Friday, April 16, 2010

Reflection on These Seven Weeks

Some of my core reflections:
  1. Sometimes I act like a teenager: I instant message my husband throughout the day to stay connected.
  2. Sometimes I act twice my age: I still like my phone to be a device for voice communication.
  3. I still have a greater affinity for the Cuban Perspective than the Pea perspective when it comes to technology.
  4. I am more open to the value of virtual worlds and the possibilities of collaborative technology than I was before this course.
  5. There are so many exciting possibilities for learning and creating available at hand.
  6. I probably will never be an early adopter, but I also won't often be the last to experiment either.
  7. The educational (not just digital) divides in the US and around the world require commitment, sensitivity, creativity, and tenacity to address; they also require practicality, time and properly allocated resources.


Cuban, L. (1998). The Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom, Pea and Cuban Debate Bay Area School Reform Collaborative Funders' Learning Community Meeting, Palo Alto, CA February 5, 1998; Retrieved May 13, 2009 from TappedIn
Web site: http://tappedin.org/archive/peacuban/cuban.html

Pea, R. (1998). The Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom, Pea and Cuban Debate
Bay Area School Reform Collaborative Funders' Learning Community Meeting, Palo Alto, CA February 5, 1998; Retrieved May 13, 2009 from TappedIn
Web site: http://tappedin.org/archive/peacuban/pea.html

BOSCO

Honoring the advice WD gave me, while looking at how projects to diminish the "digital divide" are being implemented throughout the world, I decided to follow a series of links on the World Bank site. This chase led me to the BOSCO project.

Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach (BOSCO) relief project is bringing solar battery powered wifi router systems into Northern Uganda to help those in the displacement camps connect and converse as a means of sharing their experience of the war and life in the camps in their own words and "allowing them to articulate their own needs and find solutions to local community development problems." (BOSCO Uganda Relief Project Home Page).

In referencing this project, Siena Anstis noted in her blog that there was a need to find a way to connect the people to the resource of the internet. She suggested showing the farmers how to access information about pests (2010), and called for other for suggestions on how to make the technology relevant to the lives of those living in Northern Uganda.

This reinforced for me the need to assess and understand the cultural component of technology integration, as we read about in prior weeks, when developing project plans. It also provided me another example to ease my concern that "gadgetry" may not be the answer for those who have so many issues of existence to contend with every day.

Anstis, S. (2010, March 23). Beyond Innovative Technology: Teaching Internet. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from You Think! But Did You Know?: http://youthinkblog.worldbank.org/beyond-innovative-technology-teaching-internet

BOSCO Uganda. (n.d.). BOSCO Uganda - Home. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from BOSCO Uganda Relief Project: http://www.bosco-uganda.org/

Digital Recess - It is time to Play

1. I recently read a news clip about how "free play" time for children is increasingly limited, and that new research suggests this may have a negative long-term impact. (I wasn't able to find that particular article again, but this article speaks to similar issues, and this one is interesting as a global look at play.)

2. This week, I was also exposed to this video: "Sugata Mitra: Can kids teach themselves?" , which I must say had an immediate impact on my view of educational technology.

Some time during the night, my brain added 1+2 and the result is ...
3. Recess

It isn't a novel idea, but it is one that has lost favor in recent times. Let's give children time to play throughout the day. Let's have regular breaks for physical free play outside in the sun, and lets add regular breaks in the computer lab or classroom (wherever the resources are housed) for technology free play.

If children can self-direct activities with computers (and other digital devices) and collaboratively figure out new learning, why not let them? Everyone (students and teachers) can take a deep breath and have time to play with the technology without the pressure of a grade. The children would learn social negotiation, 21st-century literacy skills, and even language skills at a minimum. They will also have fun and have a chance to laugh while doing it.

Boston College. (2009, April 15). 'Free play' for children, teens is vital to social development. Retrieved April 16, 2010, from Science Centric: http://www.sciencecentric.com/news/article.php?q=09041574-free-play-children-teens-is-vital-social-development

Strong National Museum of Play. (2009, February 02). News Release: Decline of Free Play in Childhood Noted in Sixteen Nations. Retrieved April 16, 2010, from Strong National Museum of Play: http://www.museumofplay.org/about_us/files/playstudy09.pdf

TEDTalks. (2008, August 27). Sugata Mitra: Can kids teach themselves? Retrieved April 16, 2010, from You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRb7_ffl2D0

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2010). Partnership for 21st Century Skills - Home. Retrieved April 16, 2010, from Partnership for 21st Century Skills: http://www.p21.org/

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tomorrow's Workforce

Politicians talk about "tomorrow's workforce" as if children were the same kind of raw natural resource as uncut timber forests or untapped oil reserves. It is discomforting to find human beings with hearts, minds, and souls reduced to an economic imperative. At a basic level, it is true, and I understand, sometimes even vocalize, the cliché that our children are our future. Nonetheless, I cringe when either side of the aisle uses the analogy at its base.

Yet how do “we the people” look beyond the economy of the future and look at our children as people and posterity? Sometimes it seems that without the foretold economic imperative there is no leverage for pulling our elected leadership into making ethical decisions about the education of our children.

It is ethical to make efforts to seek the best interest of our children since they can’t seek it for themselves. This includes providing our children with educational opportunities, and understanding that physical access to technology, cultural perceptions about use of technology, and historical patterns of both access and use will have a long-term impact on them far beyond the rhetoric.

Rhetoric about free educations and investment in teachers is almost like the promise of “forty acres and a mule” given to former slaves during the Reconstruction period. It sounds wonderful and humanitarian, but it ends up being a charlatan’s cruel game of power and politics.

What is really needed is not fine speeches from either side of the aisle on the national level, but instead more support for creative problem solving at the local level where the infrastructural needs can be assessed and correlated; the cultural context can be examined and integrated into the process; and the historical patterns (both national and local) can be taken into account.

Davis, T., Fuller, M., Jackson, S., Pittman, J., & Sweet, J. (2007). A National Consideration of Digital Equity. Washington, D.C.: International Society for Technology in Education. Available at: http://www.iste.org/digitalequity

Taborn, Tyrone D. “Separating Race from Technology: Finding Tomorrow’s IT Progress in the Past." Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. Edited by Anna Everett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 39–60. Available at: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/dmal.9780262550673.039

Nostalgia and Anticipation

I occasionally look back nostalgically on the days of my youth when I actually had to go to the library to seek information. I mourned the passing of the card catalogue for a little while. I freely admit to liking the smell and feel of old paper. I also enjoy the reverence of the library – a public place set aside to speak in hushed tones and decode number systems in search of information. That time has passed.

Many of us don’t have to go to the information anymore. We bring the information to ourselves and fine tune our needs even before we consider going to the library. My own trips to the library are now fewer and farther between.

For others the library still fills the gap between what one person can afford to “own” and what a community can afford to “own”. The valued and expensive commodity that public libraries provided was once print materials. Now the commodity is access to digital materials. Consequently, the library has shifted its role; libraries now serve as redefined centers for precious information. They serve as links to the resources of the internet, as much as they serve as repositories for print.

My friend who (until recently – three cheers for her new job as a library director) was a teen/youth librarian at a public library in Georgia spent vast amounts of time reaching out to her patrons by visiting schools, connecting to her patrons in the library, and launching intense summer reading programs. Unlike the old stereotype of the reserved, unsocial librarian behind a desk, my friend was and is an emissary to her community to ensure her patrons understanding of the continued relevance of public libraries and the value they provide for the general population.

That is a a shift that makes me smile with anticipation for the hope of better things in the future.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Peer-to-Peer

These last several months have shaken my already tenuous confidence in “technology” as an answer to human problems.

  • The earthquakes that have circled the globe leaving people without basic resources for days, weeks, months
  • The war, drought and succeeding famine that continue to leave people, especially children, at major risk of early mortality
  • The governmental practices that leave segments of populations outside of educational infrastructure based on gender, ethnicity, ect

I’m trying to grasp the rightful place of technology and its promise. As long as some basic “infrastructure” is in place, mobile devices give people in these situations contact and perhaps context, but do they really solve any problems? Can they augment education?

  • How is a cell phone of great help to a Sudanese child that can’t think clearly due to lack of food.
  • How is a mobile device an educational tool to a Haitian child that still has nightmares about the walls falling in around him?
  • How can M-learning reach a child from one of China’s many ethnic minorities, who is losing her native tongue because cultural practice limits her ability to express her ethnicity?

Ultimately, it will be other people who assist and educate these at-risk populations not technology. The vehicle of technology in the right hands may make a mobile device a huge blessing to struggling students in far corners of the globe. Nonetheless, it will be the “hands” that matter and not the technology.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mine is Just a Phone

Mobile computing is only on the periphery of my experience so far. I can either be described as hard-hearted or hard-headed about the “benefit” of mobile computing.

On the hard-hearted side:
  • An average of three times a day I am hissing through my teeth at some distracted driver with a phone in hand “texting”.
  • I find it appalling that people sit together at tables in restaurants and are consumed by spending that precious time communicating with someone else somewhere else.
  • I loathe the idea that my phone can be used to pinpoint my whereabouts on a map.
  • I dread the day that it is naturally expected that I answer an e-mail anytime, anywhere.
  • I hate tiny buttons that make me feel as if my fingers are even more fat and clumsy than they already really are.
  • I worry about the future where everyone is desensitized to the distraction of “multitasking” and the beauty of silent contemplation is lost.
  • I wonder if how whatever the realities of our power needs and diminishing natural resources will ultimately bring the house of cards down.

On the hard-headed side:
  • I am like a lady of another time stuck in my past. I refuse to see a phone as anything but a phone.
  • I am not convinced of the benefits of the little black box that can do "everything".
  • I don’t want to buy in to the hype, even when I see the “cool” things mobile computing can provide.
  • I don’t want to pay extra for the services and equipment.
  • I don’t like being manipulated by a marvelous marketing scheme.

The lists go on and intertwine back and forth. The end result is that I have the basic cell phone and use it to talk. I have managed to send a few pictures, but I don’t text message. I’ve never used a phone to access the internet or as a GPS. This isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Games of Today... For Me

Human beings enjoy games. From earliest times, games have served as means of transferring skills to youth. Even “playing pretend” seems like a fairly universal human trait. As long as one isn’t too stringent on the definition of “game”, there are games for every personality and temperament, and it is natural to find an affinity for some sort of game.

For whatever reason, I haven’t yet found a digital gaming environment that sparks my interest enough for long-term investment. My curiosity is piqued, and I like to observe, but I don’t want to spend hours developing a character in a digital game. I am sure I am not alone. Too many factors contribute to making a digital gaming experience enjoyable. Technical issues such as equipment, memory allocations, connection and band width play a part; environmental issues such as space, free time, and external distractions play a part; economic issues, such as subscription prices or even the price of electricity can play a part; physical ability such as vision and hand-eye coordination can play a part; and personality definitely plays a part.

Currently, I prefer games of peek-a-boo, hide-and-seek, and playing pretend with toy tools. My gaming interests are very “old school”, but I’d rather be helping my son figure out the physical world and building his problem solving skills here. Going off into an ether-world to solve artificial problems doesn’t make sense for me right now. There is more joy in giggles than thousands of points of experience (XP).

Friday, April 2, 2010

If I Was Queen of the World

After spending time in-world at Second Life, I am intrigued by the idea of making my own island. I could be queen of my own realm! I could be me, only a little taller, a little thinner and a little more exotic. (Wallace, 2010) Like Ussery’s (2010) students, I could build and sculpt my perfect place. I could develop a place for people to bring beauty and creativity. It could be a place of museums, salons, and gardens.

Ironically, as in the physical world, any “subjects” who happened into my happy little place would change it beyond my control. The minute someone besides myself joined the realm, operating on their own free will, they would bring with them their own positive qualities, beliefs, and prejudices (Wallace, 2010). My place of beauty and creativity would flex under the tension of not only my wants and needs, but those of anyone else participating. For my realm to be a community, I could no longer be queen. Whatever my design might have been would take on new, deeper meaning as my world populated, communities formed, and groups banded together to complete common goals. The realm I designed would ultimately have its own history and culture evolving over time as the participants imprinted their pattern on the fabric of the world.

The dynamics of the real versus the ideal and the actual versus the potential, as well as the juxtaposition of the individual versus the community are what pull people into virtual worlds and massively multi-player games. These spaces give us an opportunity to “play out” problems in an environment where failure (even unto death) is not final and experience adds up in a tangible (well, virtual) way. We can take the framework that the game creator designed and flex it into a culture and community. We can test our sense of ourselves, play on our strengths, and hopefully learn to mitigate our weaknesses in a “safe” environment. In a virtual world, we confront the good and bad in ourselves and others in a way that leaves us room to turn off and unplug when we’ve had enough.

In that sense, even in a virtual environment, no one is Queen of the World, but anyone can enjoy the game.

Expanding Educational Realities – Exploring Interactive and Immersive Learning Experiences. By Janyth Ussery. 2010.
http://www.educause.edu/blog/gbayne/ELISessionExpandingEducational/198691

Some of My Students Are Not Human! Avatar Interaction and Collaboration in Virtual Worlds. By Paul Wallace. 2010.
http://www.educause.edu/blog/gbayne/ELISessionSomeofMyStudentsAreN/198652

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reliability: You Report; We Decide

Amused is the wrong word to describe my feelings, but my interest is piqued by the debate on methodology for arriving at credibility. I can picture a room of academics wringing their hands with concern that the masses are able to access and assess information without a “proper” gatekeeper to steer them across the flood gates in the river of converging media. I understand the concern. I am quite territorial about certain responsibilities of my own, and having the ground shift under my otherwise orderly existence would cause me to wring my hands and choose between fight and flight.

On the other hand, what is really changing?

In spite of the shifting role of the gatekeepers, information providers (including traditional gatekeepers) who can prove their worth in the open community are still going to be afforded credibility. The change seems to be that others who may not have academic credentials but who have experience in other ways will also have a stronger voice in their own credibility. Since the practice and process of acquiring credibility is still based on accuracy and reliability over time, those who have been gatekeepers should not fear. On the other hand, the environmental developments that provide others, who train themselves and become “experts” in their niche, with an opportunity to be heard and rise to the top are beneficial to the ongoing conversation. New ideas will come forth. Old ideas will be reaffirmed in new ways. No one will be able to rest on his laurels, as the “community” will continue the assessment and reevaluate credibility in an ongoing fashion. This is exciting!

I come from self-taught stock. As far as I know, I was the first female on either side of my family to earn a BA (and I think I was the first to have any college coursework). I’ve watched my mother and father be active life-long learners, and have a very strong (almost rabid at times) belief that too much stock is placed in the supposed credentials conferred by formal education. I also have a strong instinct against gatekeepers protecting me from myself; I’ve always felt there was a little tinge of intellectual elitism under the surface of many of the well-meaning gate keeping processes. I am therefore cautiously optimistic about a sea-change that provides for subject matter experts to be heard regardless of whether they come from the established community or are building a knowledge base on their own.

I do not fear misinformation or poor-quality sources. Even in the case of the ugly and ill advised message, I’d rather protect free speech and allow the community to decide the value of the message. There is more danger in limiting information than in limiting expression. The community will manage itself, even through the ugly bumps in the road and twists in the river, and the open conversation will be healthier.

Thus I ask myself the question:

In an environment shifting toward a new way of synthesizing credibility through reliability, i.e. an environment where reputation is built, tested, and debated in the open, how do we prepare to undertake the development of our standing in the community, our practice, and our track record so that we can come to the conversation, re-experience the information, reflect, and share in the learning as "reliable" participants? (Lankes, 2008)

I believe the answer will take years to discover and perfect. I don’t have the answer right now, but I am very hopeful that I am taking the first steps to finding it.

Lankes, R. David. “Trusting the Internet: New Approaches to Credibility Tools." DigitalMedia, Youth, and Credibility. Edited by Miriam J. Metzger and Andrew J. Flanagin. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 101–122.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Persistence of Memory

“It has the potential to give them a solid grounding in their childhood throughout their adult lives, allowing them to relive memories and to keep loved ones close in memory after they are gone…” (Heverly, 2008, p. 216)

My digital life is still very surreal. It is not apart from my life; it is a part of my life. Yet it has a foreign quality; it is a place I visit, but it is not home. Sometimes, it is like fresh air and the wonder of gazing at the stars; and sometimes, it is like awaking disoriented in the middle of a dream.

I wonder how my son will describe his digital life. His digital birth occurred within minutes of his physical birth. There are photographs and a text message as testament to his entry to the world. There is already a website dedicated to his image; a place to share pictures with loved ones far away. It is a brag book that has world-wide publication. It isn’t updated nearly often enough to suite his small following, but it is there.

When he is no longer a fair-haired boy, how will he relate to the notion that he already has an online identity? Will it seem natural to have his mother give birth to his virtual identity (as she did his physical self), or will he feel a sense of regret that he was not given the option of how and when he became a subject of digital media?

I am hopeful that pictures of himself with loved ones and family will be a blessing to him, that this persistent memory book will have meaning to him as we grow older and some of us are "called home" one by one.

In tribute to the quandary that is life in a time of persistent digital media, I present:
The Persistence of Memory
Salvador DalĂ­ (Spanish, 1904-1989)
http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?object_id=79018


Heverly, Robert A. “Growing Up Digital: Control and the Pieces of a Digital Life." Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected. Edited by Tara McPherson. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 199–218.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Body by Truly et al

Body image issues are a constant struggle for me and my sister, but interestingly, when she recently purchased a gaming system, we both designed our avatars to be on the “Rubansesque” end of the scale and resemble our physical selves as much as a limited range of graphics on a funny cartoon “me” could resemble either of us. Writing my digital body into being (Boyd, 2007, p. 2, p. 9), I find myself reflecting on similar issues. Even with all of my angst over “body image” in a resilient, persistent digital environment, I want my digital body to reflect the physical (or more importantly, the intellectual and spiritual) me. In other words, I am creating a body both in the sense of a digital manifestation of myself and in the sense of a portfolio of work exemplary of who I am.

In many ways this will occur naturally. My voice and aesthetic will come through in my writing and choice of digital imagery. Tiny clues of me will seep in from the edges of my personality and pervade my presence. My choices of network neighborhoods and social networks will ultimately say something as well. I’m not inclined to create an alternate personality, nor am I adept at hiding who I am, so many facets of shaping my digital body become mute points. In that respect, much the same as in the physical realm, my body will be created naturally by my “lifestyle choices”.

However, in the other sense, I would like to direct the creation and molding of my digital body. To that end, determining my essence and what content will most effectively symbolize and affirm who I am is still something of a mystery. Consequently, even as I tremble at the thought, I take the words of Traviesa to heart, stating in Boyd’s work: “You need mistakes to know where you are going.” (2007, p. 19)

Reflecting on what hinders the development of this body:
• I realize I have not properly considered my “imagined audience” (Boyd, 2007, p. 14). I have not actively defined my public (real or imagined) or my role in the drama of social networking. I had not even defined the context as a drama to be written, or more to my taste, a canvas to be covered. Like some of the teens torn between the expectation placed by peers and parents, I find myself distracted by the implications of developing appropriate content among various potential audiences.
• This in turn makes me realize that my frame of reference hasn’t fully caught up with the new technology. I have difficulty grappling with participatory culture and its implications. For instance, the creative process is for me very private and fraught with dichotomy. My best paintings are full extensions of my emotion and my personal symbol systems. I don’t like to have people watch my creative process, and I am often embarrassed about having the end results viewed publically. I create the message; it is a vital communication; but, in disparity, I don’t necessarily want to broadcast it for others to hear. By contrast participatory culture is a world of creating, broadcasting, and hearing almost simultaneously. I am ultimately paralyzed by my proximity to the audience.
• In the final analysis I realize that I have never had the abandon to just go out and make mistakes for the sake of learning. Risk taking is not me, so I need a more defined plan than some who have the drive to just go out and participate.

I also affirm the accuracy of Byrne’s conclusion that the community will assist in shaping my body through feedback, critique, and even silence (2008).

Reflecting on what aids in the development of this body:
• Even as an introvert and a risk avert, I realize the potential of social networking to enrich certain relationships. I realize the power of affinity spaces and sharing, analyzing, and making sense of the details of life. The more I read about and interact with social network environments the more interesting and alive they become.
• I like to write and believe it is one of my strengths, so the concept of writing myself into being (Boyd, 2007) is uplifting. For instance, I posted an original poem on my Facebook page once, and enjoyed the feedback I received for those few simple, sentimental lines. Feedback from the community is a benefit of being social.
• I can continue to hone and redefine who I am and where I want to go over time. Even if I err, there is room for growth and adjustment. There will be mentors along the way and I will be able to model the behaviors I find most appealing as I develop.

My mother is currently more active on face book than I am. My father is very active in a CGI network, posting images and enjoying the feedback of “fans” from all over the world – literally. I think about the two of them - who are not “the norm” in participatory culture, being in their 50’s and 60’s and not their 10’s and 20’s, and I realize that as long as I am willing to learn new things along the way at any age, then there will have a body and soul worth knowing in the physical world and the digital world. Coming of age and working on identity doesn’t end. We can go on asking “what are you” (Byrne, 2008, p. 18) for a lifetime and never run out of possible answers or possible ways to express the responses.

Boyd, Dana, (2007) “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life." The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning -Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. (ed. David Buckingham). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press

Byrne, Dara N. (2008) “The Future of (the) ’Race’: Identity, Discourse, and the Rise of Computer-mediated Public Spheres." Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. (ed. Anna Everett). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Pages 15–38.

Friday, March 12, 2010

MEdia Zooscape Part II

In part one, I wrote from the perspective of the animal on display in media “ecologies” (Ito et al., 2009, p. 31) I am calling the zooscape. This time, I will focus on my journey as a visitor to the park.

A visit to the zoo is always an odd experience. I readily enjoy the opportunity to see animals I might otherwise never see. On the other hand, I am always left with a sense that, no matter how wonderfully built and maintained the zoo might be, there is something lonely about animals in cages. This effect is multiplied in the socially networked media zooscape.

I wonder through various social settings and capture glimpses of people. It is grand to reconnect with people or “stay in touch” with extended family. Yet, in these spaces, we are so abstracted from our full selves that I still feel lonely, and sometimes inadequate.

I am an introverted personality. My pattern in life has been to have just a few (count them on one hand) friends and my immediate family. Social interaction takes energy and has a marked toll on my overall state of being unless it is with my immediate circle. As a consequence, these forays into social networks and new media leave me as tired as a five-mile walk around a good zoo.

I can walk through the profiles with a few clicks and follow the links to gaze in on windows of someone else’s life. Everyone is oddly static in one sense. The sense of place and time is lost, even with the date and time stamps and streaming information. In another sense everyone is hyper-animated. Every move is marked while they are on the stage. Small details are enlarged. The whole time, at the back of my mind there is a sense that it isn’t real. I can’t maintain the suspension of disbelief and embrace the virtual life. It isn’t life. It is an angle of life, but it isn’t the whole. I begin to overanalyze. I wonder if I am meeting the needs of my “friends” and wonder what my real responsibilities are in the network. Is it enough to be an icon on a list? It becomes too abstracted for me.

In the end, abstracted humanity makes me feel a lack, as if I am missing something important. I end up turning away from the “promise” of the new medium. I end up yearning for the warmth of face-to-face conversation.

Ito, M., Sonja B., Matteo B., Boyd, D. Cody, R., Herr, B., Horst, H.A., Lange, P.G., Mahendran, D., Martinez, K., Pascoe, C.J., Perkel, D., Robinson, L., Sims, C., & Tripp, L.(2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press

MEdia Zooscape Part I

Some have described media environments in terms of “ecologies” (Ito et al., 2009, p. 31). To take the metaphor a step further, for me the media environment is closer to that of a zoo enclosure than a natural landscape. It is an engineered environment designed for the special wants and needs of the semi-domesticated, semi-wild Me. Like the lion enclosure at the zoo, there are open areas designed for viewing by the public, areas specific to the needs of the captive semi-domesticated Me, and areas specific to the needs of a wild Me. This media zooscape is centered on me, even as it exists in a wider community setting.

The public cat is still shy and difficult to spot. That Me is in a life-transition. I have an under-developed public face in several venues, where I am trying to decide what that public face should be. Which Me is most relevant to Facebook: daughter, friend, mother? What does friend mean in a social network? How and where do I make room for the other important Me personas: Christian, artist, leader? What kind of commitment is a blog? Will one of these public Me identities later affect another Me: professional, student, volunteer? The public lioness feels fragmented and wary as she tries out various Me identities like a youth searching for herself. Vulnerable to the knowledge that others are peering in at me from the sidewalk, I pace about seeking a comfortable place to just be Me.

However, since I am 36 and not 16, my search for identity is less about independence as autonomy and more about independence as distinctiveness. I yearn to distill the lessons life has brought and invest in the Me that is most uniquely the result of those experiences. I yearn for quality over quantity in my interactions, including those with media. This makes the public forays that much more stressful, that much more poignant. Even though I feel the need to be an authentic Me, there is still a teenage heart that worries whether her eccentricities are too unique for the average visitor to the zoo.

Facing these nuances of the public stage, I retreat to the private spaces of the media zooscape, where TV, movies, music, games, and books – the media of consumption – are taken in as events, not as background noise to other media. I find quiet corners behind the scenes where I can lurk among the grasses and watch the outside world without being seen. I become the audience. I am content to laze with my pride, settled at a shady side of the enclosure with family and friends comingled around some device or other. In this zone, media are tools to sculpt home in the private spaces of the sanctuary.

Then, in the truly secret places out of sight, I unplug myself. Old media have greater sway in the most private dens. The private Me is domestic and old-fashioned. Maternal instincts and commitments to sisterhood are the most powerful aspects of this Me. Bliss is reading a story or playing in the sand. Being a wife/mother and sharing a life are the highest expressions of Me in that precious sanctuary. Media is just a blur against the background.

Then again, like a big cat, my nature is too substantial and intricate to have all my needs met within the enclosure. At those times, I yearn for vast miles of Savannah to explore or perhaps just free air. At those times, I go roving on the internet; pacing through vast stores of information; taking courses; searching museums, libraries, or the open web for beauty and life. I chase wild ideas from link to link hoping to bring down a stray gazelle of thought to digest and feel sated. I dream dreams, wild and free, and ponder a less tame Me.

It is there in a kaleidoscope that the creative Me reclaims herself and recreates through creativity. Whether the tools are pixels coded in RGB or pure pigment suspended in oil, the raw experience is me. I play, experiment, take the path toward mastery.

No matter which venue of the enclosure I roam, time is the only predator I can find. I am at a place in life where most resources and spaces to explore and create are available, but time is more fleeting than the gazelle of my daydreams. I am at a place in my life where I am often as much the zookeeper as I am the kept, since I have the funds and prerogative to choose my own media landscape. Time is the only resource of scarcity, and it overshadows every Me, sometimes even distracting me from finding the Me in the Media.

Ito, M., Sonja B., Matteo B., Boyd, D. Cody, R., Herr, B., Horst, H.A., Lange, P.G., Mahendran, D., Martinez, K., Pascoe, C.J., Perkel, D., Robinson, L., Sims, C., & Tripp, L.(2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press