close friends.

For example, Boyd interviewed one girl who was going through a breakup while on a class trip and wanted her friends to know but not her mother (who’d “have a heart attack”). So the teenager posted the chorus of a black-humor Monty Python song sung by a group of men who’ve been crucified. (“Always look on the bright side of life / Always look on the bright side of life!”) Her close friends, being fans of the movie, understood the reference and immediately messaged her to offer support. But her mother didn’t know the film, so she thought the lyrics were genuinely cheery and posted a response saying she was glad her daughter was happy.

And all this time I thought my teens just suffered from a severe lack of originality.

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