Howard Rheingold in Second Life on Coevolution of Media and Collective Action
January 17th, 2008

At the 2007 New Media Symposium on the Evolution of Communication, I delivered an address on the coevolution of communication media and collective action. NMC has made my presentation available in a spiffy form that includes machinima of my avatar presenting, audio of my presentation, a transcript, and chat transcript. Thanks, NMC!

This presentation spanned the time of speech and collective defense and collective food-gathering among primate ancestors on the African savannah; to the emergence of writing on clay tablets as empire-cities began to grow out of agricultural settlements; to the invention of the alphabet and the restriction of alphabetic knowledge to elites chosen by the emperors and popes; until the printing press enabled a rapid and broad expansion of literacy. At each of these stages, people began to do things together in the social, economic, cultural, and political realms that they were not able to do before a significant population of literates existed — empire, science, democracy.

And now, we have questions about the role of literacies and education in the era of participatory media, from Second Life to the blogosphere to YouTube — and the kinds of collective action we see emerging today, from Wikipedia to smart mobs to open source production. What is the connection between participatory media literacy and the public sphere that is supposed to be fundamental to democracy?

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