to not know the internet...

it's nearing the beginning of the fall semester here in the north east. new freshmen - whose parents look closer to my age with each passing year, and whose abundant energy oozes from each exposed appendage and inch of skin - are moving in. gone are the quiet campus days of summer, replaced instead by the discernable hum of "the undergraduate."

as i sat watching these barely-out-of-high-school teens meeting each other, getting past the awkward hellos and maneuvering the delicate dance of excitedly-but-not-too-excitedly saying good-bye to their parents, i was struck by a thought. (after a brief reminiscence of my own freshman move-in, of course)... it is 2005. in a few short years, a class of freshmen will enter college and it will be safe to say that they will not have known a day-to-day existence without the internet. it's an exciting thought, and one that reminds me of the first time, about six years ago, when i was visually overloaded with the exponential growth of cell phones as a common accessory.

what will the learning experience be like, i wonder, for college students who have routinely shifted between multiple communication, media and information technologies almost from birth? true, the realities of varied access to the internet across neighborhoods remains an issue - that is, not everyone is online. however, as i sat on a bench in the middle of campus, surfing online simutaneously for a pair of sneakers and articles about mcdonald's, i was excited by the thought that sitting on a bench surfing the web won't be a campus-only activity for long. cases in point: philadelphia and new york are both exploring plans to become wireless cities. of course wireless service providers aren't happy with the thought of losing revenue, but imagine the possibilities.

in a recently published, much-hyped book, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student, the author, rebekah nathan (aka cathy small, an anthropology professor) spent her sabbatical conducting research by enrolling as a freshman at the university where she teaches. she was mainly interested in what it was like to be a freshman, taking five classes and managing all the other "stuff" that comes with this big life transition. what i wonder, and what i don't think nathan/small focused on explicitly (though i haven't read the book to say for sure), was what it means to be a freshman given the newly developed mediating practices of information gathering, synthesizing, etc. that come with increased access to a wider range of resources. and, is there a widening gap, as many claim, in who uses what to convey how...??

so, i return to my initial question, with a twist: what will it mean to be teaching students for whom the boundaries between "online" and "offline" are as artificial maraschino cherries?


tv course

thanks to all who responded about the tv course! the suggestions seem great and i will definitely pursue them. anya asked me to give more ideas about scope and big issues i want to focus on - here they are in my jetlagged state (yes, that's right - i was away without email access for a whole ten days!... this was both traumatizing and liberating... hmmm....)

broadly, i'm desigining the course around the ideas of "tv with, for and by youth"... more specifically, i want the course to be able to meet a variety of student needs:
  • understanding youth as producers of media (including tv)
  • designing television and media for youth audiences
  • representations of youth on television
  • the role of television and related media in the lives of youth

also, if anyone has read steven berlin johnson's everything bad is good for you, i'd love some thoughts on the book. i'm still waiting for my copy!


l'il help

seems like so much of my references are tv-based... and finally i get to use the vast history of television viewing: i'm teaching a course on television and youth and would *love* any and all suggestions for texts - articles, books, dvds, sites, etc. - to use.

a million thanks!!


patterns, behaviors, and plaid

when do we decide how we're going to live our life? and how do we arrive at these conclusions? i re-read marc's piece (see below) and immediately recalled the show laguna beach - aka "the real life oc" airing on mtv. why the connection? b/c one of the girls on the show (from season 1) is the daughter of a well-known preacher, who, as is made obvious by his family's inclusion on the show, is quite well off. in one particularly memorable scene transition, the daughter goes from discussing her upcoming gospel performance at the church and praying with her family to singing along with 50cent in her very expensive car.

what's the problem, people might ask? well... i wonder whether one can espouse charity and the "christian" spirit, chastize individuals who live "the wrong way," and consume like there's no tomorrow all at the same time. how do the youth who are growing up in our increasingly hypocritical world making sense of it all? of the competing messages bombarding all of us, and especially addressing the "disposable income" generation...

goldhaber writes about the "attention economy", a concept taken up and expounded on by colin lankshear and michele knobel. the basic premise: it's the attention, stupid. perhaps that's oversimplifying things greatly, but all three scholars are inviting readers to consider the real commodity involved in influencing the practices of youth: attention. so, who's competing for youth attention? it's too simple (again) to say everyone... but it certainly seems like it. young people are the focus of school reforms, censorship ratings on television, advertisements, video games, toys, magazines, and on and on...

but, does any of this matter? or, rather, in what ways does any of this matter? and what are we missing?

schools are so desperate to get and keep young people's attention, yet so often it seems that school practices run counter to what we know about the attention economy. like one young man i know once said: "there's too much attitude in school." he was referring to the relationships between teachers and students, but i think that his observation could extend to the broader point about adults and youth and the not-so-delicate maintaining of power in one direction. what would it really mean to reimagine institutionalized education as a series of experiences in which youth expertise was taken seriously and not as a threat. currently, it seems like our thinking about the attention economy continues to situate the proverbial ball in the adults' court. that is, we are wanting adults to find new ways to reach youth, to engage productively with youth. this is necessary. but if we truly believe that young people are engaged in meaningful activities and practices, then how about enlisting their help and input.

i wager that our adult-focused questions about how young people do what they do and are who they are will experience a shift when we take seriously the lives and intentions of youth; and hope that we start asking different questions. maybe then we'll better understand how a 16 year-old finds it a seamless transition to move between dinner table chatter and lyrical head-bopping... and why it becomes increasingly difficult, as youth transition into adults, to maintain those multiple identities as too many of us give in to rigid definitions of who to be, what to do...

postscript: one of my friends, one of the warmest people and most committed teachers i know, was sharing a story about his kids with me. she is 8 or 9 and was visiting a friend who lived two towns away. my friend and his kids are african american and her friend and family are white and jewish. when he went to pick up his daughter my friend spent some talking with the friend's mother. they realized they had much in common - both are writers, as well - and talked for thirty minutes while their kids continued to play. as he recalled the story to me during a conversation about racial dynamics and interactions, he noted that he was from a generation that still maintained its borders and how unlikely it would have been that he and the friend's mother would have talked if not for their kids. he mentioned a combination of historical, geographical, and social factors that influence his patterns of behavior. when i asked him if he thought his daughter would have the same choices to make he shook his head no and said that she had friends of "every shape and color" and that it was with the kids where even the invisible barriers break down. i said i hope so... but couldn't help think of all the reasons why persist...


"the lost generation"???

apparently, according to a preacher that my friend marc watched on tv recently, "Kids growing up today don't care about nothin' and nobody" and goes on to say that "All they want to do is party and have fun."

read marc's response, titled I Bling Because I'm Happy, part of the series, The Barbershop Notebooks.