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Digital Communication Technologies

An additional, more personal critique of technology education comes to mind in the context of a generation of young people who are growing up with a familiarity of communication technology that was unfamiliar to previous generations. In an attempt to classify them, those born in the 1980s and 1990s have been labeled “Generation Y.” Of course, such labels are fraught, and there are many variations in terminology and parameters in an attempt to demarcate such demographics, including the Net Generation, Millennials, the iGeneration, Digital Natives, and MyPods (a fusion of MySpace and iPod).

For the purposes of this discussion, a number of the characteristics of this generation are relevant; it includes a group of students for whom technology education curricula are being designed by a different generation. Some see the current school-age Digital Natives as the representation of a generation gap between their teachers. Here, the relevant question becomes “how do we empower and protect our students in an environment that increasingly excludes us?” (McLester, 2007, p. 18). The existence of this gap is reinforced in the report The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap between Internet-Savvy Students and Their Schools (Arafeh & Levin, 2003), in which students reported a significant disconnect between their use of digital media in and out of school.

In the last few years, a new set of values has arisen, confirming the barrier between generations. This current school generation was the first to witness and use a broad range of technologies from an early age: the Internet and broadband, digital cable, cell phones, HDTV, digital cameras, digital pets, camera phones, social networking, GPS technology, online gaming, and touch screens. Of course, other generations use these technologies, but they did not grow up with them and integrate them into their lifestyle to such an extent.

Until these developments, much modern technology mitigated the opportunity to democratically engage in civic life and its associated politics (and of course still does): shopping malls, spreading suburbia, automobilization, and a vast array of home entertainment options, for example. While they may continue to work against the democratic sharing of power, they do not preclude it. And in the face of a more powerful range of technologies, they exercise diminishing influence. This range of technologies has been dubbed Web 2.0, the “people version” of the World Wide Web.

The initial promotion of the term Web 2.0 is generally ascribed to O’Reilly (2006) and refers to a perceived second generation of web-based services that are characterized by open communication, decentralization of authority, freedom to share and reuse, users’ ownership of data, and an effectiveness that develops as more people use them.

Individuals both learn from and contribute to Web 2.0, whereas Web 1.0 was a learning tool—only the experts could contribute. Anyone can now review books on Amazon.com; blog about political candidates and have an effect; podcast about things they are interested in; participate interactively in car design competitions; make movies on their phones and receive 100,000 views within a week; film and distribute footage of everything from a celebrity to an abuse of power; and submit research to the world’s largest encyclopedia without having to worry about peer reviews. Individuals have seized the reins of the global media and founded the new digital democracy, beating the professionals at their own game (Grossman, 2006).

The means of Web 2.0 involvement include LiveJournal, MySpace, Wikipedia, LastFM, Netflix, Facebook, del.icio.us, Flickr, and outside.in. YouTube is probably the most significant means, and it is not just one medium, but several in one. As Poniewozik (2006) explains, it is the following:

  • A surveillance system. Millions of people, through their mobile phones, have the power to quickly and easily send any happenstance image around the world, from the London train bombing to celebrities in unguarded moments to politicians in compromising positions.
  • A spotlight. Users have the capacity to find significance in events that the mainstream media may ignore. Programs and advertisements made for television have been rejected and then reborn after being uploaded to YouTube.
  • A microscope. While television news is constrained by budgets and time, this is not so for YouTube. Extreme closeup video diaries from Iraq, Israel, and Lebanon convey the confusion, humanity, and reality of war zones.
  • A soapbox. Anyone’s ideas can spread instantly, cheaply, democratically, and anarchically.
 
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