Thankful for new media & what they’re teaching us

By Anne Collier

Here in the US, this is kind of, partially, a week of reflection and thanksgiving, as many of us shop, cook, travel, cook some more, and feast and some of us try to keep it really simple. But for the reflection and thanksgiving part, treat yourself to this enriching example of participatory media, a video by Michael Wesch and his students (the main one on this page). Then treat yourself to Professor Wesch’s whole playlist on the right-hand side of that page. These students of anthropology – of humanity, really – understand social media from the inside out, so this is efficient, fun, joyful, profound, unsettling, mixed-media learning for us people who grew up in the profoundly different mass-media era.

In 12 years of writing about youth and tech, I have not seen a better resource for parents, teachers, police, and policymakers working in the youth and online-safety or 21st-century-learning spaces (pls see Related links below for teaching and parenting resources). [I’ve seen many, many great resources, mind you, but nothing quite as moving in the social-media space as this one.] Young people deserve to have their parents and teachers informed. And we all deserve exposure to the care and quality of thought that went into producing and presenting this 55.5-minute video that was presented at the US Library of Congress June 2008 (months later Wesch was named Professor of the Year; see his brief acceptance speech here). It’s a global picture, which is essential, I think, given the nature of new media, and naturally it’s not entirely a pretty picture – some viewers may find parts of it disturbing. But what picture of humanity is entirely beautiful? What’s important is the humanity.

I think Mike Wesch understands cultural shifts, media shifts, and human beings well for two reasons: 1) his own shift from 18 months’ anthropological field work in a remote (Iron Age?) village in Papua New Guinea to teaching the anthropology of social media in and with YouTube in 21st-century Kansas and, 2) as his talks and sound bytes indicate, he loves working with people and seems to have a way of bringing out the best in them – even when the picture is grainy. You’ll get that in his playlist.

Related links

* Parents, here’s why we need to understand new media: Prof. Henry Jenkins at the University of Southern California says it’s because social media “weren’t part of the world of our childhood,” and “now we’re in a space where we’re dealing with stuff our parents never had to deal with…. But we have to be open to the new … there’s much more valuable stuff here [online] than risky stuff…. At the end of the day, they need us to be informed about this. They don’t need us looking over their shoulders; they need us watching their backs…. We have to recognize that they’re going some place we never went and that’s what’s exciting and what’s terrifying about the present moment,” he says. [Thanks to for linking to this clip at the MacArthur Foundation site.]
* Teachers, if you wonder how Prof. Wesch uses new-media tools in his classes, he describes how (both in his huge undergraduate anthropology classes and small graduate-level digital ethnography classes) in a talk he gave at the University of Manitoba a little over a year ago. You can read a description of how the class is set up here, with an insightful comment below it from Bryan, a teacher of 9th- and 10th-graders, about how social-media tools can be used at those grade levels.
* Here’s the spring 2009 work of Wesch’s class – a 6-min. video they created out of the class’s “trailers,” or spring semester projects (each student produces one) – and one of the trailers.
* This month YouTube named Wesch its Curator of the Month. He explains all that here.
* My previous piece on Wesch, August 2008: “Watch this video, parents”

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