DIY Media: Howard Rheingold on youth, DIY media, public voice
September 28th, 2006

I’ve posted the summary of my September 14 presentation at the Annenberg Center seminars on DIY Media. It’s about why I’ve become involved in teaching young people the use of participative media like blogs, wikis, and podcasts to develop a “public voice” about issues that concern them. Comments welcome!

We teach our kids how to cross the street and what to be careful about in the physical world. And now parents need to teach their kids how to exercise good sense online. It’s really no more technical than reminding your children not to give out their personal information to strangers on the telephone or the street. When it comes to helping them learn how to be citizens in a democracy, a less simple task, I believe effective media literacy education is crucial.

At the same time that emerging media challenge the ability of old institutions to change, I think we have an opportunity today to make use of the natural enthusiasm of today’s young digital natives for cultural production as well as consumption, to help them learn to use the media production and distribution technologies now available to them to develop a public voice about issues they care about. Learning to use participatory media to speak and organize about issues might well be the most important citizenship skill that digital natives need to learn if they are going to maintain or revive democratic governance.

I started thinking about “public voice” as an educational vehicle when teaching journalism majors about the ways digital media was changing the practices and institutions of journalism. One of the texts I assigned them was Phil Agre’s ten year old advice, now slightly dated in its terminology, about developing a public voice by writing for webzines. At about the same time we were discussing Agre, I read danah boyd’s speech to the AAAS that referred to this decade’s moral panic about MySpace. boyd wrote about the way kids in these online social network environments were creating publics – similar to what I was thinking when I talked to the judges in Philadelphia about ACLU v Reno. And then the news intervened with the story of high school students in Los Angeles organizing walkouts and demonstrations around proposed national immigration legislation. Putting Agre, boyd, and the headlines together, I started thinking that if – a big if – it is possible to find out what young people really care about, then they could directly learn a civic skill by deploying participatory media in service of their issue.

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