Early on, I was pretty active in the Networked Narratives course as an open online participant, as a sort of satellite with a few others to the actual university course being taught by Alan Levine and Mia Zamora. My comic strip alter-egos — The Internet Kid and Horse with No Name — were also part of the Twitter conversations and activities.
At some point, I admittedly lost track in a peripheral way (this is the beauty of RSS feeds — I kept up with the basics of the course progress in my RSS reader from the NetNarr site).
So, I was pleasantly surprised by Mia’s sharing of the completed NetNarr Field Digital Alchemy Guide that all the classroom students contributed to as part of their research (I am not sure if any open folks added to the journal, too). The course itself began pretty dark — with all the ways technology is used against us, in terms of privacy and surveillance and more — and then moved into the light — how can we, as individuals, can make a difference and maybe help foster change for the better.
Each piece of writing is a review of one specific issue of concern about the internet of 2019, following ones we studied, e.g. the surveillance economy, digital identity theft, fake news, digital redlining, toxic data, self expression, bots. Writers were not asked to “fix” or “solve” these big problems, but offer suggestions for individuals how to better thrive in these environments, hence the idea of a “field guide”.
They are written as a dialogue between the students and their invented digital alchemist mentor and will include links to the “notes in the field” left as web annotations.
The work done in the Journal is really rich with topics and insights and resources, and I applaud my former classmates (sort of) for the depth of their sharing in this journal, which is a valuable resource for anyone struggling with finding balance between the potential and the pitfalls of this technologically connected world.
I, for one, only vaguely know what F-insta is, so that’s where I’m heading off to learn more from the NetNarr-ians. Which topic grabs your attention? Be a real reader, and leave some comments for the explorers. Pose a question. Offer insight. Engage.
The CLMOOC Web Ring, still under construction with a few hiccups along the way (including this platform of Edublogs not quite in synch with how Web Rings work), is designed to provide paths to different CLMOOC blogging sites, so that you can move in circular patterns through the ring of writers. I still don’t have a full handle on Web Rings, yet, but I’m getting there, and Greg created this video tutorial on how to connect your space to the ring.
The CLMOOC RSS Planet, meanwhile, is a gathering of RSS feeds from bloggers who have been part of the CLMOOC experience over the years. Greg (with generous help from Sarah) set up a master feed that pulls in RSS into one place — one “planet” where we all orbit as constellations.
You can see both the CLMOOC Web Ring and the RSS Planet at the site that Greg has set up. Here’s another example of CLMOOC venturing into unknown terrain, under the ethos of making connections with each other and hopefully, expanding out the Affinity Space in different ways. And all with Greg’s continued guidance and support and, well, cheerleading, around the IndieWeb movement and Domain of One’s Own concept of DS106 and other connected networked spaces (a shift which I might need to start re-thinking myself this year, too).
Networked Narratives held another of its regular Studio Visits earlier this week as the theme of the online course with an open invitation (allowing me and others to join in) shifts from the darkness of the web and technology to the light and the possible. Things are going from negative to positive.
Here, Alex Saum is the guest, and she has been exploring the world of NetArt, or the leveraging of technology platforms to explore the notions of art. This topic is something I have long been interested in (see Blink Blink Blink as an early experiment), so I popped the video into Vialogues so I can slow-watch and think out loud in the margins.
“We’re looking at the relationship between fake and real.” — NPR Host Alix Spiegel
The National Public Radio’s Invisibilia program turned its focus on the idea of our Invisible Selves, the way our online social media-infused identities are often in conflict with our offline identities. This radio program — Point, Shoot — is long, as a deep dive into an important issue, but it is worth the listen.
(Note: there is some profanity and references to violence)
Radio reporter Hanna Rosin centers, through her exploration of one person’s tragic story, on a boy named Brandon whose posting on social media led to tragic results in his small city, and she notes this premise:
“Maybe his online life would open the door to some dark side of Brandon that his family and some of his school pals knew nothing about … “
Later, after her exploration of how Brandon sought to represent himself on social media with guns and hints of violence — in contrast to the boy he was in real life — only to killed for his social media posting, which were seen as taunts to those who killed him, Rosen writes:
“We all do some version of this. Curate an aspirational online self. Most of us have one. And we outfit it with different props and costumes – like heirloom tomatoes, the dog we just rescued, a protest poster, a funny casual quip we spent 10 minutes crafting. This person has a relationship to us. But it is not us. “
In her discussions with family, and friends, the disconnect between who they knew — Brandon, the boy — with the identity he curated online — Brandon, the gangster — caused confusion that such posts would lead to his death.
… the problem is we’ve moved into a phase where the image – the version of Brandon constructed from a Facebook post can very easily eclipse the real. And we are just stubbornly failing to reckon with the consequences of that. It doesn’t matter who Brandon really was.
The confusion spread like a virus to Brandon’s friends and his enemies and the police and the courts until an entirely new code governed every part of the city, a code built on a giant misunderstanding about image and reality and how quickly the boundary between them is shifting.
A story like Brandon’s reminds us of how we need to be talking to all of our kids about identity and social media, and the power and consequences of words and images that get shared, sometimes in a fast and furious way. You can post something you think is cool, only to see it careen out of your control, and sometimes, that has tragic results.
(Note from Kevin: I actually wrote this post two days ago, thinking I would post it yesterday. I left it lingering in my draft bin. Then, the massacre in New Zealand happened, and I had a poem spilling forth about madness and hate and social media that I just could not shake without writing it, and that poem is what I shared yesterday as a blog post.
The final stanza is a call about kindness in the world. I wondered where it is, where it was. I wrote: … no one ever seems/ to stream the kindness of/ the world, only the madness.
This morning, I revisited this post about Nerdfighters, and realized, THIS is about one of those places where the counter narrative of social media is already taking place, with young people leading the way. I also remembered Friday’s global walkout on climate change, where young people were protesting on a world scale for change. I had an answer, already written, to my question in the poem, but I had forgotten it, in my sadness and bewilderment of the world. It happens like that. We lose perspective. The horrible things push aside the good.
So, here, then is a post about an Affinity Network where young people are empowered to change the world for the better, and is thousands strong, too. It’s a reminder of how social media can be a tool for the good.)
I’ve enjoyed the Case Studies inside the book, Affinity Online, as we read the book in CLMOOC this month. The studies give us a more human story insider account of different Affinity Spaces and Networks. The focus on the Nerdfighters, which I knew of but never really dug deep, is fascinating for a few reasons.
What is Nerdfighters? They are not nerds fighting nerds, but nerds fighting for a better world. Or, in the words of the community, to decrease WorldSuck, their word for a world gone mad. Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia that provides a helpful overview:
Nerdfighteria is a community subculture, based mainly online. It began in 2007, when the VlogBrothers (John and Hank Green) rose to prominence in the YouTube community. As their popularity grew, so did coverage on Nerdfighteria, whose followers are individually known as Nerdfighters. The term was coined when John saw a copy of the arcade gameAero Fighters and misread the title as Nerd Fighters.
Hank Green describes it as “a community that sprung up around our videos, and basically we just get together and try to do awesome things and have a good time and fight against world suck”. He defines “world suck” as “the amount of suck in the world”. The Greens established The Foundation to Decrease World Suck, in order to raise funds and launch projects that would help a variety of causes.
Nerdfighters believe in fighting world suck, promoting education, freedom of speech and the use of the intellect in modern society.Nerdfighters and the Green brothers have collaborated on many projects such as the charitable drive, Project for Awesome which launched in 2007, and VidCon, the convention focusing on topics surrounding the world of digital media. Nerdfighters have been documented by websites such as The Hollywood Reporter, and The Wall Street Journal, with a following estimated to be in the millions.
The Nerdfighter community coalesced around two writers — the Green brothers, John and Hank– who early on saw the potential for video/vlogging as a means to make possible change in the world by reaching an audience of young people who often felt left out of the typical social circles.
The demographics, if still true from the statistics in the book, is predominantly a white, female majority (72 percent female and 85 percent white, in the information in the book, but also a high percentage of queer, gay and gender-fluid members) with an activist bent, using video and presence as its main media choice for messaging and connection points.
The Affinity Online rightly focuses on the Nerdfighters as an Affinity Network because of its deep civic action and reach. One of its main projects — Project for Awesome — has raised nearly $7 million for charities in the past five years, if I read the statistics right. Its homepage is chock full of user voice, with young people making and contributing videos as a way to engage and document and share.
Exploring the Nerdfighteria site, one quickly realizes how many strands are now out there, from various communities in other spaces to charity sites, to networking opportunities. It even has its own lexicon. And a map of local groups for local action projects. And a book club.
There is also VidCon, which is a digital media conference that showcases young and upcoming vloggers in the Nerdfighter networks. But the recent acquisition of VidCon by Viacom has me wondering about whether this Affinity Network event, designed to empower young video creators, will become another commercialized vendor space. If so, that sucks. And I use that word “suck” purposefully here.
How to become a Nerdfighter? The Green brothers explain, this video from a decade ago.
The other day — Sunday, in fact — my wife came home from service at our church, raving about the sermon from our passionate, activist, youth-orientated co-pastor. The theme was technology in our lives, and Pastor Sarah, who often uses hip and modern allusions in our sermons, talked about how our devices are removing us from our interactions.
My wife later sent me the link to her post/words/sermon later, which includes Sarah’s sermon (if you are interested in listening, you can, but I am by no means proselytizing here). She had a very catchy and provocative title: Is the iPhone the Devil? Reading through what she said connected me nicely with some of the inquiry that has been underway with Networked Narratives, on how technology’s dark side seems to have overtaken its potential and possibilities.
Think of what we miss because our hands and our heads are always so full of other things.
Most of all, our focus on our devices — on our hands, which are no longer free to be of use to us because they gravitate to our devices, Sarah notes — seems have to removed us from many human interactions, and the impact of that shift is seen in political diatribes, family arguments on Facebook, and the way we fail to ‘read’ the impact of our words on people.
There’s a moment where this important idea surfaces from Sarah:
Which is not to say that technology is evil. It’s not. But it’s not neutral either. It’s never going to stop trying to help us overcome our limits. Which means it’s up to us to remember that it is our limits that give life meaning.
Keeping on eye on our lives, and the people in our lives — our shared humanity — and the role that technology can play to make it better or worse — if we let it, and this is the most important part of this whole discussion, the way we use or take back our agency as users of our phones and computers and technology — is lesson we can learn from, whatever your spiritual centering.
This phone creates the illusion that you are infinite, but you are a finite resource. Your love, your time, your attention, you yourself are precious precisely because you are limited.
I still remember the student who came back from a weekend trip to Boston, all hyped up about the cosplay convention, and how excited they were during our morning meeting that they had found others who were into what they were into. Their classmates looked on as they explained the concept of dressing up like comic characters and interacting with others as if they were crazy. The student showed us pictures, and we all were intrigued.
The classmates, though, didn’t understand. They were curious because it was different but they sort of shrugged it off as another of this student’s eccentricities. One of many. (Which is why I liked them so much).
What struck me most, though, is that this student was sharing this sliver of life with us not only because they had taken part in the event gathering, but also because they had discovered an online space where they were now writing fan fiction stories and connecting with others in the cosplay community.
This memory came back to me as I began reading the new book that folks and friends in the Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC) has begun reading together for our March book club. The book — Affinity Online: How Connections and Shared Interest Fuel Learning — is a researched dive into the current field of how young people are finding more niche homes in online spaces where they connect with others through shared interests, and use writing and making and remixing to showcase their talents.
At CLMOOC, we will be sharing some guiding questions in online spaces over the month of March, sparking discussions. Even if you have not yet read the book, we hope you might have ideas to contribute. Write where you are, and share where you can. We’ve often defined CLMOOC as its own Affinity Space, but maybe that is an idea to grapple with, too.
The book contains overviews of different themes but also rich stories of young people and their affinity spaces — the first chapter, for example, gives us insight into a network of people who knit on the theme of Harry Potter in Ravelry; how writing fan fiction in a professional wrestling fan site opened the door for expression; and how a video game community of players expanded the sense of participation beyond the game itself.
I’m thinking, as I read, not only of this former student but of others, too, who shared their online creative lives with me, and those who never did share (perhaps the sharing would ruin the magic or perhaps the sharing would bring ridicule) but who are no doubt actively involved in some way or another in what interests them.
As a teacher, this brings all sorts of thinking to the surface, although the one main considering I always have when I think of Connected Learning in terms of my classroom is: Does the presence and knowledge of a teacher/adult ruin the experience for the young person engaged in an Affinity Space that resonates with them? In other words, by bringing these niche elements into the classroom and anchoring them as a learning experience, do we take all the magic out of it for them?
I suspect, yes, it alters the experience, but whether that is in a good way or bad way, I don’t quite know. I remain sensitive to this issue, particularly when a student shares such interest with me. I continue to search for the balance of encouragement as learning opportunity and respect for the spaces they inhabit as individuals.
I was driving to school yesterday and I caught this piece on NPR about social media effect — but on how kindness can also spread. We focus so much on the dark side of the social networking effect on us in terms of negativity that it is good to remember that we also respond to the positives of our networks — that one person doing a kind thing for another has a ripple effect.
This week’s Studio Visit in Networked Narratives was with Anne-Marie Scott, and I put the video archive into Vialogues for those who want to join me in another round of slow-listening and commenting in the margins. Anne-Marie will be watching the discussion, so feel free to leave her questions there.
This is a helpful video with John Greene about reading deeper, and understanding, digital information and digital media. Greene, author (The Fault in Our Stars) and vlogger (often with his brother), digs into how we can understand what’s behind the veil of what we read online, and to understand the move he calls “lateral reading.”
Greene’s key question of inquiry that we must always ask ourselves: Who made this and why?
He explains that we have been taught to read “vertically” — starting a text at the top, reading across line by line, ending up at the bottom. Like a book. Unless it’s manga (sorry, had to get that in). Reading “laterally,” he explains, means opening new browser tabs, checking information out against the original, jumping from the main text to complimentary text.
He suggests we become more active readers, checking information out before diving in with belief. Understanding who is funding sites, and why, is key to understanding how design and algorithms influence our thinking and understanding.