Week 7: Participatory Literacies
As Howard Rheingold notes, “a participatory culture in which most of the population see themselves as creators as well as consumers of culture is far more likely to generate freedom and wealth for more people than one in which a small portion of the population produces culture that the majority passively consume.”
Some key ideas for this week:
- according to recent studies by the Pew Center on the Internet and American Life, more than half of American teens online have produced media content and about a third have circulated media that they have produced beyond their immediate friends and family.
- growing importance of participatory culture in the everyday lives of young people. Work across a range of disciplines suggest that these emerging forms of participatory culture are important sites for informal learning and may be the crucible out of which new conceptions of civic engagement are emerging.
- the next techno-cultural shift according to Rheingold
- collective intelligence
Rheingold uses several moments in this book to define his term “Smart Mobs”. At one point he writes:
Mobile ad hoc social network is a longer more technical term than “smart mob.” Both terms describe the new social form made possible by the combination of computation, communication, reputation, and location awareness . . . Social network means that every individual in a smart mob is a “node” in the jargon of social network analysis, with social “links” (channels of communication and social bonds) to other individuals. (Rheingold, 169-170)
Rheingold studies the social phenomenon that mobile and wearable networked devices beget. While he writes optimistically about these changes, he also seeks to avoid “the rhetoric of the technological sublime” (xxi). He maneuvers this position to his study by accepting that these changes are already a lived social fact, for better or worse. He gives lists of examples from around the globe that support his claims. He writes, “smart mobs are not always beneficial. Lynch mobs and mobocracies continue to engender atrocities. The same convergence of technologies that opens new vistas of cooperation also makes possible a universal surveillance economy and empowers the bloodthirsty as well as the altruistic” (xviii).
The chapter names “Smart Mobs: The Power of the Mobile Many” is particularly revealing. In it, he concentrates on points of conflict and cooperation that are fueled or at least enabled by mobile networks and the individuals who are wearing the technology. He heroizes computer-wearer Steve Mann, as an advocate for this sort of mass social change.
If print culture shaped the environment in which the Enlightenment blossomed and set the scene for the Industrial Revolution, participatory media might similarly shape the cognitive and social environments in which twenty first century life will take place (a shift in the way our culture operates). For this reason, participatory media literacy is not another subject to be shoehorned into the curriculum as job training for knowledge workers.” (Howard Rheingold, “Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies)
Ultimately, participatory (new media) literacy is as much about a literacy of *participation* as it is a literacy of new media. For, as Howard says, “a participatory culture in which most of the population see themselves as creators as well as consumers of culture is far more likely to generate freedom and wealth for more people than one in which a small portion of the population produces culture that the majority passively consume.” Henry Jenkins also supports this thinking when he notes that “many kids today” see themselves not only as readers of their culture, but as authors of their culture. For many of these young people, this thinking will affect how they think about their culture, their work, their education and even their civic pride.
Jenkins also notes that young people are the *experts* on new media. Would you agree? Would you follow Jenkins’ advice to have your daughter/nephew etc... build your MySpace/Facebook profile? This questioning brings up Mark Prensky’s view that digital natives are *naturally* au fait with new media simply (mostly, simply) because they were born into the digital era. Following Rheingold and Jenkins (and other educators), we might disagree and expect levels of critical literacy to be taught and developed rather than be innate practises.
In fact, for Jenkins, “participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement.The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.
The new skills include:
Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.
Listen to “Combating the Participation Gap: Why New Media Literacy Matters” by Henry Jenkins: http://www.ischool.berkeley.edu/newsandevents/events/dls20080206.