Ken Smith took a few months off from posting regularly to his Weblog but he’s been back lately with a vengance and we’re all better for it. He’s been listening to the Lawrence Lessig presentation I pointed to earlier in the week, and he refers to a quote that caught my ear as well. In talking about how the Read/Write Web changes the way we need to think about writing and content creation, Lessig says:
Anybody with a $1500 computer can take images and sounds from the culture around us and remix them to say things differently, to express ideas political, cultural, to perform creativity differently. This is a kind of writing. It expresses a certain creative potential and a certain democratic potential changing the freedom to speak by changing the power to speak. It makes this different. It produces not just a broadcast democracy but increasingly a bottom-up democracy, not just a New York Times democracy but a blog democracy, not just the few speaking to the many but increasingly peer to peer. This is the architecture of this network. It is what this network begs for, this form of creativity. (Emphasis mine)
This, of course, is the higher order line of thinking about these technologies, the idea that the ability to create content can give voice to the average man, and can therefore add depth and meaning to the conversation. (The “lower” revolves around the critical thinking, reading and writing skills that we need to employ to effectively create that content.)
But Ken asks the obvious “What if they gave a blog and nobody came?” question.
So of course we want the tools and protections for a more dynamic democracy, but I wonder if even with a thriving remix culture we don’t have millions of folks sitting in front of their favorite screens in passivity and idle diversion, rather than agency. I wonder if the Read/Write web turns out to be, for many millions, little more than a Read/Enjoy web, even if its most creative participants know better and use it for much more. Put the law and the technology in order, and you still have the passivity of the culture to grapple with — the individualism that doesn’t have the skills, online or otherwise, for making community happen, or the experience and awareness that this is a desirable goal.
It’s a great point, and I think if anything it articulates the challenge that we as educators and parents have in front of us. It also ties into the “what will it take to get kids to blog after the course is over?” question, which, I’m happy to say, has brought my colleague Tom McHale into the fray. (The boy needs his own blog, I’d say…)
But actually, I’m somewhat optimistic about all of this. TV time for kids has been dropping off. In many ways, kids are leading the way with these technologies, becoming more active as they create content. We have a long way to go, no doubt, in seamlessly incorporating the “blog democracy” into our teaching and our curriculum. But if I squint and look real hard into the future, I think I can see a generation that is much, much more engaged with managing and creating information. But we as educators have to lead the way. We have to articulate at every turn the fact that the Web is the “killer app,” that it’s only going to become more and more a part of our lives, that we need to teach the new literacies regarding the use of information and the creation of content that the Web demands.
Our kids are going to get there one way or the other, but if we educators don’t take the lead on this and soon, we’re going to be rendered irrelevant. As I’ve said before, we don’t own the content any more, and what we should own, the mastery of how to use that content, is sorely lacking. Unless we become able to teach and model effective practice in short order, it will be more than passivity that we’ll have to deal with.