This past Spring quarter, I took a class called Big Thinkers in Ed Tech in which we read texts from Neil Postman, Maggie Jackson, and Aldous Huxley. These books explored dark themes of dehumanization and the deleterious consequences that changing technology and information systems can have on society and individuals. When searching for resources to contribute for my final essay for that class I picked up Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, and found it to be an excellent resource to investigate the relationship between attention, distraction, empowerment, and how humans can”plug-in” to the internet in unhealthy or productive ways.
When learning about media literacy, I found good cause to pick Net Smart back up, as the final few chapters deal with questions about the delta of new media to the traditional media that we spent most of our time studying. As Rheingold puts it:
The critical uncertainty today is whether the radical democratization of access to the means of information production and distribution will change the vectors of influence. Can many-to-many media effectively counter the well-funded disinformation apparatuses of powerful political and economic interests?
In my opinion, the study of media literacy extends beyond “mass media” like television, movies, magazines, and commercials. We need to fold in the way participatory, social media networks have come into the mix – bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, trolls, “influencers” – we must turn a critical and interrogative eye towards these non-professionalized sources of information and ask good questions about who they are, what they want, who if anyone is paying them to become a new, invisible part of the “disinformation apparatus.”
In the Fake News by Bosc D’Anjou on Flickr via CC 2.0
Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (MIT Press) (p. 241). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.