This week I was honored to meet with other thought leaders in new media and the education of young children. I’m working on a post for next week about our ‘next steps’ and what I learned from the amazing participants in this conversation. There is something so grounding about meeting with people in person, in real time and space. But first of all, what is “new media”? According to Wikipedia:
New media refers to on-demand access to content anytime, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, creative participation. Another aspect of new media is the real-time generation of new, unregulated content.
Most technologies described as “new media” are digital, often having characteristics of being manipulated, networkable, dense, compressible, and interactive. Some examples may be the Internet, websites, computer multimedia, video games, CD-ROMS, and DVDs. New media does not include television programs, feature films,magazines, books, or paper-based publications – unless they contain technologies that enable digital interactivity. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, is an example, combining Internet accessible digital text, images and video with web-links, creative participation of contributors, interactive feedback of users and formation of a participant community of editors and donors for the benefit of non-community readers. Facebook is an example of the social media model, in which most users are also participants.
As I was leaving my hotel in Chicago, I grabbed the free issue of Wired Magazine left in my room to read. I found myself riveted by the opinion piece at the end, regarding the pace and scope of the content explosion we are experiencing. Lately I feel like everyone is more overwhelmed than usual, and the problem seems to be growing year by year and month by month. I often cannot put my finger on what has changed, however, not sure if it may only be me who is feeling in “over-my-head”. We all made personal and professional sacrifices to spend time together to discuss how we can help our respective professions – early learning, librarianship, social work and education – to manage the digital shift. My garage even burned down (and nearly my home), but somehow I still managed to get myself on a plane this week – the meeting was simply that important. Cen Campbell, my compatriot in new media curation probably should have stayed home given how ill she was feeling, but the cause seemed simply too important.
But what’s all the rush, why do we feel like time is running out or moving faster than we can manage? Why are some of the most talented and intelligent professionals, especially those I meet in traditional publishing, running around as if there hair is literally on fire? What has changed so dramatically in the past decade? And what messages are we, as adults, passing onto our little ones when we seem so distracted by all these ‘shiny new devices’ appearing everywhere in our lives these days? Are we worried? YES! Do we know how to handle it? NO!
The article that caught my eye in this month’s issue of Wired, an opinion piece, is titled “Thinking Out Loud” in the magazine itself (online title is “Why Even the Worst Bloggers are Making us Smarter“), detailing the exceptional transition we are in right now as social media, blogging and new media platforms collide in a perfect storm of words … literally millions of words, more than anyone could possibly read or catalogue. The excerpt was from a new book by Clive Thomson, and among the quotes that stand out is, “WE WRITE THE EQUIVALENT OF SOME 36 MILLION BOOKS EVERY DAY ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND EMAIL.”
This is every day, not every week, month or year. Compare this to the reference point offered in the article, “The entire US Library of Congress, by comparison, holds around 23 million books.” This is one of those factoids that requires digestion intellectually – it’s simply difficult to wrap my mind around it. I am eager to read Thomson’s full book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better and compare it to another favorite of mine, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
Why do we need a digital media diet in the first place? Consider what it would be like to go from having too few food resources to abundance? Children I’ve worked with as a social worker who have experienced food scarcity, either from impoverished situations or abuse, often overeat (especially from the least quality sources of calories like sweets & fats) or hoard/steal or even fetishize foodstuffs.
With media/entertainment, we cannot experience scarcity in the same life threatening way, but we can develop unhealthy responses to over-abundance. Anxiety, pre-occupation and addiction-like behaviors noted in response to digital media can be understood through this lens. It’s really more like getting in a car after being on foot, your whole life, actually. If I’m right about this impact from too many choices, too much content, etc. then what is the equivalent treatment for our overwhelmed society? “Slow down,” sounds good but is too simplistic. We have no brakes built into our metaphorical car – we simply never needed them before.
When learning to drive for the 1st time most people brake too hard … it’s natural. But what we need is to gently put our foot on the brakes until we can make sense of the scenery going by … Each person may find a different speed desirable, comfortable and safe enough to feel ‘in control’ again. And kids, especially, need adults help finding their developmentally appropriate speed. Our brains can only process so much at one time if we want to make real meaning of our experiences. We also can’t drive every road – in fact we need a plan, a map, a route or some sort of compass before getting started. On foot you can wander, but going too fast in a car can leave you totally lost in moments, a feeling that many new ‘drivers’ in the digital media space can probably identify with …
Should we panic? We don’t have to, although it’s natural if some of us do … But how can we solve the problem of our overwhelmed 24/7 culture? Time, patience, faith and leaning on plus learning from each other. There are no magical tech solutions. Have you mentored someone about new media? If yes, you are on the right road … we are, literally, in this car together.
How are you managing content overload, the pace of 21st century life and new media with your kids? I’d love to know your thoughts!