Talk explores how youth engaging in online activity are used as free labour

Research suggests children between the ages of five and 15 are now spending more time online than watching television, which means their leisure time is generally spent “working” for marketers.

A talk presented by York University’s Institute for Research on Digital Learning will explore the ways in which young people perform immaterial labour during their leisure time online, and examine the potential link between play, free labour and young people’s future roles in the workforce.

“Hidden Curriculum: Young People, Big Data, and User Generated Content” will be delivered by Cheryl Williams, York U PhD candidate in communication and culture on Nov. 14 from 11am to 1pm.

Williams will discuss the increasing shift of marketing budgets from traditional to digital channels, and talk about how companies track and harness young people’s online activity for market research, user-generated content (UGC), and word-of-mouth marketing – activities that have historically been paid positions for trained professionals.

Seemingly benign activities that children engage in daily, such as playing branded apps, chatting with friends and posting video reviews can be reinterpreted as value-generating work for corporations. Such work may be fun, but it unequally benefits companies and does not compensate young people for the value they produce.

This talk will demonstrate how unpaid digital labour is foundational to children’s and young people’s culture today, and how it functions as a hidden curriculum that naturalizes and mobilizes immaterial labou into the adult years. This is particularly problematic for postsecondary students and young adults, who may accept working for low or no pay when they enter the workforce as interns, freelancers or other precarious labourers in the digital economy.

Light refreshments will be served. To attend, RSVP to