When it comes to societal advancement there is a running theme of fear and resistance by older generations; a sense that the ways they were brought up is somehow superior. If history is any indication, this theme will only continue. What’s so interesting about its recurrence now is that the older generation fears technology will do to their children what it had done to them – create passive consumers of creativity, or what Lawrence Lessig refers to as a “read only” only culture in his TED Talk titled “Laws That Choke Creativity.”
Under this light, I suspect today’s fear comes from a lack of understanding. This generation is not consumed with creativity without any outlet for creativity, they are engaged in (re)creativity as Lessig coined it. Users take creative pieces and recreate them in their own image. Lessig champions this new read/write culture where users consume creativity and (re)create. The problem is the legal obstacles attempting to limit the growth of the read/write culture. These obstacles are forcing the read/write culture to “live life against the law.” I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t part of the appeal to the emerging culture, however. Being told not to do something has always sparked an interest that might not otherwise be there. It’s as old a theme in our culture as resistance to technology.
More than likely, the appeal of “living life against the law” only appeals to a fraction of users. As Jenkins points out in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century creating media creates a higher form of respect for other users media. By letting users (re)create creativity they in turn have more respect for the creativity of others, just as they want their own creativity to be respected. Jenkins seems to suggest that the problem could take care of itself.
For better or worse, education is influenced by the culture we live in, at least I hope it is. As long as we’re living in a read/write culture, and what better culture to be a part of, we need to find out where we fit in as educators. While our students are consuming and creating media, they’re not always doing it critically, appropriately, legally, or safely. Students could benefit from instructors that helped define these blurred lines, validating what students do, and helping them do it better. This can contribute to an affective learning environment where it’s clear that students are learning from teachers and teachers are learning from students.
None of this is to say it’s easy, the world wide web is infinite and omnipresent; there is so much out there to be gained and lost over and over again. We all fear the unknown; the internet can be a big and scary place. The benefits of using media, however, far outweighs the risks as Will Richardson points out in his Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms. Richardson acknowledges this tension between school (parents included) and the literacy activities students participate in outside of school, and shares some ways for working around it. Ultimately, Richardson claims that teachers need find their own balance – that’s the most important takeaway.
Teachers and parents resistance to new practices and the immersion of the read/write culture only hurts students in the long run leaving them less prepared. Richardson also points out that “communicating and collaborating with peers using instant or text messaging [social media], accounts allows them to be ‘always on’ and always connected. That is their expectation, one that has changed greatly in just the past ten years.” This expectation isn’t going away. They expect to “always be on” and they’re expected to be as well. Some teachers try and remove distractions from their classrooms, but those distractions are still there and they’re not going away. By ignoring this expectation, I wonder if we’re only leaving them less prepared. .
Jenkins touches on this idea of expecting to be expected when he describes multi-tasking. He describes it as “the ability to scan ones environment and shift focus onto salient details on an ad hoc basis.” This idea of consuming endless media while trying to perform is rooted in the fear of the effects of technology on the upcoming generation – the so called “ADD” generation. Their attention spans are so short because they are switching tasks at such a rapid pace. That multitasking will somehow ruin the ability to concentrate and problem solve.
The need to multitask and the expectation of constant communication isn’t going anywhere. As valuable as it is to be able to really devote your concentration to one thing, we cannot dismiss the value of being able to “scan your environment and shift focus”; it is a skill they need. Students need to know how to take in information through a variety of mediums, prioritize it, and assert some control over its effect on their lives.