Category Archives: events

some thoughts on technophilia

The New Media Consortium is hosting a Symposium for the Future October 27-29. I was asked to write a few thoughts that might provoke conversation in preparation for the event. This is a re-posting of my Ideas for Thought. If you are an educator or involved in the world of learning, consider attending the symposium. Regardless, if these topics interest you, consider reading the other idea pieces by Gardner Campbell and Holly Willis.

It is easy to fall in love with technology. It is equally easy to fear it. In a setting like this Symposium, many of us fall in the passionate lovers camp, dreamily accounting for all of the wonderful things we’ve experienced through and because of technology. All too often, our conversations center on the need to get technology into the hands of learners, as though the gaps that we’re seeing can be explained away by issues of access. Push comes to shove, most of us know that there are problems with this model, but in a world filled with dichotomous rhetoric, it’s easy to get into the habit of being the proselytizer in the face of fear-mongering.

I want to push back against our utopian habits because I think that they’re doing us a disservice. Technology does not determine practice. How people embrace technology has less to do with the technology itself than with the social setting in which they are embedded. Those who are immersed in a techno-savvy, technophilic community are far more likely to embrace technology than those whose social world is shaped by other patterns of consumption and communication. People’s practices are also shaped by those around them. There are cluster effects to socio-technical engagement. In other words, people do what their friends do.

Rejecting technological determinism should be a mantra in our professional conversations. It’s really easy to get in the habit of seeing a new shiny piece of technology and just assume that we can dump it into an educational setting and !voila! miracles will happen. Yet, we also know that the field of dreams is merely that, a dream. Dumping laptops into a classroom does no good if a teacher doesn’t know how to leverage the technology for educational purposes. Building virtual worlds serves no educational purpose without curricula that connects a lesson plan with the affordances of the technology. Without educators, technology in the classroom is useless.

There are also no such things as “digital natives.” Just because many of today’s youth are growing up in a society dripping with technology does not mean that they inherently know how to use it. They don’t. Most of you have a better sense of how to get information from Google than the average youth. Most of you know how to navigate privacy settings of a social media tool better than the average teen. Understanding technology requires learning. Sure, there are countless youth engaged in informal learning every day when they go online. But what about all of the youth who lack access? Or who live in a community where learning how to use technology is not valued? Or who tries to engage alone? There’s an ever-increasing participation gap emerging between the haves and the have-nots. What distinguishes the groups is not just a question of access, although that is an issue; it’s also a question of community and education and opportunities for exploration. Youth learn through active participation, but phrases like “digital natives” obscure the considerable learning that occurs to enable some youth to be technologically fluent while others fail to engage.

Along the same lines, keep in mind that the technology that you adore may hold no interest for your students. They don’t use or Second Life or Ning or Twitter as a part of their everyday practices. And the ways that they use Facebook and MySpace and YouTube are quite different than the ways in which you do. We each approach technology based on our own needs and desires and we leverage it to do our bidding. In this way, we actively repurpose technology as a part of engagement such that rarely does one technology fit all. Yet, when we introduce technology in an educational setting, we often mistakenly assume that students will embrace the technology in the same way that we do. This never works out and can cause unexpected strife. Take social network sites as an example. You use this for professional networking; teens use it to socialize with their peers. Putting Facebook or MySpace into the classroom can create a severe cognitive collision as teens try to work out the shift in contexts. Most problematically, when teens are forced to navigate Friending in an educational setting, painful dramas occur because who you’re polite to in school may be very different than who you socialize with at home. Using technology that ruptures social norms in the classroom can be socially and educationally harmful.

As we talk about the wonderfulness of technology, please keep in mind the complexities involved. Technology is a wonderful tool but it is not a panacea. It cannot solve all societal ills just by its mere existence. To have relevance and power, it must be leveraged by people to meet needs. This requires all of us to push past what we hope might happen and focus on introducing technology in a context that makes sense.

upcoming conferences/talks

Now that I’m working at Microsoft Research, I’m doing a bit more public/academic speaking, but I’ve done a terrible job of announcing where and when. So let me take a moment to list some of the upcoming talks in the next four months in case you’re attending these conferences (or should be):

Hopefully I’ll get to see some of you at these events – they’re bound to be quite fun! And utterly diverse. Needless to say, I won’t be giving the same talk at each event but hopefully they’ll all be quite entertaining!

it’s time for SXSW!!

After taking a break to finish my dissertation, I’m heading back to SXSW and I. Cannot. Wait. SXSW is one of my favorite-ist conferences evah. It’s filled with fun folks who are truly engaged with the web, social media, and other forms of culture. There’s such a large contingent of cool and interesting people that I’m always overwhelmed, overstimulated, and otherwise bouncy as could be. The parties don’t hurt either. Tehe.

Anyhow, I do very little scheduling at SXSW because I personally do better when I’m unscheduled and just go with the flow. That said, I find that it’s useful to show up at one’s own talks and parties. And it’s even more fun to attend said scheduled activities when your friends know about it and want to come and play along. Sooo, since all of my BIG events are on Saturday, I thought I’d take a moment to share these bits in the hopes that those of you attending might come along!

Panel #1: Is Privacy Dead or Just Very Confused?

  • Who: me (moderator), Judith Donath, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Alice Marwick
  • When: Saturday March 14, 10-11AM in Room A
  • Abstract: While many assert that “privacy is dead,” the complex ways in which people try to control access and visibility suggest that it’s just very confused. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, let’s discuss people’s understanding and experiences of privacy and find ways to 2.0-ify it.

Panel #2: Everything I Needed to Know About the Web I Learned from Feminism

  • Who: Heather Gold, me, Betty Flowers
  • When: Saturday March 14, 3.30-4.30PM in Room 9
  • Abstract: Last year’s panel on Gossip packed up via twitter word of mouth and was described by Get Satisfaction’s Lane Becker as “the best panel I’ve ever seen at SXSW.” This year we might top it and revive/re-frame feminism at the same time. Feminism teaches “the personal is political” and the web shows that the personal is now public. Christmas newsletters and recipes are the social media of their time, and women are the key social nodes of our culture. In her comic and though-provoking style, Heather Gold brings together amazingly smart women and the people f/k/audience to discuss what makes social networks strong and predict where they’re heading next online.

Party: StandardAnswer Launch Party

  • StandardAnswer is an online community built around questions and answers (think personality quizzes). This is a new startup; I’m on the advisory board and this is the launch party.
  • When: Saturday March 14, 8PM-2AM
  • Where: Red Eyed Fly, 715 Red River
  • Deets: all welcome, music by Black Joe Lewis, American Princes, and White Denim; RSVP is required

Sooo… if you want to see me be all serious, come to the panels. If you want to see me all goofy and bouncy, come to the party! Saturday is bound to be loads of fun so I hope you’ll join me!!!

public meeting of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, Sept 23-24 at Harvard

Many of you know that I’ve been co-directing the Internet Safety Technical Task Force as part of my fellowship at Berkman and I wanted to give you a few updates and invite you to the public meeting.

My role on the TF has primarily been to lead the Research Advisory Board and help the ISTTF ground their analysis and recommendations in a solid understanding of research. At earlier meetings, researchers have come and presented their work and we’ve made videos, slides, and handouts from these meetings available here. Also, the fabulous Andrew Schrock and I are currently working on a literature review of all research in this space which we will share here shortly for public vetting.

While I’ve been working on the research side of things, the Technical Advisory Board has been reviewing various proposed technical solutions to safety concerns regarding youth. On September 23-24 at Harvard, there will be public presentations of some of these technologies for public feedback, questions, and critique. We’re still sorting out the schedule, but some valuable information on the public meeting is here.

I’d like to invite (AND ENCOURAGE) all of you who are vested in these topics to join us if at all possible. This will be a great opportunity to see how different companies are proposing to address the internet safety concerns that have been raised. The topics will include age verification, filtering, text analysis, and authentication. This is a great opportunity to provide feedback (both technical and social) to this process. Many of you have strong opinions on what kind of technical solutions are and are not possible and it would be super duper helpful if you turned up to state those thoughts on record.

If you can’t, I totally understand and we will ask for broad feedback afterwards. But please do spread the word to those who you think are interested in or concerned about these issues. I would really like to see some thoughtful people in the audience asking tough questions.

UPDATE: Each of the tech companies who are presenting had to document detailing what their product does to address safety issues. All of these are available for public viewing on the agenda. If you’ve got comments based on reading these and can’t attend, feel free to leave them in the comments of this blog post.

Community Forum on “Meeting the Public’s Information Needs for Silicon Valley”

As many of you know, I’m on the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities. The goal of this commission is to assess the information needs for local communities (in relation to democracy) and determine how to best achieve them. This involves the intersection of old and new media, grassroots action and government intervention, technology, education, and policy. For more details, check out some background info.

We are hosting a series of public forums. The first will take place in Silicon Valley on September 8. Details are here. I know many of you live in or near the SV so I thought you should know about said meeting. Anyone is welcome, although you need to RSVP by September 5. For those unable to attend, it will be webcast live and recordings will be available.

I’m sure that it’ll be interesting, especially for those of you who are fascinated by journalism, information dissemination, creating a healthy political public, etc. Personally, I’ve been loving the private discussions we’ve been having and I look forward to this next meeting. So I hope to see some of you next week!

MacArthur Forum talk on “Teen Socialization Practices in Networked Publics”

Last Wednesday, I gave a talk in Palo Alto as part of the MacArthur Forum “From MySpace to Hip Hop” alongside the rest of the Digital Youth Research Team. I’m still waiting on the videos and as soon as I have them, I will post them. In the meantime, I thought that I’d share my crib from the talk. For those of you who know my work, much of this will be familiar. Still, it’s a pretty good overview of my project. Enjoy!

“Teen Socialization Practices in Networked Publics”

UPDATE: The videos are now up on YouTube: MySpace to Hip Hop, A MacArthur Forum, 04.23.08


Due to my (::gasp::) graduation, I will not be able to attend Berkman@10, but YOU SHOULD. Berkman is the fabulous Center for Internet and Society at Harvard where I’m a fellow. We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary (wow, everyone’s turning 10) with a 2-day conference (May 15, 16) called THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET and a bunch of lead-up events. Speakers at the conference include Jonathan Zittrain, Jimmy Wales, John Palfrey, Esther Dyson, Yochai Benkler, and lots more. There will be breakouts and plenty of opportunity to meet and socialize. The agenda is here. You gotsta register.

I am uber jealous of those of you who get to attend. If it weren’t for graduation and family-ness, I would definitely be there. But family trumps.