Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Praise of Snark and Sharp Elbows

Mimi Ito's opening keynote talk about "Peer Learning with Social Media" at the New Media Consortium summer conference began by looking at contemporary debates about new social computing technologies that build on Nicolas Carr's initial provocation in The Atlantic, which asked the question "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

Of course, Carr has expanded his argument into a recent book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, and so now the New York Times is running articles like "Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price" (and rebuttals like "The Defense of Computers, the Internet and our Brains") that emphasize Carr's role in the current cultural conversation about the effects of computational media. As Ito pointed out, however, these debates have a tendency to be highly recursive and to be structured by rigid binaries about cultural progress. Thus Carr's book could be opposed to Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You. And Don Tapscott's Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World could serve as the flat mirror merely presenting the inverse argument of The Dumbest Generation, which I further criticize here.

Despite what Ito calls the "happy opening video" for the conference, she cautioned that "opportunities and risks are inexticably linked," as Sonia Livingstone and Leslie Haddon articulately argued in Kids Online. The "collapse of treasured gatekeepers" might have many unintended consequences, and the "constant allures" of social contact with remote others may lead to checked out behavior at both the dinner table and in the lecture hall and dinner. For Ito, the benefits of learning that is personalized and social make developing new educational models promising, but she argued that it was a mistake to "hold on to old boundaries," particularly those between work and life and between different generations. She admitted that not all learning practices fostered by peer and friendship networks were laudatory in a world of Sparknotes, ratemyprofessors,com, and Cheathouse, but she also argued that educators shouldn't be too punitive about Facebook study groups and other examples of "lateral flows of knowledge."

To make her larger point about evolving networked practices and peer reputation networks, she drew the audience's attention to the genre of the amateur webcam lip synch video. First she showed the pre-YouTube classic Numa Numa video. Then she played an example of the transnational dual efforts of the Back Dorm Boys. Finally, she screened "A Day at the Office," shown below, which was recommended to her by YouTube ethnographer Michael Wesch.

This video documents a particular form of subversion of the workplace through collaborative media-making that demonstrates what Ito called the "ecology of Internet video." She also pointed to more explicitly political remixes by Jonathan McIntosh, who curated the political remix sessions at the 24/7 DIY Video Summit and had come to embrace the "identity correction" style of The Yes Men in works such as "H2: Bummer," which Ito showed.

Although less obviously formulated as a critique, McIntosh's "Buffy vs Edward," shown above, was for Ito an interesting test case of fair use that also pushed limits. (At this point, she briefly returned to remind audience members of the social dynamics of a WiFi enabled lecture hall that supports "new mechanisms for filter and focus" that might even affect audience members checking e-mail or web surfing during her talk.)

She then pointed to the book The Power of Pull, the most recent work of John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison when it came to the big shift pitched to the Harvard Business School, as a way to understand "opportunistic learning."

However, Ito insisted that such opportunistic learning always came with a "social wrapper." She pointed to the case of Snafu Dave and his journey as a college student from Math to Computer Science to Design in an educational trajectory that never quite addressed his passion for comics. She also highlighted projects like p2pu and Howard Rheingold's Social Media Classroom, as well as Wesch's digital ethnography group Mediated Cultures, as exemplary programs. All of these examples provide "reciprocity and feedback" to teachers and learners together.

Ito also emphasized the issue of reputation and alluded to her own work and the work of others on AMVs or "animated music videos" in which "all are learners and teachers," and certain conventions provide opportunities for recognition, which one AMV maker compared to the "AcademyAward for best picture." Because online learning is about embodied selves not "a brain interacting with technology," Ito argued that it was important to understand "sites for publicity and competition." For Ito, it is "not enough to be open and welcoming."

In closing, Ito recognized danah boyd in the audience and credited her for work done in graduate student blogging that created a career for herself in a burgeoning field. (In workshops like this one that I have given to graduate students about creating an online presence, I have argued that boyd might be an examplar that is too difficult to emulate, because dissertation blogging and frank talk about academic procedures is more likely to be punished rather than rewarded.)

Ito concluded by saying that we were still in the "early days" of these cultural shifts and that her "examples may seem trivial" and her plans might seem unrealistic for educational systems driven by an "insistence on individualized assessment." Her final words were devoted to a plug for dmlcentral, where I have served as a blogger this year.

See another take on Ito's keynote here.

Labels: , ,


Blogger bob c said...

I suppose one of the main characteristics of a true pioneer is to be willing to endure the punishments to reach the reward. Like writing and SIGNING a declaration of independence or something. Not all steps are good ones but we must trudge on if we are to progress toward a goal. It is the goal that holds the value most times, but a constant view on the journey keeps us from stepping of the cliff.

6:26 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home