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NFAIS 2009: Born Digital – Born Mobile

Feb - 24 - 2009
Nicole C. Engard

Mimi Ito closed the conference with her talk titled Born Digital – Born Mobile: A look at the Future of Communication and Search.

Mimi asks, are these web 2.0 technologies just this generation’s version of punk rock? Will kids give it all up when they become adults? Or is there a cultural change here?

If she were to pick one thing were profoundly different it’s that making and sharing media has become a new way for us to communicate with each other across the world – making a global cultural change. This is more than just text messaging and peer to peer sharing which are the same as passing notes or clipping articles from magazines to share – it’s more about how we make stories that tell who we are and share them online.

She told a great story about her son the plane with her. He was playing his DS and a teenager from the row in front of them looked back and between the two of them they negotiated to play Mario Kart together over the DS connection. This is type of connection required that they have a portable game of some type (this can include trading cards – not just electronic media). It’s a form of social currency for kids to have one of these games or decks of cards.

So, how are these games related to creating content? Mimi gave the example of YouTube becoming the new gaming arcade. You can go on YouTube and see how others are performing. It’s like looking over the shoulder of others in your arcade.

She gave us the example of a chinese boy whose picture was posted online and then taken and mashed into all other kinds of content. Another example would be an anime music video which is a snippet of an anime episode over music that is usually European or American in nature. So you now not only have a media mashup, but a cultural mashup.

Historically this type of globalization was limited to large media players – but now it’s in the hands of the average fans. One example of this is the peer to peer subtitling of anime episodes and films. Within hours of episodes being released, the fans online have written the subtitles for the episode and distributed them over bit torrent.

There is of course a problem with this type of content re-mashing. Young people feel that it’s their right to take content and remix it with their own custom content or with content by others. The problem is that our perceptions of what is an appropriate remix of content is not usually in-line with what the law.

Another example she gave us was from Japan. There are actually cell phone novels being written in Japan. These are novel length stories that were written in short bursts in text message format. I can’t even imaging writing this blog post on a phone – let alone a novel!! But apparently compilations of these novels were the top selling novels in Japan last year (I think got the year right).

So what does this all mean? It means that our media culture is becoming more and more global. That said, it’s important to note that there are only certain media that travel across national boundaries (text messages and camera phone photos usually stay very local). Today’s media and information literacy is first and foremost about social belonging in a world that is saturated with media of both the professional and the amateur kind.

Though most of what kids are doing online may seen trivial, what they’re really doing is building the capacity to mobilize and work together.

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