Sunday, February 26, 2012

Week 7: Participatory Literacies

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:


  1. Young people are at the forefront of smart mobs and the participatory culture for a number of reasons, but not because they are digital natives. I agree with Henry Jenkins’ objections to the terms “digital immigrant” and “digital native” because they take away the onus on parents to get involved with what their kids are doing. Parents do not have to be technically proficient but they should be aware if their children are repurposing copyrighted material or posting inappropriate information.

    Are young people digital natives? No, but if they are more technically adept than adults it’s because they have:

    Time to experiment
    Young people have more time than adults to create pieces as part of the participatory culture. There are more demands on an adult’s time making it more valuable. Spending an hour figuring out how to use a new site impacts a teen’s life less than an adult who has more pressing priorities than experimenting with entertaining technology.

    Peers also experimenting
    Young people are surrounded by peers who are also experimenting with the new tools and technology. It seems less foreign and less intimidating because of peer pressure.

    Less fear
    There are fewer repercussions if young people break copyright laws. It is there parents who would be held responsible for paying legal fees and fines.

  2. I'm so grateful that you pointed out these reasons why young people are more present digitally as I yell from the front door that I need help bringing in the groceries and that I don't actually care what level they're playing on the Xbox :0

  3. Judith, bringing in the groceries is such an analog activity. No wonder you are not getting any help. Now, if you made bringing in the groceries a game, say, Chores of Duty: Domestic Warfare, you might be onto something......

    Okay, back to 597.

    There is one part of Rheingold's video presentation, Smart Mobs; The Next Social Revolution, that especially caught my attention.

    At around the 15:35 mark of the video, Rheingold addresses the story of the convergence of the mobile phone and the internet. "Groups of people who use mobile devices to organize collective action are not always necessarily peaceful or democratic, and the future is not going to be all progress and light. There are going to be some catastrophic things happening."

    (You could call this a realistic take on Telus's The Future Is Friendly tagline.)

    This is a refreshing reminder that the arguments of those who tell us only that heaven and light await have already been anticipated.

    "They (those who would cry peace when there is no peace) are more interested in themselves than in anything else in the world...They insist that a work of art shall be a vehicle with a step where they can climb aboard and they shall not ride according to the contours of the country, but to a land where for an hour there are no clocks to punch and no dishes to wash."

    Those words were written in by Walter Lippmann. In 1921. (Lippmann is not in the syllabus, but Jenkins is and he points to Duncombe who points to Lippmann in a kind of Bush memex effect, actually.)

    Rheingold seems to be saying that there is nothing inherently good about technologically empowered smart mobs. Lippmann seems to be telling us why that is the case, and that is that we are open to being storied with happy endings.

    Rheingold points out that we can do things in the aggregate that we can't do individually, but that depends on the answer to a question we have been asking since we started thinking about how and what we can do together: Can we trust each other?