My So-Called Digital Life : 2,000 Teenagers, 300 Cameras, and 30 Days to Document Their World

My So-Called Digital Life : 2,000 Teenagers, 300 Cameras, and 30 Days to Document Their World
Bob Pletka
September 2005

What Do Teenagers Have to Say About Their Lives in the 21st Century?

My So-Called Digital Life is the result of a unique project created by Bob Pletka, technology director for the Covina-Valley Unified School District in Southern California. Pletka instituted a program in which 2,000 high school and middle school students from throughout the state of California-including inner-city, suburban, and rural areas-were given digital cameras and one month to capture their day-to-day life experiences.

In the end, approximately 10,000 photographs from over 2,000 teenagers were distilled down to the most compelling 350 images of what life is like for our children in the 21st century. All of the students were able to communicate with each other over the internet, sharing text, audio, photos, and video. Professional photographers, teachers, historians, and community leaders advised the teenagers, but the images, thoughts, fears, and hopes are theirs alone.

This resulting book presents an uncensored view of the lives of the students as they take on issues of identity, education, technology, family, work, and friendship. The visual story of photographs, essays, and photo captions also shows us whether our schools are places of alienation or communities of support, enclaves of safety or territories of hostility. Are we ready to hear what teenagers want to tell us about themselves?

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Author Information
Bob Pletka

is the creator of My So-Called Digital Life and an associate superintendent of Vista Unified School District in Southern California. He has been a teacher in the Lake Elsinore Unified School District, an associate professor in education at National University, and a director of instruction and technology for Covina Unified School District. He also served as a city commissioner for the city of Murrieta. Bob lives with his wife, 10-year-old son, and 13-year-old daughter in Southern California.


My So-Called Digital Life is an ambitious project, an attempt to map from the inside the daily experience of adolescence. . . .If My So-Called Digital Life has a defining message, it’s that our children are more like us than we know.”
David L. Ulin, book editor, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Adults and teens will come away stirred and enlightened by this raw, impressive student collaboration and by Pletka’s moving introduction, which challenges administrators to rethink how school is taught. YA: Teens will be fascinated by these words and images from their peers.”

“The resulting volume is slick, busy, and energetic in its candid presentation of emblematic teen moments . . . the volume could provide an excellent model for similar projects undertaken at the local level. Adults should take their time reading and viewing this work in order to get a real inside view of what life is like for the 21st-century teen-and what the contemporary teen journalist finds to be compelling subject matter.”

“A beautifully produced book of big, bold collages of photographs accompanied by short quotes and a few longer passages, written and formatted by the participants. . . . The student insights are perceptive, from the pros and cons of surveillance cameras, to the frustrations accompanying unreliable technology, to the effects of iron bars surrounding their schoolyards. Prevalent themes include boredom, lack of sleep, and worry as students tell of an educational system that has substituted copying and repetition for inspiration and creativity. The bright spots in teens’ lives seem to be extracurricular activities, particularly music and sports. They write very clearly about the life lessons (not to mention joy) that they gain from both. Is this a book for adults or teens? Although Pletka addresses his introduction to adults and even the student writers seem to be appealing for change, it should find a wide teen audience. What teenager does not enjoy seeing how peers live? One hopes that they will pass it on to their parents.”
VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) Magazine

“As a whole, this book serves as a broad, almost panoramic collage of the edgy, high-tech lives of teenagers in the early 21st century. An invigorating blend of humor and insight, it is recommended for all libraries where there is interest in student photography.”
Library Journal

“An honest, colorful and poignant book. It captures high school life the way it really is, not the shiny way you see it on Fox.”
San Diego Union-Tribune

“My So-Called Digital Life zooms in on teenage life in the new millennium.”
Boston Herald

“Every picture tells a story, the saying goes. The pictures in My So-Called Digital Life tell about something that few parents of teens ever get to hear: What happened in school today?”
Orange County Register

“Reveals a world in which it is a real struggle to maintain hope.”
World Wide Work (American Labor Education Center)

“The pictures range from breathtaking landscapes to kids falling asleep in class. They reflect teen issues such as body image, feeling trapped, and how to have fun. . . . the photos reveal that teens are resilient and have a sense of humor about their situations.”
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

“An impressive photo essay that documents the daily lives of California high school students to inspire your next photo project.”
CollegeBound Teen magazine

“Although the book is geared toward helping parents understand what life is like for teens in the 21st century, teens will find commonality amid the unfiltered views of their peers.”
San Diego Family Magazine