Reflection on democracy, free-mix culture, and Luddites

Using trial and error with an informal mix of ‘teachers’ and ‘learners,’ video gamers are participating in democratic learning that involves play and collaboration (Buckingham, David, “Introducing Identity,” Youth, Identity and Digital Media, Ed. David Buckingham, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008, p, 16). However, Buckingham urges us to celebrate their success cautiously because “we need to be able to evaluate information if we are to turn it into meaningful knowledge” (p. 17). That is the natural intersection teachers and schools inhabit—but teachers first need awareness of digital literacy and then to find creative ways (as many are already doing) to incorporate that into lesson plans accessible to students. As an example of “cautious celebration,” I cite a Feb. 15, 2011 Contra Costa Times article entitled “Ripple effect in Middle East” by Brian Murphy about protests in Tehran, Bahrain, and Yemen that are “absorbing” the message from Cairo. The Internet and youths changed how future presidential candidates will conduct their campaigns in the United States; in the 2008 election, young people were reported to have voted in unprecedented numbers. As I heard an NPR announcer question an Egyptian spokes person over the weekend, does installing the military in power in Egypt assure democracy? It seems that the questions for education indicate more urgently that our questions about democracy cross borders between nations and languages and have potential for creating democracy in ways beyond what we may have imagined. Encouraging students to evaluate information–to turn all the talk into meaningful knowledge to add to what we already know–is increasingly important.

But to digress a bit to consider “Becoming Literate in the Information Age” by Hawisher, Selfe, Moraski, and Pearson—in 1977-80, performance art became my art medium of choice which meant heavy video equipment, ½ inch video tape. My friend and I video taped one another talking daily for about a month and then watched what we said the next day—it was interesting to see how sometimes what I said was different than what I had been thinking and to get such immediate feedback. We used complicated video editing and expensive color copiers to make images of our 35mm slides. One of my major worries during those days was stealing someone else’s ideas—a somewhat novel idea to me today given the definition of free-mix culture. In the 1990’s at SFSU, an awakening for me were the poems of Marianne Moore, a popular icon, elder poet in the late 1960’s-70’s. She filed articles and images and was a master at borrowing phrases and images—sometimes attributing them, sometimes not. Finally, I looked up Luddite on Wikipedia and found that Ned Ludd in about 1811 objected to the introduction of a machine loom because it meant skilled artisans would lose their jobs. So, I think a worthy question to ask ourselves is what will we lose as we take on digital literacy that we either want to maintain or incorporate into digital literacy?

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