I was very pleased to be able to join Hafsat Abiola, CEO of Women in Africa, to celebrate International Women’s Day for 2021. The video is posted. My fellow panelists were His Excellency Prof. Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria and Dr. Hassan El Shabrawishi, CEO of AXA in Africa. It was good to be able to represent “men supporting women” in Africa along with some key partners of our work at MacArthur Foundation in Nigeria.
Category Archives: MacArthur Foundation
Media Re:Public Final Report Released
Today, we at the Berkman Center have released a new report on the changes in the news media landscape. For several years, we have been puzzling over the relationship between online and legacy media, dating back to the first BloggerCons; Dave Winer’s setting up a blog server on the Harvard campus; the first series of podcasts; our Thursday blog group; the Bloggers Journalism and Credibility conference, at which Jay Rosen proclaimed that “bloggers v. journalism is over”; the rise of Global Voices, the Citizens Media Law Project, and so forth. We release this report today against a much changed backdrop: major news outlets are failing or consolidating; more people than ever are engaged in participatory journalism; and the need for more credible and diverse sources of information — and skills to assess them — continues to be substantial.
The Media Re:Public report is an update on where things stand, and where they are headed, at a precarious moment in the news and information business. It takes the form of a primary report, several commentaries by Berkman fellows and friends, and a series of short case studies. We had lots of help from lots of people, through two conferences, writing and resesarch projects, and commentary on multiple drafts.
We owe deep thanks, as we so often do, to John Bracken and our friends at the MacArthur Foundation for their support and involvement in this reflective process and work.
As for the findings? Well, please read it! At a minimum, there’s the main report (52 pages, with a handy executive summary, by project lead Persephone Miel and Berkman’s research director Rob Faris). Or Ethan Zuckerman’s inspiring and challenging piece on International News. Or at the very least watch the teaser video on YouTube.
Katie Salen, ed., "The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning"
The first book that I read in the series of MacArthur/MIT Press’s Digital Media and Learning series was “The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning,” edited by game designer and educator Katie Salen (open access version here). As with the other books in the series, it’s a very important contribution to the scholarly literature of a nascent field. (I’ve come back to Salen’s work just as Urs Gasser and I are turning in the final, final version of our forthcoming book, Born Digital.) “The Ecology of Games” is an excellent primer on where innovation is happening at the intersection between games and learning and where future avenues for research offer promise.
The first essay, Salen’s “Toward an Ecology of Gaming,” sets the frame for the collection. She recounts, helpfully, those things that “we” know already: “… that play is iterative as is good learning, and that gaming is a practice rooted in reflection in action, which is also a quality of good learning. We know games are more than contexts for the production of fun and deliver just-in-time learning, the development of specialist language, and experimentation with identity and point of view. We know games are procedurally based systems embedded within robust communities of practice. We know that video games and gaming have done much to shape our understanding and misunderstanding of the post-Nintendo generation, and hold a key place in the minds of those looking to empower educators and learners. Beyond their value as entertainment media, games and game modification are currently key entry points for many young people into productive literacies, social communities, and digitally rich identities.” (pp. 14 – 15) She ends her chapter with five unanswered questions, each worth reflecting and working on. (p. 15)
James Paul Gee‘s “Learning and Games” gives an overview of what “good game design” can “teach us about good learning” and vice-versa (p. 21). He offers these insights through what he calls the “situated learning matrix.” (pp. 24 – 31) The most illuminating part of his essay for me was the discussion of the ways in which young people form cross-functional teams within gaming environments — and his view of the excellent training opportunities these contexts could hold in terms of training them for workplace experiences. (p. 33)
In “In-Game, In-Room, In-World: Reconnecting Video Game Play to the Rest of Kids’ Lives,” three authors (Reed Stevens, Tom Satwicz, and Laurie McCarthy) take up a great topic: “whether playing these games affects kids’ lives when the machine is off.” (p. 41) The key insight for me was the notion of identity: “… young people are indeed forming identities in relation to video games. The idea that they can do things in the game that they cannot do in the real world is only part of the story; the other half is that they hold actions that they control in-game in regular comparative contact with the consequences, and morality, of those actions in the real world. Actions in games, then, are a resource for building identities in the real world, occurring through a reflective conversation that takes place in-room.” (p. 62)
“E is or Everyone: The Case for Inclusive Game Design,” by Amit Pitaru, followed a different structure than most other essays in the series. It’s told as a story about the researcher’s time with students at the Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, NY, a “remarkable school” that “educates approximately 200 pre-K to twenty-one-year-old students with a variety of physical disabilities and medical needs.” (p. 68)
Through this narrative, Pitaru offers insights on many levels. The essence of the argument is that a lack of play among children poses dangers, many of which can be avoided through digital games when set in the proper context. Pitaru claims further that digital games “provide a viable complementary activity to existing mediated forms of play” for children with disabilities.” (p. 85) I wondered, at the end, how many educators would agree with Pitaru, and where other experimentation is happening.
Mimi Ito, as usual, offers an extraordinarily helpful essay. If you read any single essay from the DML series, read this one: “Education vs. Entertainment: A Cultural History of Children’s Software.” The topic is genres of participation. She tells a story about “commercial children’s software, designed to be both fun and enriching, lies at the boundary zone between the resilient structures of education and entertainment that structure contemporary childhoods in the United States.” (p. 89) Ito gives an instructive history of the development of games for kids along with a genuinely useful analytical frame and a clear conclusion. She writes, “If I were to place my bet on a genre of gaming that has the potential to transform the systemic conditions of childhood learning, I would pick the construction genre.” (p. 115) Here’s to tinkering (and to Mimi’s great work).
In “The Rhetoric of Video Games,” Ian Bogost makes an intriguing argument in favor of “procedural rhetoric” via games. In his view, this approach could enable the questioning of the values behind certain professional practices instead of their blind assumption. (p. 130) I’m not sure I completely got his argument, but it was useful and provocative to puzzle it through.
Anna Everett, the editor of another volume in the series, and S. Craig Watkins offer a counterpoint to much of the rest of the book, exploring ways in which games and other immersive environments are not always socially productive. (p. 143) It’s a helpful reminder and a useful link to the DML series book on race.
The most interesting data that is presented in the book comes from the private sector: Cory Ondrejka, then of Linden Labs/Second Life and the Annenberg School (now headed to an exciting new job…), points out some usage statistics about SL in “Education Unleashed: Participatory Culture, Education, and Innovation in Second Life.” The most striking — and hopeful — figure was his note that 67% (sixty-seven percent) of respondents to a survey of Teen Second Life users “had written at least one program using the scripting language.” (p. 239) Of course it is a tiny sample (384) of self-selected young people, but the tinkering spirit that Mimi Ito highlights in her essay is alive and well in the people that Ondrejka heard from.
Barry Joseph, director of Global Kids, Inc., wrote the concluding essay on “treating games as a form of youth media within a youth development framework.” His notion of game design as an element of making meaning through the creation of structures is a great addition to the thinking on semiotic democracy that I think is so crucial in this literature. His theory is well-grounded in experiences he’s had with Global Kids, working with teachers and students and corporate supporters, which gives the piece an important series of links to reality that is often missing from our scholarly literature — without giving up the theoretical side.
Salen, Ito, Ondrejka, and Joseph’s essays, among others in the book, led me to a conclusion out of the book: in some contexts, great forms of learning may come for some students using well-designed games, primarily of the construction genre. There’s not yet sufficient evidence here, in my view, to turn over our entire educational system to games and virtual worlds, but there’s plenty to learn from what some young people are doing in these environments during school time and otherwise.
Learning Race and Ethnicity, in the MacArthur Foundation/MIT Press Series
Learning, Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media is the fourth book I’ve read in the MacArthur/MIT Press Series on Digital Media and Learning. This volume, edited by Anna Everett, is the furthest from my own field — law — and, for me, the most challenging.
Prof. Everett’s opening essay, (which follows the excellent foreword by the series authors, as with each volume in the series), is an effective overview of what follows in the volume. She takes up the familiar debate about the term “digital divide” and why it now rankles more than it helps. She also reminds us that the old joke about how online nobody knows you’re a dog is no longer true, with the advent of rich media and other “advances” in digital technology and how it’s used. I was left, from her chapter, with one line resonating in particular: “the color of the dog counts.” (p. 5)
The rest of the volume consists of three clusters. Future Visions and Excavated Pasts is the first. Dara Byrne leads off with a piece on the future of race. She pulls in and incorporates a series of great quotes from message boards and other online public spaces; takes up (and takes on) John Rawls on the public/private question that runs through so many of our discussions of online life, (p. 22); and digs deep on the future of whether there will be dedicated sites for different races as we look ahead. The punchline is that yes, “minority youth must have access to dedicated online spaces, not just mainstream or ‘race neutral’ ones.” (p. 33)
Tyrone Taborn’s “Separating Race from Technology” is the other essay in this first cluster. Tayborn compares the likelihood of any group of students (“majority white or minority, rich or poor”) knowing Kobe Bryant and Dr. Mark Dean, the African-American engineer involved in IBM’s development of the first PC. His point is clear. As one of a series of possible solutions to the problem of too few minority youth having mentors and heroes in the technology world, Tayborn calls for Digital Media Cultural Mentoring (p. 56).
The second cluster of essays take up art and culture in the digital domain. Raiford Guins guides the reader through a tour of the ways that hip-hop culture, art, and use of technology come together online in the form of “black cultural production in the form of hip-hop 2.0.” (p. 78) It’s a must-read essay; heplful to read with a browser open and a fast broadband connection on tap. Guins has an intriguing segment on the future of the music label, among other take-aways (p. 69 – 70).
Guins’ essay is well-paired with Chela Sandoval and Guisela Latorre’s celebration and contextualization of Judy Baca’s work at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in LA. (One wonders why LA gets more than its fair share of intriguing digital media production experiments and narratives?) Among other things, Sandoval and Latorre challenge the notion of “digital youth” and the challenges of overly delimiting based just on age — a helpful reminder of a point too easily forgotten. (p. 85) In the final essay of the cluster, Antonio Lopez offers insights into (and concerns about) digital media literacy with respect to Native American populations, told largely in the first person.
Jessie Daniels opens the third cluster with a jarring piece on hate, racism, and white supremacy online. Daniels picks up on themes about the fallacy of colorblindness established in Anna Everett’s introduction. With a link to Henry Jenkins‘ work, Daniels argues for a “multiple literacies” approach to shaping our shared cultural future online and offline. (p. 148 – 50)
Yet more jarring, to me anyway, is Douglas Thomas’s piece on online gaming cultures, called “KPK, Inc.: Race, Nation, and Emergent Culture in Onling Games.” Thomas draws us into gaming environments only to reveal a culture of wild adventure, first-person shooter games, acquisition, treasure, money, and hate all rolled together. The crux of his argument centers on the “Korean problem,” (p. 163-4), a blend of bigotry, nationalism, and competitiveness. The racists that Thomas exposes “are usually Americans / Canadians and white” — and gamers. (p. 164) Along the way, Thomas distinguishes his approach from that of our Berkman colleague Beth Kolko. (p. 155-6)
The final essay, by Mohan Dutta, Graham Bodie, and Ambar Basus takes us in a new direction, further afield, toward the intersection of race, youth, Internet, health, and information. The authors synthesize a great deal of disparate information in unexpected ways. The essay left with an expanded frame of vision, and a frame that I never would have come up with on my own. Their punchline: “disparities in technology uses and health information seeking reflect broader structural disparaties in society that adversely affect communities of color.” (p. 192)
On balance, this collection of essays hangs together very well. Each essay takes a on strong point of view. Overall, the collection both informed my thinking and provoked more by raising hard issues about the impact of growing up online for race, ethnicity, identity, and health.
Our good friends at Public Radio Exchange, led by their executive director and Berkman fellow Jake Shapiro, have been awarded a huge honor from the MacArthur Foundation. PRX is one of a handful of 2008 “Creative and Effective Institutions.” I can think of no more deserving institution than PRX. Bravo!
Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected
The MacArthur Foundation’s Series on New Media and Learning, published by the MIT Press, includes a book called Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected (2008); open access version here. I opened this book first when I was writing a chapter on Innovators, for Born Digital, a book I’m co-writing with Urs Gasser. I had reason to come back to this book again in thinking about the Task Force we’re chairing, called the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, as there’s a chapter that centers on risk and moral panic in the context of Internet safety. (I’ve previously written about the series as a whole and the volumes Youth, Identity, and Digital Media and Civic Life Online.)
As with the other volumes in the series, there’s much in this book that informs and provokes.
The first essay, by editor Tara McPherson, has a title with particular to the lawyer interested in this topic: “A Rule Set for the Future.” It did not disappoint. This first essay serves both as a guide to the book as a whole as well as a description of six rules to lead to a bright future. As McPherson points out, “This volume identifies core issues concerning how young people’s use of digital media may lead to various innovations and unexpected outcomes, including a range of unintended learning experiences and unanticipated social situations. While such outcomes might typically be seen as ‘positive’ or ‘negative,’ our investigations push beyong simple accounts of digital media and learning as either utopian or dystopian in order to explore specific digital practices with an eye attuned to larger issues of history, policy, and possibility.” (p. 1) She promises that the book will take up a broad range of issues within this frame, including “policy, privacy and IP,” and to do so in a way that will inform a series of core questions, about what’s really new here, the historical background for these changes, the manner in which these changes are occurring, and what recommendations one might make for “policy, curriculum, or infrastructure.” (p. 2)
These issues that McPherson raises are in many ways the same questions we are seeking to answer in Born Digital, to be honest. She puts them nicely here. (And as a side note: the first footnote of McPherson’s opening essay points to the fact that there have already been — at least — three books on roughly the topic that Urs and I are working on: Prensky’s Don’t Bother Me, Mom — I’m Learning; Tapscott’s Growing Up Digital; Howe and Strauss’ Milliennials Rising.)
The bulk of McPherson’s opening essay is devoted to laying out “six maxims to guide further research and inquiry into the questions motivating this study.” (p. 2) These six maxims, or rules, are wonderful, both on their own and as a guide to the essays that follow. I will not ruin it by citing them all in this blog-post; you should read them for yourself if you are interested enough in this topic to be reading this paragraph of this obscure blog post. I will say that in Rule 4: Broaden Participation, she cites to a number of the prominent cyber-lawyers, including Lessig, Boyle, and co.
In her essay, “Practicing at Home,” Ellen Seiter does the unexpected: she “draw[s] out the similarities between learning to play the piano and learning to use the computer.” (p. 28-9) One such similarity is the barrier to entry of cost. Overall, it’s a worthy exercise. She informs nicely the issue of how to conceive of digital literacy in the curriculum. Her assessment of the digital divide data and literature, with an overlay of concerns about cultural capital and participation, (e.g., pp. 37-8) invoke Henry Jenkins’ fine work on the participation gap as a better way to think about the relevant split. (There’s also a critique of a passage in Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks on related grounds. (pp. 41-2) Ultimately, as Seiter admits, hers “is a pessimistic essay,” (p. 49) though one worth engaging with, especially for those of us who are hopelessly optimistic.
Justine Cassell and Meg Cramer take up the safety issue in the third essay, which is why I picked the book back up again now. It is a bit unexpected to see this essay in this volume — it fits less neatly than some of the others do with the rest — but is very helpful, especially when thinking about what we should really be worried about with respect to young people online. Cassell and Cramer lay out the facts about how great the risks are to young women of using the Internet, wonder why the media portrayal of the issue is quite so hyperbolic and misaligned with these facts, and ultimately “argue that the dangers to girls online are not as severe as they have been portrayed, and that the reason for this exaggeration of danger arises from adult fears about girls’ agency (particularly sexual agency) and societal discomfort around girls as power users of technology.” (p. 55) Cassell and Cramer do an especially nice job of placing into historical context the worry around teens online, in light of previous, similar fears that cropped up as earlier communications media became popular.
Christian Sandvig’s piece on “Wireless Play and Unexpected Innovation” offers a nice overview of how unexpected innovation may happen and what the prerequisites are for its occurrence. He locates Eric von Hippel within the literature and Sandvig’s own argument, which, as a von Hippel devotee, I found a helpful anchor for aspects of his argument. (p. 89) The last paragraph is an accurate — possibly scolding, certainly daunting — call to action. “‘Participatory culture,'” Sandvig contends, “will only move beyond the elite if the desire for decentralized control and widespread participation can animate changes in our society’s fundamental structure of opportunity.” (p. 94)
A cluster of essays that drive down further on the literacy and curricular questions follow. Sonia Livingstone offers insights aplenty in her strong essay on Internet Literacy. She stresses “the historical continuities between internet literacy and print literacy,” to great effect. (p. 115) She ends with a challenge nearly as ambitious and daunting (and just as accurate) as Sandvig’s. Paula Hooper has an instructive take on the use of programming in the curriculum. Sarita Yardi writes up a fun take on the “backchannel” in the classroom — “an exciting innovative space for a new learning paradigm.” (p. 160) Henry Lowood dives deep into games and “the expressive potential of machinima.” (p. 191) Robert Heverly reviews the topic of “growing up digital” and its impact on identity, privacy, and security — with many themes invoking the work of danah boyd (such as persistence).
The second-to-last essay, by Robert Samuels, is the most challenging. He argues, off the bat, “that in order to understand the implications of how digital youth are now using new media and technologies in unexpected and innovative ways, we have to rethink many of the cultural oppositions that have shaped the Western tradition since the start of the modern era.” (p. 219) Like the challenges at the end of the Sandvig and Livingstone pieces, Samuels’s argument strikes me as right, and hard work. He also argues “that we have moved into a new cultural period of automodernity.” I admit I did not understand it in full. (p. 219, 228-33) But I suspect that I like the idea of what he sees ahead: “by defending the public realm against the constant threats of privitization, we can open up a new automodern public space.” (p. 238) It sounds like something you need a whole conference on to understand properly, rather than the one-way street of a 20-page essay.
In the final essay, Steve Anderson and Anne Balsamo explore perspectives on the current state of digital learning. I am glad I made it this far in the book — propelled by the fine essays that preceded it — because they take up some efforts near and dear to our hearts at the Berkman Center, including Prof. Charles Nesson’s Harvard Law School/Harvard Extension School/Second Life class, CyberOne, taught with his daughter and my law school classmate Becca Nesson. (p. 249-51) Anderson and Balsamo end with a spirited manifesto for “Original Synners,” which I intend to think about adopting in my own teaching. (p. 254-7)
Taken together, these essays fit together as a series of detailed examples that string together issues that are not immediately connected in one’s mind. McPherson predicted as much in her opening essay. As she puts it, together, these essays, “encourage us to recognize that innovation as a cultural phenomenon often happens in unexpected places (as does learning) and produces unanticipated outcomes. They remind us to ask who innovation serves and how we might best reap its benefits for broader visions of social equity and justice. And, finally, they underscore that the term ‘innovation’ is value laden and historically complex.” (p. 5) It’s worth making it all the way through; the connections become clear in the full telling of the tales.
Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth
I’ve been making my way with care (and great pleasure) through the fine series of books that the MacArthur Foundation and MIT Press have put together on Digital Media and Learning. There are six in total, each worth reading. (I previously blogged about the volume on Youth, Identity, and Digital Media.)
I’m trying to finish the edits on Born Digital, the book on related themes that Urs Gasser and I are writing. The sticky chapter for me at the moment is called “Activists.” It will probably end up as the next-to-last chapter. I think it’s crucially important as a topic. A few weeks ago, our wonderful-and/but-tough editor at Basic Books said the chapter had to be rewritten from scratch, starting with a blank, new page (she doesn’t like Microsoft Word much). As I’ve gone through the rewrite, I am working in inspiration from another of the DM&L books, Civic Life Online. As I’ve felt about the others, it’s a great contribution to our understanding of a critical topic. The entire collection of essays is worthy of a read; I point out just a few things that jumped out at me, but I don’t mean to imply that other segments aren’t helpful, too.
The opening essay, by editor W. Lance Bennett, sets the frame for the book. He looks at “Changing Citizenship in the Digital Age,” and compares two paradigms: one of young people as engaged and active in civic life, the other as disengaged and passive. He argues that we need to “bridge the paradigms” or else our youth, digitally inspired or not, will continue to get disconnected from formal civic life. He argues in favor of a better approach: show young people how, through their use of new technologies and otherwise, they can have an impact on the political process (p. 21). In the process, we ought to enable young people to “explore, experiment, and expand democracy.” Sounds quite right to me.
Kathryn Montgomery traces a growing youth civic culture in the second chapter. Her emphasis is on the 2004 get out the vote (GOTV) efforts. She challenges the movement toward the insertion of corporations and their brands into the Rock the Vote process and other online communities. This strand of argument brought to mind the core themes of Montgomery’s recent book, also by MIT Press, called “Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet,” in which she builds out further on the issues of corporate branding in the online space and marketing geared toward children. To build on the growing youth civic culture, Montgomery calls for “a broader, more comprehensive, multidisciplinary effort, combining the contributions of communications researchers, political scientists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, economists and young people themselves.” This too sounds right, though I was amused to see us lawyers left out of the mix of who might be useful — especially when the “key policy battles” that she refers to earlier in the chapter include intellectual property, net neutrality, and online safety, which seem to me issues on which lawyers might have something to say. (Perhaps we are indeed more trouble than we’re worth.) Lots of mentions here, too, of the work of danah boyd and Henry Jenkins to keep bad things from happening in the Congress.
In “Not Your Father’s Internet: The Generation Gap in Online Politics,” Michael Xenos and Kirsten Foot take up the fascinating question (to me, anyway) of how young people are getting their news and information about politics. They argue, as many others do, that young people do so in ways that are generally quite different from the ways that older people do. Young people, they find, are more likely to access news and information about politics either online (and in social contexts) or through comedy programs rather than through print newspapers and evening newscasts — which seems true enough. “Clearly coproductive interactivity is foundational to the way that young people, more than any other age group, engage with the Internet,” they claim. (p. 57) They do a nice job also of linking their theories back to the actual uses of the Internet by campaigns and pointing, in the process, to the kinds of interactivity that work for campaigns to engage young people by building a sense of efficacy and trust. (p. 62) They call, in the end, for a balanced approach between “transactional and coproductive web practices.” (p. 65)
Howard Rheingold has a typically (for him) colorful and engaging piece on the bridging of media production and civic engagement. It’s great to have his voice directly in the set of essays, especially since many others throughout the MacArthur series cite or quote him, especially for his work on Smart Mobs. Rheingold, not surprisingly, has the money line of the whole book, perhaps the series: “Talking about public opinion making is a richer experience if you’ve tried to do it.” (p. 102). He then sends the reader through a tour of exercises and points us to a wiki where we can play ourselves. Many of us talk about Media Literacy. Rheingold (like Henry Jenkins and others) is doing something about it. Right on.
Much in the same spirit, I loved the opening line — as well as what follows — in Peter Levine’s essay: “Students should have opportunities to create digital media in schools.” (p. 119) I get teased for this, but I believe it’s true not just for younger students but for law students, too. Levine’s four strategies are convincing. Marina Bers, our neighbor at Tufts, expands on this point. She uses a lively set of examples (including pulling the reader briefly into virtual worlds). Just as helpful, Bers sets the challenge of developing an effective civics curricula into a helpful theoretical framework. Kate Raynes-Goldie and Luke Walker take a deep dive into one of the most promising projects in this space, TakingITGlobal. They also set TIG in context of related sites.
Stephen Coleman, a British scholar and one of the giants of this literature, concludes the book with a short essay that puts the entire work in context for governments themselves. Coleman points to six things (pp. 202 – 3) that governments can do “to promote democratic youth e-citizenship” plus four “policy principles” (p. 204). Coleman links his themes back to arguments by Rheingold, Bers, and Levine in the process, bringing things full-circle.
I put down this volume hopeful again about what we can do to engage young people in civic life. It’s clear, from the work of these scholars, that we’ll have to expand our thinking about what we mean by “civic life” if we mean to engage these young people. It’s clear, too, that experiential learning — learning that is rewarding and fulfilling and encourages them to come back to these activities — is an essential part of what we have to do next, whether that’s something that we structure in the classroom or that we just encourage and promote when young people just do it themselves.
MacArthur/MIT Press Series on Youth, Media, and Learning
Last month, the MacArthur Foundation, along with MIT Press, announced the release of a series of new books on youth and new media. The series is a treasure trove.
I have been working my way through the six books over the past several weeks as I’m simultaneously working on late drafts of the book that Urs Gasser and I are writing on a similar topic, called Born Digital (forthcoming, Basic Books, 2008).
I’d highly recommend to anyone remotely interested in the topic to read these books. They are academic in style, structure and language, but remarkably accessible in my view. I’m not a social scientist, nor an expert in most of the fields that are represented by the authors (in fact, I’m not sure if there are any lawyers at all in the list of authors!), but the editors and authors have done a lovely job of making their fields relevant broadly.
For starters, the series Foreword, by the group of “series advisors,” is wonderful. I can’t imagine how six people came to agree on such a clear text, but somehow they did. There must have been a lead author who held onto the pen; it’s far too coherent to have been written by committee. (The advisors are: Mizuko Ito, Cathy Davidson, Henry Jenkins, Carol Lee, Michael Eisenberg, and Joanne Weiss. One imagines that the voice of the program officer at the MacArthur Foundation who made it all possible, Connie Yowell, is in there somewhere too.)
The Foreword is worth reading in full, but a few key lines: “Unlike the early years in the development of computers and computer-based media, digital media are now commonplace and pervasive, having been taken up by a wide range of individuals and institutions in all walks of life. Digital Media have escaped the boundaries of professional and formal practice, and the academic, governmental, and industry homes that initially fostered their development.” Those are simple statements, clear and right on. One of the reasons to pay attention to this topic right now is the pervasiveness, the commonplace-ness of the use of these new media, especially by many young people.
Also, their working hypothesis: “those immersed in new digital tools and networks are engaged in an unprecedented exploration of language, games, social interaction, problem solving, and self-directed activity that leads to diverse forms of learning. These diverse forms of learning are reflected in expressions of identity, how individuals express independence and creativity, and in their ability to learn, exercise judgment, and think systematically.” The work of the series authors, I think, bears out this hypothesis quite convincingly.
At the same time, the series advisors make plain that they are not “uncritical of youth practices” and note that they do not claim “that digital media necessarily hold the key to empowerment.” It is this spirit of healthy skepticism that one can hear through most of the essays in the series — and which is essential to the academic enterprise they’ve undertaken.
So far, I’ve finished the book on “Youth, Identity, and Digital Media” (ed. by David Buckingham) and “The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning” (ed. by Katie Salen) and am part of the way through each of the others. Each one is excellent.
In the ID book, I found particularly helpful the first piece on “Introducing Identity” by David Buckingham, which took on the hard definitional and discipline-related questions of identity in this context. He put a huge amount of scholarship into context, with sharp critiques along the way. The essay by our colleague danah boyd (on “Why Youth (heart) Social Network Sites,” a variant of which is online) is already a key document in our understanding of identity and the shifts in conceptions of public and private (“privacy in public,” and the idea of the networked public — related to but not the same as Yochai Benkler’s similar notions of networked publics). And the notion of “Identity Production as Bricolage” — introduced in “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities” by Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell — is evocative and helpful, I thought. The many warnings about not “exociticizing” (danah often using the word “fetishizing”) the norms and habits of young people and their use of technology, as well as echoes of Henry Jenkins’ work on convergence and his and Eszter Hargittai’s study of the participation gap came through load and clear, too. (I am pretty sure I can hear dislike of the term “digital natives” in between certain lines, as well.)
There’s much more to like in the book, and much more to work into our own understanding of ID in this environment, than I can post here. There’s an equal amount of insight in the Games book too. (The class I am co-teaching with David Hornik starts in 31 minutes and I should probably prepare a bit more than I have already.)
MacArthur Award, Kicking Off Berkman@10
This year, the Berkman Center is celebrating its tenth anniversary. We’re spending the year, in part, reflecting on what we’ve learned in our first decade, where things stand now in our field, and where we ought to focus for our second decade. We’ll have a series of special events throughout the year, as well as a gala event from May 14 – 16, 2008. We hope very much to see lots of friends, old and new, over the course of the year.
We’ve also undertaken an effort this year to raise endowment-style funds for the Center to support our next ten years of operations. We’ve been very generously supported over the years, by the Berkman family and many others. Our mode has been not to have a permanent endowment, and we are not changing course in this regard, but rather we seek to raise funds on an entrepreneurial basis as we go along. We’re taking this tenth anniversary celebration as a time to achieve a bit more stability in our funding structure by raising funds to cover our core costs for our second decade.
We could not be happier that the MacArthur Foundation has decided to give us a $4 million award, our largest ever gift outside of the ongoing generosity of the Berkman family. This award from the MacArthur Foundation is the anchor to what we intend to make a successful effort to ensure that we have the resources to do our work even better in our second decade than we have in our first. I’m confident that the importance of the issues of Internet and society only grow more important and central to the lives of people around the world with each passing year.
The MacArthur Foundation has been exceptionally helpful to us on many levels as we go about our public-spirited work. The foundation’s president, Jonathan Fanton, the vice-president Elspeth Revere, and program officer John Bracken have contributed to our work in so many substantive and philanthropic ways. We’re extremely grateful.