When it comes to the potential of technology and new media, I must confess that I am guilty of the “relentlessly optimistic view” David Buckingham so persistently warns us about. I have seen technology and new media as wonderful tools for people to simultaneously develop their own identities while engaging in different communities, I have seen technology and media as new platforms for users to create innovative works of art and inspire new art forms, and I have dismissed most alternative opinions shunning technology and new media as trivial and invalid for being old-fashioned and bigoted.
However, Buckingham’s caution against placing the potential of technology and new media on a pedestal has made me stop and re-think my own opinions about new media, technology, and identity politics – especially in considering my potential career as a teacher. As an individual separate from any institution or any vocation, I see these two new forms of literacies as positive and amazing. But when it comes to my role as a teacher, which will undoubtedly require creating a curriculum that incorporates technology and new media, how do I navigate my individual views with Buckingham’s arguments to form my own professional teaching view? Is it even possible to separate these two perspectives? Buckingham has certainly made me more critical of my own views and more aware of the broader conversation regarding the intersection of identity and technology/new media.
To even begin considering the question of media and technology usage and how it affects individuals and communities, the concepts of identity and community are worth considering. Although Hawisher and Selfe provide a fascinating case study of two digital literacy narratives, Buckingham steps back further and provides me with much more interesting concepts to grapple with. Although those of us who may become community college teachers may not ever have much experience dealing with younger adults, the different social, psychological, and cultural theories concerning the “adolescent” experience may be useful for us to consider when we are designing curriculum. However, it is equally important that we don’t let the “normative” models typically present in such theories to blind our teaching.
Buckingham’s text explains how contemporary consumer culture, as well as influential scholarship promoted by researchers, plays a huge role in how we label and categorize individuals and communities of individuals as “youth”/”tweens”/ “teens”. However, he fails to explore how such label-making and categorizing affects our teaching. This is something I am very concerned about. Are my, according to Buckingham, “overly optimistic” views about the potential for technology affecting my teaching in a negative way? I’m not sure, but I find the question meta-cognitively fascinating. Buckingham asserts that “…we clearly need to acknowledge how commercial forces both create opportunities and set limits on young people’s digital cultures; and we should also not forget that access to these media—and the ways in which they are used—is partly dependent upon differences to do with factors such as social class, gender, and ethnicity.” (pg 5). I believe that we also need to think about how we, as teachers, are also subject to the “commercial forces” that create opportunities and limits for young people. As teachers, I think we need to be more aware of the societal forces that shape labels about youth, how we in turn apply those labels to our students, and how our students may subsequently assimilate and conform to those labels of identity. Buckingham provides Judith Butler, who “argues that attempts to articulate the interests of ‘women’ as a specific, unified group merely reinforce binary views of gender…” as an example of this dangerous pitfall (pg 26). As teachers, we need to be especially careful that in our eagerness to “understand” our students and “relate” to their digital cultures, we don’t reinforce similar binary views of technology and digital literacy. Hawisher and Selfe remind us of this in their conclusion: we need to be very cautious and critical of our understanding of technology and how it affects individuals and communities.