Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility

The final book in the MIT Press/MacArthur series on Digital Media and Learning (well, final only in terms of my getting around to writing up a review of it on this blog!) is “Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility,” edited by Miriam J. Metzger and Andrew J. Flanagin. It’s not last because it is the least important or least good, but rather it’s the taken the longest time to think about it and its message.

The topic of credibility (and the related themes of information quality and access) is incredibly important — and also very, very hard to get a grip on. It turns out that my co-author on Born Digital, Urs Gasser, is among the world’s experts on this topic in law, so I was in luck. He did most of the research and drafting on our chapters on Quality and Overload. This work also bumps up against what we at the Berkman Center have been struggling with for some time in the context of old and new media and credibility, with our conference on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility and, more recently, the Media Re:Public project.

In their introduction, the editors start out with a summary of each chapter — abstracts, almost — which together serve as a helpful device for those readers who don’t hav the time or inclination to make it through the entire volume. Not suprisingly, the summaries are worthy and faithful to the articles themselves.

Together, the editors have also written a first chapter on opportunities and challenges in the context of online credibility. Their section on “Defining Credibility” and related context (pp. 7 – 9) is useful and could serve as a reference point for other articles on the topic. Their grounding, more generally, of credibility in the youth digital learning environment got me thinking hard about the power of the search algorithms (Google’s PageRank, of course, chief among them) and the impact that these engineering decisions have on what young people are learning and will be learning. A few people in the private sector may never have had such power over a key aspect of learning in history.

The second essay by Metzger and Flanagin also includes “a call to arms to researchers, educators, policy makers, and others concerned with these issues to understand how youth think about credibility in the digital media environment and to devise a plan to assist youth in finding and evaluating the information they need.” (p. 17) Sounds right, but also sounds like a huge challenge.

The summary finding from the editors that grabbed me the most: “Perhaps the most consistent theme across all these stakeholders is that digital technologies complicate traditional notions of hierarchies and authority structures.” (p. 18) Quite right: hierarchies and authority structures don’t go away, they are just shifted around, with new players in the mix. Hierarchy and authority aren’t gone, and won’t go, they’re just different, in ways we are only beginning to understand. (Hence, in my view, the growing importance of librarians and many forms of teachers.)

The book also includes a second “call to arms,” this time in favor of “teaching credibility assessment.” (p. 155) Frances Jacobson Harris notes, quite rightly, that “meaningful access to digital information resources and systems in schools is about much more than a physical connection to the Internet. Digital natives are not necessarily skilled or critical consumers of digital information. Many are still novices when it comes to searching, selecting, and assessing the meaning and value of the information they find.” (p. 155) This is one of the key themes that we explore in Born Digital, and which has previously been built out effectively by Henry Jenkins, Eszter Hargittai, and others. Overall, this essay is totally wonderful: clear, compelling, and with a great conclusion. (pp. 172-3)

David Lankes, in “Trusting the Internet,” offers a nice piece on what he calls “information self-sufficiency” and its implications. It’s well-grounded in the technology and the tools under development on the net. (See especially pp. 115 – 7) I liked this line: “Just like libraries used to produce pathfinders and annotated bibliographies, users will soon be able to find a piece of information, such as a Web site, and follow that information to all of the other public information used in a given conversation.” (p. 114)

One of the sub-themes in the DML series has been the overlay of health and information in the lives of young people. That theme is picked up here in Gunther Eysenbach’s piece on credibility and information related to health online. He introduces and evaluates an interesting model, called DIDA, on the flow of information online. (pp. 132 – 3) The punchline, as one might imagine, is that many people go first to the Internet and second to their doctor for health information today; and there’s still a rich mix of people who consider online information credible and those who are more likely to be skeptical of it (certainly squaring with our own research on young people and digital media, to be sure). (pp. 125 – 6)

Fred Weingarten of the ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy concludes the volume with a constructive essay on the (limited) role of government in respect to the credibility of information online, which he summarizes into three easy-to-understand categories. (pp. 181 – 2)

So, we are left with two clear calls to arms, some helpful frameworks, and a huge challenge ahead of us. The answer, as unfulfilling as it sounds, has to be to work on critical thinking skills through the schools, libraries, and traditional modes of parenting and peer-learning. Though technology can help, it won’t solve the problems and it may bring about some new problems of its own; I don’t think there will be any short-cuts. But the pay-off of serious engagement on this topic could be enormous in terms of acess to information and new ways of teaching, learning, and engaging in civic life.

Thanks, so much, to the team that Connie Yowell and the MacArthur Foundation and MIT Press put together to develop this series of six books. What a rich resource the collection is, as bound volumes; free downloads; and directions for future research and leadership.

First Few Reactions to Born Digital

After about four years of planning, research, and writing, Born Digital officially came out this week. Urs Gasser and I have so many people to thank; we have been blessed with such great teammates and friends and helpful critics along the way. (Much of the work that the team has done is recorded, and will be updated, on the project’s web site, wiki, and so forth.)

I admit to being very sheepish about what comes next. Several people have sent kind emails that say, basically, “congrats on the book coming out and good luck with the promotion.” Thinking about “promoting” ourselves and our book (wrapped up, now, in our identity, as “authors”) makes me very queasy. I much prefer the idea of our participating in an ongoing public conversation about youth and media, a conversation that is well underway with lots of brilliant people involved. To that end, I’ve been thrilled to see the first three web 2.0-type reactions to the book.

– The Shifted Librarian comments — by photo! — on buying Born Digital for her Kindle. This is so fitting, and cool. (As I commented on her post, I got teased at a book talk at Google the other day that the Kindle edition was initially priced at over $20.00, which was more than the hard-cover cost of $17.00 and change; it’s since come down some.)

– I am grateful to the Librarians! Law Librarian blog has a post, which (justifiably enough, and in a mere few words; very economical) juxtaposes the marketing description of the book against what we actually say inside its covers; and,

– A brand-new friend — who contacted my via Facebook about his blogpost — JohnMac is wondering about where he fits into the scheme. I suggested that he is probably a Digital Settler, which is a fine thing to be, (and thought I’d point out this post, in which I responded to critiques from Henry Jenkins and danah boyd and others about the terminology we work with in the book). I have a feeling we’ll be doing a lot of explaining, and perhaps defending, these choices of terms — but that, it seems, is in fact part of the point!

Thanks to all who have contributed to this discussion already, and looking forward to much more — some of it playing out in the public parts of cyberspace.

Digital Dossiers

Kanu Tewari, a Berkman Center intern with us from Egypt for the summer, has produced a fabulous video on the topic of one the chapters — Dossiers — in our forthcoming book, Born DigitalKanu’s blog post accompanying the video is here. (We build on the term “digital dossiers” popularized by Prof. Solove.)  I couldn’t have imagined that our young interns like Kanu would prove to be quite as creative and thoughtful as they’ve proven to be.  But so they have.  Bravo, Kanu and team!

Two Videos: The Ballad of Zack McCune and Learning to Type with Diana Kimball

The Digital Natives project intern crew is astonishingly good this summer. They’re showing off their creative skills by making videos about issues related to young people living with technology in wired societies. The first is by Diana Kimball, about how she learned to type. The second is a multi-part series about Zack McCune’s experiences with file-sharing, the RIAA, and life in college today.

This video series is part of our public, multi-media exploration of the issues set forth in our forthcoming book, Born Digital — which comes out in a few weeks.  Check out the DNs project blog for much more, as well as the project website.

Digital Natives Myth-Busting Session at Berkman@10

Our session on Digital Natives as part of the unconference day 2 is focused on Myth-Busting. We put up on the conference wiki a bunch of myths online that we’ve been working to bust (or to affirm). Our mode is to put these myths to the attendees, see which ones they would like to discuss, and dig in where the group is most interested.

My co-author (of a forthcoming book, Born Digital) and friend Urs Gasser is opening up with a framework for study of the Digital Natives issues we’re focused on. His steps include a descriptive, analytical, evaluative, and prescriptive.

Of the eight myths we posted, the one that got the most votes and comments from the group was about wasting time online. Precisely, it was this one that got people going: “Digital Natives are wasting time online. –> Young people are learning, gaining skills, and becoming collaborative, critical and informed members of society through their online and digital engagements.”

It was fortuitous to be in Langdell North classroom at HLS for this discussion. It was one of the rooms renovated in the late 1990s by the HLS administration with Ethernet jacks, only for the faculty to decide promptly to turn off those Ethernet jacks. It is one of the great puzzles of the Digital Natives topic: once we get access to the Internet and related technologies into the room, what then should we have students do with those technologies?

In my own teaching, I think I under-leverage the technologies in the room. Students are, almost 100%, online on a laptop in the classes that I’m teaching here.  I certainly haven’t figured it out. I’m not sure if anyone I know, with the exception of Jonathan Zittrain, has figured that out yet.  I don’t accept that young people are just wasting time online, but I also don’t think that teachers are doing anywhere near enough to help them to use that online time wisely, during class time or otherwise.

Myth-Busting: Kids and Information Technology

We’re planning our session on Digital Natives for the Berkman@10 conference later this week.  The idea is to hold a “myth-busting” session.  A first pass of myths are up on the conference wiki.  The idea is to discuss some of the common misconceptions about kids and technology that we explore in our forthcoming book, Born Digital.  Please suggest others, and looking forward to seeing many great friends later this week.  (Many thanks to Miriam Simun for her leadership on this and other matters.)

Learning Race and Ethnicity, in the MacArthur Foundation/MIT Press Series

Learning, Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media is the fourth book I’ve read in the MacArthur/MIT Press Series on Digital Media and Learning. This volume, edited by Anna Everett, is the furthest from my own field — law — and, for me, the most challenging.

Prof. Everett’s opening essay, (which follows the excellent foreword by the series authors, as with each volume in the series), is an effective overview of what follows in the volume. She takes up the familiar debate about the term “digital divide” and why it now rankles more than it helps. She also reminds us that the old joke about how online nobody knows you’re a dog is no longer true, with the advent of rich media and other “advances” in digital technology and how it’s used. I was left, from her chapter, with one line resonating in particular: “the color of the dog counts.” (p. 5)

The rest of the volume consists of three clusters. Future Visions and Excavated Pasts is the first. Dara Byrne leads off with a piece on the future of race. She pulls in and incorporates a series of great quotes from message boards and other online public spaces; takes up (and takes on) John Rawls on the public/private question that runs through so many of our discussions of online life, (p. 22); and digs deep on the future of whether there will be dedicated sites for different races as we look ahead. The punchline is that yes, “minority youth must have access to dedicated online spaces, not just mainstream or ‘race neutral’ ones.” (p. 33)

Tyrone Taborn’s “Separating Race from Technology” is the other essay in this first cluster. Tayborn compares the likelihood of any group of students (“majority white or minority, rich or poor”) knowing Kobe Bryant and Dr. Mark Dean, the African-American engineer involved in IBM’s development of the first PC. His point is clear. As one of a series of possible solutions to the problem of too few minority youth having mentors and heroes in the technology world, Tayborn calls for Digital Media Cultural Mentoring (p. 56).

The second cluster of essays take up art and culture in the digital domain. Raiford Guins guides the reader through a tour of the ways that hip-hop culture, art, and use of technology come together online in the form of “black cultural production in the form of hip-hop 2.0.” (p. 78) It’s a must-read essay; heplful to read with a browser open and a fast broadband connection on tap. Guins has an intriguing segment on the future of the music label, among other take-aways (p. 69 – 70).

Guins’ essay is well-paired with Chela Sandoval and Guisela Latorre’s celebration and contextualization of Judy Baca’s work at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in LA. (One wonders why LA gets more than its fair share of intriguing digital media production experiments and narratives?) Among other things, Sandoval and Latorre challenge the notion of “digital youth” and the challenges of overly delimiting based just on age — a helpful reminder of a point too easily forgotten. (p. 85) In the final essay of the cluster, Antonio Lopez offers insights into (and concerns about) digital media literacy with respect to Native American populations, told largely in the first person.

Jessie Daniels opens the third cluster with a jarring piece on hate, racism, and white supremacy online. Daniels picks up on themes about the fallacy of colorblindness established in Anna Everett’s introduction. With a link to Henry Jenkins‘ work, Daniels argues for a “multiple literacies” approach to shaping our shared cultural future online and offline. (p. 148 – 50)

Yet more jarring, to me anyway, is Douglas Thomas’s piece on online gaming cultures, called “KPK, Inc.: Race, Nation, and Emergent Culture in Onling Games.” Thomas draws us into gaming environments only to reveal a culture of wild adventure, first-person shooter games, acquisition, treasure, money, and hate all rolled together. The crux of his argument centers on the “Korean problem,” (p. 163-4), a blend of bigotry, nationalism, and competitiveness. The racists that Thomas exposes “are usually Americans / Canadians and white” — and gamers. (p. 164) Along the way, Thomas distinguishes his approach from that of our Berkman colleague Beth Kolko. (p. 155-6)

The final essay, by Mohan Dutta, Graham Bodie, and Ambar Basus takes us in a new direction, further afield, toward the intersection of race, youth, Internet, health, and information. The authors synthesize a great deal of disparate information in unexpected ways. The essay left with an expanded frame of vision, and a frame that I never would have come up with on my own. Their punchline: “disparities in technology uses and health information seeking reflect broader structural disparaties in society that adversely affect communities of color.” (p. 192)

On balance, this collection of essays hangs together very well. Each essay takes a on strong point of view. Overall, the collection both informed my thinking and provoked more by raising hard issues about the impact of growing up online for race, ethnicity, identity, and health.