Surviving Participatory Culture Shock

“By the time that Brittany arrived at high school in 2001, she was thoroughly aware that she was a citizen of a nation dependent on computers and a world moving rapidly, if unevenly, toward technological connection”(658).

This quote from “Becoming Literate in the Information Age: Cultural Ecologies and the Literacies of Technology,” by Gail Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe seemed to sort of crash down on my head as I was reading it.  Nothing, not even my own technology literacy narrative that I wrote earlier in the week, has ever afforded Brittany’s kind of clarity for me.  At 16, she seems so much more literate than me in any number of ways: in her awareness of her own learning preferences, her engagement with technology for self-directed learning, and her ability to see how future learning will occur for her and others.

Of course, it’s not that I haven’t been aware of the fact that the world has been moving towards “technological connection,” but up until just recently, I’ve only experienced it incrementally.  You go from typewriters to DOS systems to Internet and Windows, and then email comes along and insinuates itself indelibly into your life, and before you know it, you find yourself the mother of three children who wear telephones and earplugs as fashion appendages.  But this creeping, how-did-I-lose-10-years? (20 years?) sensation keeps winding up back on my psychological doorstep a lot lately.

Reading some other technological narratives has helped a bit.  For instance, reading in Hawisher and Selfe about Dean Woodbeck’s story regarding Fortran and the 80 stack cards (p.648) helps me realize that everyone in my cohort sort of has had to cope with the same revolution.  In fact, I read Woodbeck’s story to my husband who was a supply officer in the Navy for 20 years and he began to tell me more such stories like having to have those cards retyped over and over.  He claims that his current cell phone has more brainpower than the large mainframe computers which he worked with daily and loved so much, once upon a time.


Old Punch Computer Card,

But, I’ve decided not to bemoan with a backwards glance but rather look forward towards “affinity spaces,” such as described by Jenkins in “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education in the 21st Century.”  This was very enlightening to me because I had, in fact, read material in the past about the digital divide, which mostly cast the question of access in terms of access to computers.

In many ways, the gap in access to the participatory culture is more concerning than the matter of computers themselves, and the rather static response of schools is worrisome as well, though I don’t think I had ever thought of it as the crisis it will soon be, according to this report. Teachers, probably many just like me, “Raised and educated in a culture that valued, and continues to value, alphabetic and print literacies, many of these teachers remain unsure of how to value new media literacies, unsure how to practice these new literacies themselves, and unprepared to integrate them at the curricular and intellectual levels appropriate for these particular young people” (p.671).  I wonder how much formal re-training would be necessary to help teachers prepare curricula in line with the tenets of participatory culture or how much of this training will just occur informally for those “alphabetic and print” teachers who may want to evolve?

I could see myself, for example, learning how to engage students through some of the games and strategies suggested under the “What Might Be Done” headings, but I feel like most of the students I would work with would feel towards me the way Brittany feels towards her teachers, that she has mostly outpaced them.  Take just one concept – transmedia navigation –who would be teaching whom?  I am certainly capable of following “the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities,” but I don’t think I could learn to do so nearly as quickly as a seventh grader sitting next to me, so what would my role be?  I guess I will just mull that over for a while before I talk myself into complete obsolescence.

On the other hand, on a more optimistic note, I saw myself in “Four Generations of Editors,” by Heidi Glick and strangely, I was one of those people who have adapted pretty readily to changing expectations about shorter deadlines, electronic formats, and updated methods of proofreading and revising.  So, there may be hope for me yet.

Posted on September 21, 2013, in Literacy, Social Media, Society and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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