Social media have profoundly changed how we experience our connections with each other. But the connections are more than just social -- they help us to create and contribute to our world. They enable us to participate as citizens in today's participatory culture.
In a webinar this week put on by our center and PEAR , Karen Brennan drew on her research with Scratch, a computer programming language developed at MIT for use in education, to talk about the socialization-creation continuum. At the midpoint of this continuum is that space where we are most engaged and productive, doing more together than we could have achieved alone.
Several years ago Henry Jenkins and his team at the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT described that midpoint as a participatory culture, as one with "relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one's creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to the novices. ... one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another."
Social media contribute to the vibrancy of such a culture today. They have become an essential tool: increasingly how we participate as citizens, how we interact with each other, and how we experience our world. As programs and professionals dedicated to positive youth development, we must ensure that youth are skilled in their effective use.
Jenkins listed 11 skills that youth need to flourish in this world, including among them environmental scanning, collective intelligence and playing (experimenting with one's surroundings as a problem-solving strategy). Jenkins' skill set draws us further into the application and integration of social media, providing a deeper understanding of how our ability to work with social media, technology and information can impact our shared social experience of living in today's world. Are we building these skills into our youth development programs?
An area I've been thinking about is the need for a new paradigm to present information and discuss issues leading to new answers. The interactions of our leaders, from neighborhoods to multinational organizations, showcase the difficulty of agreeing on facts and solutions. Our classical debate format and scientific argumentation methods are not particularly effective in educating or persuading in today world.
Instead of pointing out the flaws or misstatements in another's argument, perhaps today's citizen needs to actively contribute to the knowledge base. Posting their experiences and ideas on an issue, reframing it from their perspective, using the iterative process of multiple posts from multiple people, connecting with each other and contributing to crowdsource our way to new insights, truths, and solutions.
As today's youth engage in civic activities that improve their communities and our world, we want youth to feel the sense of empowerment that comes from using social media to work collaboratively to solve problems and create in today's participatory culture. What are we doing, or could we be doing, to make this happen?