Social Media: The Renaissance Self-Expression and Community.. or is it?

I have spent the last few hours pondering what Micheal Wesch would say about the changes in spaces like Youtube and other social media since he made his video on Web 2.0 and his anthropological study of Youtube. Once upon a time, (though really it was not that long ago) vlogs and other personal videos were absolutely the predominant videos and content type on Youtube. Looking all the way back at 2006 we see much of what was being discussed by Wesch in simple user generated videos with just a few thousand views sitting on the front page.

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Credit: Graphitas

I am sure if we used The Way Back Machine then we would see many response videos, even to these front page entries. If we take a peek at the front page of Youtube today, the field has completely changed. Every front page is tailor made for the person who is consuming the media, especially if you have any viewing history or an account linked to your Youtube habits.

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As you can see, the trending videos look like a Hollywood catalog; they are almost completely comprised of massive company sponsored channels or the titanic channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers making professional content for our consumption. Now, I am not saying that this is necessarily bad, since millions of hours of entertainment have arisen from the ability of an individual to monetize their videos on Youtube, but the community of videos that was so exciting to Welsh ten years ago is dying if it is not completely dead already. It seems that a significant amount of social media is moving away from being a way of interconnectivity toward being a way to create or popularize a brand. Even my own Facebook feed has become more of a space to see updates from news and entertainment sites than just seeing what a friend is up to on any given day, resulting from giving a page or website a “Like.” Is there a new social media that has replaced this phenomenon? Maybe Vines? Snapchat? My experience with these new medias are limited so I have no real idea if those kinds of apps are filling this void.

Moving to a slightly different sphere, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” Amber Buck examines what she calls, (finally…at the end of the article) “a rather extreme case of social network site use.” Throughout this study, her subject, Ronnie, is shown to be trying to make a “brand” much like the celebrities that we see on Twitter, Facebook, and other networking websites. I feel that this discussion is a bit disingenuous as a result because it is not indicative of most students practices on a social networking site. While we all create an online identity, I do not believe that most people are developing as complex rhetorical skills that Ronnie is displaying and Buck is discussing nor do I think most people are trying to generate fans and fame from their social media exploration. To me this kind of study just screams outlier case.

(As a side note her abstract mentions that the literacy practices we explore include navigating user agreements, which means that she thinks that many young adults read them.)

 

Now this is not to discount that rhetorical  and genre learning is going on and we as teachers cannot take advantage of that, but social media and how people, especially youth, interact with that media evolves faster than we can build data and studies on how to incorporate it into pedagogy and the classroom. We have read many papers examining Myspace, but that website is now a wasteland with most people’s profiles sitting derelict, an interesting photograph of our past social media lives. It makes me wonder how much of that study is still relevant as things so rapidly change. I am extremely interested in what the next few years hold and how social media and literacies will continue to evolve.

Will we see another website emerge to replace Facebook? Or has the evolution of social media begun to settle and slow down? If students are as active as Ronnie and I am just ignorant of this, then how might we best bring this to the forefront in the classroom?

I think I have rambled like a terrible cynic for long enough today. So I shall do what I always will and leave you all with an OC remix of the day. This is a remix by FoxyPanda of the famous “Aquatic Ambiance” Theme from Donkey Kong Country. Cheers!

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We Keep Going Ong and Ong about This Technology Thing

 

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In Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought, Walter Ong reminds us that humans have, essentially, been making the same complaints against technology since the Middle Ages. It’s enlightening, yet depressing at the same time. We’re in 2016, and people are still making the same arguments that  “technology causes laziness”, “technology makes you stupid”, “technology isn’t natural or human”. I’m not saying that we should blindly allow technology and tools to be present in our lives without critical awareness and analysis; however, I’m largely unimpressed by many of the cases made against technology, from Plato’s Phaedrus to this article on technology and stupidity by the Huffington Post. Even Ong, who lectures us for thirty pages about the significance of writing on the the development of modern literate society and does a pretty decent job of poking at the holes in Plato’s techno-phobia, makes some questionable claims. Don’t get me wrong; I agree that writing has been an incredibly significant development in human history. However, I wonder if writing affects the human brain and neuro-cognitive functions the same way Ong insists, and I wonder if we can still apply Ong’s arguments to the reading/writing/speaking connection in 2016, thirty years after he wrote his article.

 

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Do we believe Ong? As a student who is interested in science research, scholarship, and data, I have to say that I don’t find Ong’s arguments very persuasive, and I don’t see him as a very credible authority figure. Where is the data? Where is the research? When it comes to making statements about the relationship between the reading/speaking/writing connection in the human brain, Ong seems like an armchair scholar, and I’m a bit skeptical of his arguments. Show me a PET, MRI, or CT brain scan, and you’ll get my attention.

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Are Ong’s ideas still relevant? Ong gives us some very neat little terms to digest: Primary Orality and Secondary orality – however, are these terms still relevant? Especially for so-called “digital natives”? Is it possible to have “primary and secondary orality” come together as one? Is it even appropriate to separate these two? Ong claims that writing is an unnatural act that is completely different from the natural act of speaking. However, I’m not sure that speaking a human language by itself is a natural act. We don’t emerge from our mothers’ uteri being able to speak fluently in any language. We are only able to speak after being constantly immersed in a language of our society or culture, and even then speech isn’t so “natural” and easy (see this website about the various types of speech disorders). Speaking for communication isn’t an inherent human quality. Look at the terrible, tragic story of Genie – a child who was tortured and kept in isolation for so much of her childhood that she never learned to completely speak. What would Ong say about this? “Speech is a Tool that Transforms Thought”?
Ong brings up many interesting ideas and questions for us to grapple with, and I hope we get the chance to discuss them in class! I definitely have more questions than answers at this point.

A Liberatory Literacy

While Ohman’s article Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital argues that technological literacy, or new media literacy, will simply promote the idea of “monopoly capitalism,” Yancey’s work Made Not Only in Words, Composition in a New Key, contends that this new literacy will help negotiate a more positive type of economy that is “driven by use value” (Yancey 301). Although Ohman and Yancey are writing in different eras which naturally is illustrated from rather disconnected economic contexts, they both categorize new media literacy in social terms from an economic perspective.

 

By utilizing Ohman’s article as a precedence that Yancey responds to through her discussion of literacy and the economy, we can see the development of new media literacy from a social and historical perspective. Because Ohman is writing near the advent of the personal computer, he is rather skeptical and believes that “the computer and its software are an intended and developing technology, carrying forward the deskilling and control of labor,” and draws parallels to F.W. Taylor’s work on assembly lines, which all contribute to Ohman’s idea of monopoly capitalism (Ohman 708).  Ohman extends this idea to the classroom, claiming that the attempt to utilize technology in school settings will not transform education, but will simply contribute to the increasing politicization of the educational system. New media and technology are a way for businesses to stimulate and direct educational processes, so do not have “liberatory potential” (710). Yancey is similarly concerned with the economy’s role in evolving literacies by claiming that the expanding writing public has contributed to globalization, which has led to a loss of jobs. This speaks to Ohman’s references to Taylor and the dehumanization of the creation process, but Yancey further explores this type of labor development in more positive terms of globalization leading to new forms of cooperation and communication among previously disparate social realms. While Ohman does not address these more positive societal developments, his definition of literacy is inseparable from social constructs so does support Yancey’s socially-charged claims.

 

Ohman argues that literacy is a social exchange that will always contain unresolvable political conflict. Although he claims that new media and technology cannot advance the educational system, he also demonstrates that this technology can’t be separated from his socially affected and continually developing definition of literacy. His resistance to new media’s place in the classroom is very clearly delineated, but he is unable to argue against its place in the evolution of literacy. He concludes with the statement, “It’s worth trying to reconstitute literacy as a process of liberation– but also to remember that work for literacy is not in itself intrinsically liberating” (Ohman 713). This remark illustrates that although Ohman claims to not believe that technology can radically change writing, he has incredible foresight which allows his argument to carry validity in the current debates about how to utilize technology in the classroom.

Yancey then expands on and complicates this idea of “literacy as a process of liberation” by demonstrating that screen literacy, or new media literacy, will not only aid students in their education but will also prepare them for our economy’s increasing globalization by providing them with competitive skills. Where Ohman believes that computer literacy is not applicable to or diminishes the skills necessary to succeed beyond education, Yancey argues that the educational system, particularly composition, can help students engage with new media and then act as a gateway to the real world where they will be able to effectively “become members of the writing public” (Yancey 306). Yancey also agrees with Ohman’s assessment that literacy is not inherently liberatory, but situates her view of this in terms of the student/professor relationship. She contends that if literacy is a social process, “Shouldn’t the system of circulation– the paths that the writing takes– extend beyond and around the single path from student to teacher?” (Yancey 311). This argument can stem from the ongoing debate of how to utilize technology in the classroom in a way that expands and, as Ohman would term it, liberates students from the traditional and more restrictive model of students writing only for their professor. So how can schools and universities utilize new media in a liberatory way that allows students to participate in the increasing globalization of society? Neither Yancey nor Ohman provide a concrete solution to the issue of new literacies that attempt to engage with more global views, but they both establish that these concerns are worth addressing and have no ready solutions.

Gaming into “New”Literacies

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While reading Lankshear and Knobel ( “”New” Literacies: Research and Social Practice” and A New Literacies Sampler) , I needed a way to keep track of all their definitions and subcategories of  “new” literacies, so I made the chart above. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to get it into the blog, so I took a screenshot and now its basically illegible, but the point is there was a lot going on. Especially, since they changed terms between the 2004 plenary talk and the 2007 book. Once I started making the chart, my mind drifted and I began thinking about how this chart, which I made in Google Draw-a program I’ve never used before, embodies “new” literacies. Even though I’ve used other “drawing” applications before, it still took a good amount of work to navigate the program and then to read and write in it. When you break it down, all of the literacies you need to function in this program and make this chart are complicated! Google Drive in general has a whole lot of “technical stuff” and I think “ethos stuff.”  However, at the same time, “drawing” charts aren’t anything new, so its also an example of new technologies capturing old technologies.

But back to the readings…for my choosen chapter in A New Literacies Sampler I read Chapter 5: “Pleasure, Learning, Video Games, and Life: The Projective Stance” by James Gee who makes interesting parallels between video games (such as Full Spectram Warrior, and Thief  )and real life. He asserts that like video games

When we humans act in the world (in word or deed) we are “virtual characters” (i,e. taking on specific identities such as “tough cop,” “sensitive man”…) acting in a “virtual world” (i.e., constructing the world in certain ways, and not others” (100).

In any situation, we take on certain identities, decipher how the world works and how it doesn’t, and then figure out how to respond to the situation. It’s complicated to think about how much “reading” of the world we do every minute of every day. Even further it complicates our identity. If we are constantly switching in and out of “virtual characters,” what is our true identity? How can we talk about it?

Gee goes on to explain that for each “virtual character,” for both video games and real life, we have to work with and take on the “authentic professional expertise” of those characters. According to Gee, “authentic professionals have special knowledge and distinctive values tied to specific skills gained through a good deal of effort and experience.”

I think what Gee is trying to say is that learning in real life is like video games because students need to immerse themselves in the “virtual world” of a “virtual character” who has “authentic professional experience.” Video games allow you to know what the character knows, but at the same time apply your own knowledge by making decisions that have low stake consequences because you always get a do-over. Students don’t need to be told and tested; they need to be put into the “virtual world,” so they can gain the experience and knowledge with help of a “authentic professional.”

What does this have to do with “new” literacies, you ask? I think Gee is taking video games, a form of “new” literacies (that in Lankshear and Knobel’s term contain both “ethos stuff” and “tech stuff”) that a good amount of students use, but that doesn’t get recognized in education, as a way to discuss learning and the affect “new” literacies can have in the classroom. Connecting video games, real life, and learning complicates our idea of reading and writing in the world.

How do we use this connection in the classroom? I’m not sure. I don’t know if Gee wants it to have actual pedagogical implications, at least things that are easy to do; it might just be a new way of looking at technology and as a way of talking about literacy. Or maybe also just a different way of letting students immerse themselves in the world and in learning.

Taking advantage of tools and bewaring of false promises

In “Blinded by the Letter Why Are We Using Literacy as a Metaphor for Everything Else!” Anne Frances Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola address two myths that are associated with discussions of “literacy,” one, that literacy is always a tool of liberation for oppressed peoples, and two, that literacy will improve an individual’s sense of self and moral character. I have often had a bad taste in my mouth when reading academic discussions of literacy in the sense that academic efforts to offer literacy to oppressed peoples are like wealthy philanthropy—rich people donate money because it makes them feel good, but more often than not, not because it will really create substantial change. I’m not saying that efforts to share literacies are not worthwhile and effective, but I don’t think teaching someone to read and write is the panacea that will dissolve class inequity. Literacy is just a piece of the puzzle. The Wysocki and Johnson-Eiolola article was refreshing to me. This quote from Ruth Finnegan words it well, “So, when people might want, for example, houses or jobs or economic reform, they arc instead given literacy programs. (41)” 

The second myth taken up by Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola is that the book, and the book alone, offers people the necessary self-reflection to become more self realized and moral individuals. A book or literacy for that matter does not by default make you a moral person. I hear this in the tone of people’s voices when they react to discovering that another individual has never read a book or only plays video games. Yes, reading does open you up to considering moral ideas, but it does not inherently make you moral. The cultural expectation to read can be oppressive. This Portlandia sketch sums up this myth pretty well to me.

Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola continue their argument by applying their discussion of literacy myths to computers, urging readers to consider the use of the term “literacy” when applying it to computers—for fear that we might apply the same assumptions and myths to computer literacy. Efforts by the Clinton administration to put a computer in every classroom seem to be tangential to this idea of applying the same myths of literacy to computers. Computers in every classroom did not save students, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt them either.  

The second assumed promise of literacy that the authors warn us to consider carefully is this idea of improving the self, the bildungsroman of literacy. A bildungsroman is a literary term for a coming of age story. Computers are very much tied to self-improvement and authoritative self-identity. We can see these myths embodied in rags to riches stories like that of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, all wunderkinds whose abilities and destinies were unleashed because of computers.

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We cannot assume that people are missing out on the good life if they don’t know how to work an iPod.

But to completely dismiss computers and computer literacy because it brings along some myths of overzealous promise is unwise.

Computers can be powerful tools for discovering identities and understanding how power is negotiated. InColin Lankshear and Michele Knobel’s article, “’New’ Literacies: Research and Social Practice,” the authors analyze “‘new’ literacies” (which at the time of the article’s publication are new but today are more broadly accepted as commonplace)

in the form of blogs, online fan fiction and “synchronous online communities (this appears to be a precursor to things like World of Warcraft).

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It took me awhile to wrap my head around the idea that each online community represents a separate discourse community, thereby offering an individual the ability to become literate within that discourse community.

Each community: fan fiction fans, synchronous online community members, and bloggers, all three of these discourses offered community members avenues for re-imagining their identities and expressing themselves in ways that conventional media and reading and writing outlets had not.

Lankshear and Knobel classify communication through fan fiction and online synchronous communities as “relationship technology” rather than “information technology” (while blogs seem to stand in both categories), and they argue that awareness of these literacies can be applied in the classroom. I would rephrase this suggestion as “know your population. ”

Framing curriculum in formats that are personally compelling for students is beneficial in terms of engagement for the students. Students can have “authority” over their school assignments in ways that traditional research papers may not allow, capitalizing on the “relationship technology” that youth are so adept at navigating.

An article in A New Literacies Sampler continues along similar lines as Lankshear and Knobel. In “Popular Websites in Adolescents’ Out-of-School Lives: Critical Lessons on Literacy” by Jennifer Stone, Stone explores how popular websites used by teenagers support literacy practices encouraged in schools (a la Robert Brooke’s “Underlife and Writing Instruction” wherein the transgressive activities of students in class actually reinforce classroom goals). In Stone’s research she observes youth using the rhetorical skills that complement classroom practices. Stone suggests that schools can help students to “begin addressing the convergence of genres, modalities, and inter-textuality to promote consumption” (61) that is inherent in many popular websites.

In conclusion, it may be beneficial to use technological literacy in the classroom as a tool for empowerment and self-realization, but it is necessary not to overstate what our claim of “literacy” offers students. We are offering them tools, but we are not necessarily offering liberation or morality. It is also important to note that the tools benefit not just the students, but also, us, as teachers in our ability to engage our students.

Henry Jenkins on “Reducing the World’s Suck”

Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture, has some relevant (for us) things to say in an interview posted on Boing Boing. His take on the connection between literacy and play seems especially connected to conversations we’ve been having about games:

Reading, writing, and understanding words on a page won’t cut it anymore. In a digitized world, Henry says young people need new skills that go way beyond basic composition and comprehension. Skills like play (“the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving”), collective intelligence (“the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal”), and transmedia navigation (“the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities”).

What’s the deal with “suck”? Would it surprise any of us that he’s talking about school? “[S]uck consists in imposing your tastes on someone else by cutting them off from participating in meaningful activities. Right now, our schools do that all the time,” according to Jenkins. This critique is, in some respects, very similar to the ones made about school in the chapters from Gee we read last week, in that school seems not to encourage “active and critical learning” in the context of some “semiotic domain.” Of course, school is itself a “semiotic domain,” so one could argue that what school is fairly good at is teaching kids how to be in school. The question, I think, is whether that alone is worth spending 12-16 years of one’s life on. The answer, I think, is no.

Finally, when asked about the issue of “videogame addiction,” Jenkins says “I would be asking as much about what [the kids were] escaping from as I was concerned about what [they were] escaping into.” That is, perhaps we could spend less energy worrying about questionable aspects of videogames themselves, and a bit more of it trying to figure out why youth might prefer to spend so much time in them. This seems to me a more ecological approach to the issue, since it asks us to situate gaming in the broader context of a player’s “lifeworld,” to use Gee’s phrase. We assume that videogames exert force on peoples’ lives — such as making them more violent or prone to other questionable behaviors — but it’s just as true that peoples’ lives exert force on their participation in videogames. In other words, we need to stop thinking of videogames as something foreign, as attacking us from the outside. They are, instead, embedded in our lives, for good or ill.

Twitter Literacy – Howard Rheingold

I found this article by Howard Rheingold very helpful for navigating the world of tweets… He argues for the importance of new kinds of media literacies and says that “the difference between seeing Twitter as a waste of time or as a powerful new community amplifier depends entirely on how you look at it – on knowing how to look at it.” Ultimately,

“Whatever you call this blend of craft and community, one of the most important challenges posed by the real-time, ubiquitous, wireless, always-on, often alienating interwebs are the skills required for the use of media to be productive and to foster authentic interpersonal connection, rather than waste of time and attention on phony, banal, alienated pseudo-communication. Know-how is where the difference lies.”

Read Rheingold’s article here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/rheingold/detail?entry_id=39948#ixzz0kx2bMXjy

Video Games as an Enabler of New Literacies?

I’ve been contemplating for a while about what to write in this blog post, because I’ve been faced with a bit of a problem: in the article that I read for this week, James Paul Gee’s “Pleasure, Learning, Video Games, and Life: The Projective Stance“, Gee doesn’t seem to be talking about literacy at all, and Certainly not literacy as defined by Lankshear and Knobel in their plenary address. Their revised definition in “Sampling ‘the New’ in New Literacies” fits a bit better, but literacies as “socially recognized ways of generating, communicating, and negotiating meaningful content through the medium of encoded texts within contexts of participation in Discourses (or, as members of Discourses)” seems so nebulous and hedged as to include almost anything within its purview (4). Even working from that definition (which uses Gee’s own research in discourse theory), I have trouble finding anything that remotely relates to what I would normally think of as literacy in Gee’s chapter. The closest he gets is discussing the sporadic text that happens in between all the action in video games. That isn’t literacy, that is just playing around, right? Continue reading

Confessions of a FanFic Writer, D&D Player

I am thinking of Andrea Lunsford’s guest lecture on performative text as I try to tie together some ideas that have come up after reading “New Literacies: Research and Social Practice,” (Lankshear & Knobel’s plenary address) and Jessica Hammer’s “Agency and Authority in Role Playing Texts” (New Literacies Sampler, Knobel & Lankshear, eds).

Like many children, when my friends and I were young, we entertained each other by writing stories set in the worlds of other texts, especially Star Wars, inserting each other as characters. I didn’t realize there was a term for these texts we created: fan fiction or fanfic. We spent recess at school acting out Star Wars-based stories we made up spontaneously, complete with sound effects. This too was fanfic—the multiplayer kind. As teenagers, we became serious D&D players, often playing all-night, sometimes making up our own rules, donning costumes, and running around in the woods while in character. Hammer would say we had the psychological agency (the sense that we were empowered) and cultural agency (the power recognized by others, namely our group) to exercise agency over the text (the D&D world) and the narrative (the scenario in which we played). Strangely, I was a reluctant writer of school papers, though out of school I wrote constantly in the service of my favorite texts (Star Wars and D&D).

In their plenary address, L&K discuss the growing recognition of preteen fanfic authors within the fanfic community and decry the lack of investigation of fanfic writing in the primary classroom because “it is rarely considered in terms of intertextuality, ‘media mixing’ and the like, notwithstanding the importance attached to such literary techniques within high school English classes in relation to ‘the canon.’” Consider this in light of Lunsford’s comments about the power that composition in any media can have when it is inspired. The subjects in the Stanford Literacy Study did not ask for permission to compose. They used composition outside of the class because they wished to. They exercised authority, borrowed images for flyers, integrated their words into the poem of another, and made professional-grade, multi-media learning tools.

If we accept as fact that the more literary events you engage in, the more literate you become, then isn’t it strange that we limit the variety of literary events valued in school? What if all acts of composition were at least encouraged and acknowledged? Think of the effect it might have on a student’s sense of agency and authority, as well as supporting the development of an understanding of one’s own idealogical situatedness as a writer and a reader, and general textual saavy.