The Political Lives of Black Youth: An Interview with Cathy Cohen (Part Two)

You write near the end of the book, “While the Obama Administration and other black officials are attempting to avoid discussions of race, members of the Republican Party and the Far Right have escalated their racial and racist talks and attacks. These contrasting trends have meant that racial discouse is increasingly being shaped by, or at least framed by, the right wing.” Clearly, you have in mind something like the Tea Party movement. How would you explain the expanding support that the Tea Party has received? What impact do you think such a movement has on the political lives of the black youth you’ve studied?

I don’t think it is a coincidence that recent polls show that only about 17 percent of black youth support the Tea Party, compared to 34 percent of white youth and 15 percent of Latino youth. Black youth understand that the policies advanced by Tea Party candidates and members will mean a more limited role for the government in the lives of everyday Americans. And while many believe that the reach of the government has extended too far, black youth realize that many of the opportunities secured by the mobilization of Blacks and others from the Civil Rights Movement through the election of President Obama have only been implemented and protected by an activist and expanded federal government.

Thus, a significant part of the Tea Party agenda, that which would repeal recently won health reform or pursue deficit reduction by slashing needed safety net programs or reduce funding for public education, or generally reduce and constrain the work of the government, would detrimentally impact the lives of black youth, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Beyond the specific policies of the Tea Party, I believe that their exaggerated discourse, especially as it targets President Obama and attacks him not on the terms of just his policies but also engages in a racial baiting, will reinforce the idea held among black youth that racism remains a major issue in this country and that black people are treated as second-class citizens in the political community. These young people have watched as the Tea Party held rallies in which President Obama has been demeaned and depicted as other, an unspeakable evil on par with Adolph Hitler. They believe that while some of the objections to President Obama are based on the political agenda he has pursued, other motivations for their challenge to President Obama has everything to do with the fact that he is black.

In response to such actions on the part of some members of the Tea Party, it seems that President Obama and his team has made a decision to try and stay above the fray of racial politics, adopting or letting stand a color-blind approach to race in the United States. My concern as you quote in the question is that the absence of leadership by President Obama on the topic of race and racism has allowed the right wing and some more extreme Tea Party types to step into the gap and promote their decidedly pre-civil rights movement view of the ideal racial order.

In contrast to the continued activity of the right on questions of race and racism, those public officials that might traditionally be mobilized to fight for and articulate a political agenda meant to improve the opportunities and lives of black youth, specifically black and progressive politicians like Barack Obama, are exceedingly reticent to make and defend an explicitly racialized agenda. And so black youth are left to fend for themselves on issues of race and racism, again learning the lesson that politicians are not to be trusted and that even in an environment where expansion of our political community is promised, some will fight the equal rights and inclusion of black youth seemingly forever!

As you’ve noted, the perspectives of black youth are rarely discussed as part of our understanding of contemporary politics. What do we understand differently about the current political scene if their views are factored into our analysis?

I think it is hard to understand and think effectively about the issues that confront us without thinking about the perspective and lived experience of black youth. As I discussed in a different question, black youth are at the center of many of the most troubling issues confronting the country. Issues ranging from the decline in public education to the rise in incarceration and the dominance of the prison industrial complex all disproportionately impact black youth. So it will be hard to develop effective and inclusive policies, programs and approaches to these issues without seriously considering the perspectives and including the insights of black youth.

However, it is more than just a simple gesture of inclusion when thinking about how black youth help us to understand and imagine differently the political scene. We have to acknowledge that young black people often have a different take on issues than others groups of young people that necessitate different policy choices and political collaborations. For example, if we take the issue of whether we are currently or even approaching a post-racial state, black and white youth think very differently about this issue.

Since the election of Barack Obama, much has been made of the generational divide in the populace. Some have suggested that once the so-called millennials come to dominate the political domain, many of the thorny social issues that have caused great debate and consternation among the American public will be resolved. This line of reasoning implies that young people who embrace and personify a more inclusive society will eventually take over policy-making and thought leadership, moving both areas in a more liberal direction. Commentators point to the significant differences in opinion registered among various generations on topics such as same-sex marriage and abortion as evidence of the more inclusive worldview held by the majority of young people.

The promised harmony around social issues that is presumably evident among younger Americans extends beyond the confines of sexually infused social policy to the prominent and always simmering issue of race. An article published in The New York Times suggests that much of the problem of race and racism found in the Tea Party and the NAACP has to do with the fact that they both are largely comprised of older members who grew up as the targets or beneficiaries of Jim Crow. Columnist Matt Bai writes, “The Tea Party and the N.A.A.C.P. represent disproportionately older memberships. And herein lies a problem with so much of our discussion about race and politics in the Obama era: we tend not to recognize the generational divide that underlies it.”

As evidence of this substantial generational divide, Bai cites pre-midterm data from the Pew Research Center indicating that “there is nearly a 20 point spread between Mr. Obama’s approval ratings among voters younger than 30 and those older than 65.” Perhaps Bai’s most important observation is one that he seems to add almost as a throwaway: his comment that “These numbers probably do reflect some profound racial differences among the generations.” I show in the book that significant and profound differences in how young whites, blacks, and Latinos think about such topics as racism, citizenship, and gay and lesbian issues still exist today and that these differences are a defining feature of American politics as practiced by the young today, even in the age of Obama.

Far from the generation of millennials signaling the end of race or even the beginning of a post-racial society, I present data in the book that suggest that deep divides still exist among young people, with black youth particularly skeptical about the idea of a post-racial anything. I note in the book that on a survey we administered seven months after the 2008 election, we asked 18-35 year-old respondents if they believed racism was still a major problem. The divide between black and white young people was stark: 68 percent of black youth stated that racism remains a major problem, compared to 33 percent of white respondents and 58 percent of Latino respondents

A similar split was evident when we asked if blacks had achieved racial equality. A near majority of whites (48 percent) thought blacks had achieved equality, compared to 15 percent of blacks and 39 percent of Latinos. As we know the racial landscape is far more expansive than one that accounts for just blacks and whites. When asked if Latinos had achieved racial equality, support for this assertion dropped among whites. In fact, only 29 percent of whites, 16 percent of blacks, and 20 percent of Latinos believed that Latinos had achieved racial equality.

In the many articles written about the generational shift in attitudes on social issues, such as gay marriage or even race, few, if any, take the time to disaggregate the data by race and ethnicity to determine whether there might be divergent trends among the many groups comprising “youth.” When researchers disaggregate their data (that is, if they have sampled enough people of color to pursue statistical analysis of different racial and ethnic groups) they often find that there are significant differences in how young people from the various racial and ethnic groups that make up the American populace think about not only same-sex marriage and abortion, but also race. If leaders continue to make policy and academic insist on writing articles with data assuming that the ideas of white youth represent the attitudes of all young people, they are all in for a rude awakening.

As the demographics of the country continue to move from one dominated-in population and power-by whites to one increasingly populated by individuals of color, our analyses must start paying attention to the ideas, attitudes, and actions of young people of color. Making the experiences of black and Latino youth central to our understanding and “work” around race provides a very different perspective in terms of what we must do. In the realm of race, the experience of black youth and, at times, Latino youth is that race still figures prominently in their lives, shaping where they can live, if and where they work, and how state authorities, such as the police, treat them. For these young people, racism still blocks their access to full citizenship, in particular the psychological aspects of believing that one belongs to and is valued in the larger political community. In the book I use the experiences of black youth to underscores the necessity of not just including but highlighting the voices and experiences of black youth if we are to bolster democratic practice in the 21st century.

Cathy J. Cohen is the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science. . She is also the Deputy Provost for Graduate Education and the former Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. Cohen is the author of two books: Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics (Oxford University Press 2010) and The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (University of Chicago Press 1999) and co-editor with Kathleen Jones and Joan Tronto of Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader (NYU, 1997). Cohen is principal investigator of two major projects: The Black Youth Project and the Mobilization, Change and Political and Civic Engagement Project. Her general field of specialization is American politics, although her research interests include African-American politics, women and politics, lesbian and gay politics, and social movements.

The Political Lives of Black Youth: An Interview with Cathy Cohen

I have mentioned here several times before my participation in a new research network on youth and participatory politics, which has been funded and organized by the MacArthur Foundation as an extension of their work on Digital Media and Learning. Part of the pleasures of participating in this network has been the chance to engage in “mixed methods” research and in the process, to learn more about research methods that previously seemed very alien to my own. In graduate school, the qualitative and quantitative students walked past each other like ghosts: we shared the same offices, in some cases, but there was not much fraternizing across enemy lines. :-) Here, I’ve had a chance to learn about and contribute to the design of a large scale national survey as well as having the ethnographic work my team is doing informed by thoughtful questions from the social scientists and political philosophers on the team.

I have especially loved getting to know Cathy Cohen, a political scientist who remains surprisingly open to our questioning of what counts as politics in the digital age and who is often leading the way to challenge the established wisdom in her field. Her previous books have included The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and The Breakdown of Black Politics and Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader. She has done extensive research on the political lives of black youth and what they can tell us about the current state of democracy in America, work which led this fall to the publication of a important new book, Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics.

The information here is transformative. Cohen tells us for example that more black youth have participated in buycotts, that is directing their consumer purchases towards social change, than in boycotts, that archtypical tactic of the civil rights generation of black leadership. She describes how black youth have been stigmatized not only by white racists but by many black political leaders who often pathologize youth culture as symptomatic of the problems confronting the black community today. Her approach combines statistical and cultural analysis to offer a multilayered portrait of contemporary black youth, their hopes, their fears, their frustrations, their values, and their politics. As she notes, these perspectives are often left out or remain undifferentiated in larger accounts of youth and political participation.

The picture she paints will complicate further claims that the election of Barack Obama represent a “post-racial” era in American politics. As her comments below suggest, current politics are very much shaped by implicit and sometimes explicit assumptions about race at a time when the racial composition of the country is shifting dramatically.

I was lucky to get Cohen to respond to some of my questions about this book, which I strongly recommend to my readers. What follows is simply a glimpse into the rich analysis that runs through Democracy Remixed.

Walk me through your title. What do you mean by “Democracy Remixed”? Why is this an appropriate metaphor for the book’s findings?

I decided on the title of Democracy Remixed for a number of reasons. First, it seems to me that one of the interesting consequences of taking seriously the political ideas and actions of some of our most marginal citizens–black youth–is that it pushes, challenges, and changes the nature of how democracy currently functions in the United States. If it doesn’t then something is seriously wrong.

For example, if you begin to look at the participation rates of black youth, although there were historically high in 2008, there are still serious challenges to the full participation of black youth in our democracy. The issue of felony disenfranchisement and the general disproportionate impact of incarceration and policing in the lives of black youth are made visible when we focus on the political lives of black youth. Far too many young black people are unable to engage in the most basic of democratic practices–voting–because some states have taken away the franchise of those who have been convicted of a felony, even after they have served the terms of sentence. Thus, if we are serious about facilitating the participation of young black people in something as basic to democracy as voting, then we must examine and “remix” our ideas and laws about felony disenfranchisement.

Similarly, when we include black youth as full and equal members of our political community, it means that we acknowledge their worth and will debate and pursue politics that reflects their priorities and needs. For example, if young black people were active participants in our policy debates, the political agenda might be “remixed” to include specific policies and programs such as quality education for marginalized youth, especially young black people who suffer from dropout rates of nearly 50 percent in some urban cities.

As a country we might find ourselves designating more money to health programs accountable for erasing the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and mental health problems among black youth. It might mean that we would do more to ensure that young people are not killed while playing outside their homes or on their way to or from school; a way of life for black children in Chicago and other major cities.

As equal members of our political community, the future of black youth must be recognized to be the future of the nation. Their suffering is our suffering. And their progress is our progress. Only by remixing our democratic ideals and practices can we truly become an inclusive and full-functioning democratic community.

You begin your book with the story of your nephew Terry. How did his experiences inspire and inform the project? What would you like to see Terry and others of his generation take away from the ideas in your book?

As you note in your question, it was the experiences of my nephew Terry and my other nieces and nephews that inspired this project. Terry, at least for me, represents many of the challenges of black youth today. He has faced and dealt with many of the issues that confront the lives of far too many young black people: violence, a failed educational system, incarceration, becoming a parent too early, and difficulty in finding a job just to name a few. While these are familiar themes that have been outlined in a number of books on black youth, what is different about Terry and hopefully my arguments in this book, is that we both try to provide a more nuanced representation of black youth than is regularly presented in other texts.

I believe that too often we are publish monolithic representations of black youth that either focus exclusively on their failure or their success. Bill Cosby is an example of one celebrity who has garnered a lot of media attention through the simplistic degradation of black people and black youth. I try in the book to detail the complex lives of black youth. As my nieces and nephews as well as thousands of young black people who answered surveys, took part in in-depth interviews and participated in focus groups for this book demonstrate, one has to pay attention to both the agency and structures that are a part of the story of black youth.

When I talk with Terry about the difficulties he has encountered, his is a balanced account, noting structural barriers such as the lack of jobs one can find with a criminal record, but also detailing how he has contributed to his own struggles by, for example, having children without being able to fully care for them, emotionally and materially. While Terry is willing to discuss the impact of being tracked at an early age into special education classes largely because the teachers in his school were unable or unwilling to deal with the learning challenges and energy of young black boys and girls, he also is quick to point out that he did not take advantage of the educational opportunities presented to him. It is the complicated story of being young and black in the United States today that I believe continues to deserve exploration and detail.

I hope the young people who read this book will first and foremost see themselves throughout this book. One of the things that was really amazing about doing the research for this project was the willingness of young black people to take time out of their schedules to talk to me and other researchers associated with the project. Repeatedly, they told us they were willing and eager to talk to us because people rarely asked them their opinions about the issues facing them and their ideas for solutions. So I hope those same young people are able to hear their voices in the ideas and arguments of the book.

Second, I hope the book reminds both young Blacks and the nation as a whole of the centrality of young black people to our democratic futures. Here I’m not only talking about the fact that black youth suffer disproportionately from some of the most important issues facing the country–unemployment, the decline of public education, violence, HIV/AIDS–but also they are a central part of what is promising about the next generation. In 2008 black and Latino youth came to the polls in record numbers to vote for the nation’s first black president. Their excitement, determination, and unprecedented turn out is a signal of the promise of an expanding democracy.

Third and finally, I greatly respect young black people for their political intellect, their determination, and their ability to honestly and openly state when they have made bad decisions. Like most of us, these are young people striving every day to do the right thing and be decent human beings. I hope this book affirms their efforts to work hard, to do what is right and their basic humanity.

I was very interested in the mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods shaping this study. What did each contribute to your understanding of the political lives of black youth?

I wanted to use a mixed methodological approach to the book to reach a level of breadth and depth in reporting on the political lives of young black people. Specifically, the research design started with a national representative sample of young people ages15-25 that included oversamples of black and Latino youth. By oversamples I mean including larger number of Blacks and Latinos than might be necessary to make a traditional random sample so that our statistical analysis of young Blacks and Latinos would be more reliable and thus the margin of error would be smaller. In addition to ensuring that the sample would allow us to highlight and analyze the ideas and actions of black youth in comparison to other racial and ethnic groups of young people, we also wanted to develop a survey that would focus on and be rooted in the lives of young black people.

Many of the surveys used to explore the attitudes of young people start with white youth as the normative respondent. What I mean by that is the survey is developed with a young white person in mind. We developed a survey that tried to tap into the lives of young blacks. Toward that end we did things like include questions on rap music and rap music videos since we know that as both a cultural and political form hip hop and specifically rap music is central to the lives of black youth. Much of the statistical data included in the book comes from two original data sets–the Black Youth Project–and another survey we mounted before and after the 2008 presidential election–the Mobilization and Change Project. All of the data from these projects are available to the public and can be downloaded through the websites mentioned above.

Once we had the data from our new survey instrument in hand, we knew that this data would only allow us to say general things about the population of young people from different ethnic and racial groups. It would not provide us with the depth of knowledge needed to write a book that would capture and detail the nuanced political lives of black youth. To gain greater knowledge and go deeper we utilized two methods to gather additional qualitative data. One strategy we used was to carry out interviews with about 40 black youth, most of whom had completed the national survey and lived in the Midwest. We targeted four cities–Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and St. Louis and conducted interviews with black respondents in their city.

We were able to find respondents because at the end of the survey we included a question asking black respondents if they would be willing to be interviewed in the future. Over 90 percent of black youth answered affirmatively to the question, providing three contacts that might be able to find them within a year. Even with this information we were only able to find about 50 percent of the respondents who agreed to a future in-depth interview. After we confirmed the interview, graduate student researchers drove to their town and sat-down with respondents for over an hour, assessing in a more free flowing and detailed manner their thoughts on topics ranging from politics to the role of race in American society. Excerpts from these interviews are included as quotes throughout the book.

Finally, in 2005 and after the 2008 presidential election we held a series of focus groups with young black people in Chicago ages 18-21. We used the early focus groups in 2005 to inform the development of our first national survey and our general work on the Black Youth Project. The focus group held in 2009 was used to get a sense of what young people thought about the election of President Obama and how they thought the policies of the nation’s first African-American President would impact their lives. Again, I also use quotes from these focus groups throughout the book, especially in chapter six.

Cathy J. Cohen is the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science. . She is also the Deputy Provost for Graduate Education and the former Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. Cohen is the author of two books: Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics (Oxford University Press 2010) and The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (University of Chicago Press 1999) and co-editor with Kathleen Jones and Joan Tronto of Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader (NYU, 1997). Cohen is principal investigator of two major projects: The Black Youth Project and the Mobilization, Change and Political and Civic Engagement Project. Her general field of specialization is American politics, although her research interests include African-American politics, women and politics, lesbian and gay politics, and social movements.

Media-Making Madness: #Arab Revolutions from the Perspective of Egyptian-American VJ Um Amel (Part One)

Like many of the rest of you, I’ve followed with intense interest the developments over the past few weeks in North Africa and the Arab world, grabbing at anything which might help me better understand the perspectives of those involved in the various revolutions, protests, and uprisings, and in particular, to make sense of the back and forth debates about the role which new media may have played in what has been occurring. Talking to friends who know the region well, it is clear that more turmoil and transformation is on the horizon, and we will be sorting out what happened and why for many years to come.

In this process, I’ve reconnected with Laila Shereen Sakr, akn as VJ Um Amel, an Egyptian-American artist, activist, and critic, currently a graduate student in the iMAP program at University of Southern California, and a student in my Medium Specificity class last term. Sakr has long been interested in developing tools which would allow her to better map the use of social media in the Arab world and has remained very interested in debates about the role of Twitter in social change movements impacting her region. Over the past few weeks, she’s been working hard trying to map what’s happening in Cairo and trying to share what she’s learned through her video productions.

Late last week, I asked if she would write up a report on this work to share with the readers of this blog, and she turned this around in record time. I hope you will find the work she is doing as interesting as I do.

At her request, I am running both part one and part two of this post today given the timely nature of the content. You can either read them together or bookmark part two and return later. I will accordingly not be running a post mid-week but will be back with a new post come Friday.

Media-Making Madness: #Arab Revolutions from the Perspective of Egyptian-American VJ Um Amel

by Laila Shereen Sakr

I have not yet been able to digest the magnitude of what has happened in Tunisia, Egypt, and is happening now Iran, Syria, Yemen, and other Arab countries. As an Egyptian-American VJ and media artist whose work concerns the Arab world, the revolutions of 2011 have deeply impacted me professionally, artistically, and personally. There is something extremely poignant for Egyptians living outside of Egypt at this exact moment in history. Most of us who emigrated from Egypt often did so for the same reasons that incited millions to rise and cause revolutions. Perhaps there is lingering guilt that stays with the emigrant for not having stuck it out–on top of repercussions of Diaspora accumulated over decades. Still, there is no doubt that all Arabs living in and outside of the region have been extremely inspired and mobilized by the collective power of the people in the region. I keep hearing, repeatedly: the time is now.

The last couple weeks indeed have been a whirlwind. The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 happened in 18 days, while the world participated in this epic media making madness.

Since January 2011, I have entered into communication with tens of thousands of people through a weird concoction of videos online, Twitter, Facebook, satellite TV, online journals, and data visualizations. I think it is significant to consider the relations among media, and I am in agreement with you, Professor Jenkins: The reality is that we have truly passed beyond the point of media convergence. Contemporary cultures–influenced by global trends and transnationalism–have become a fully designed and mediated phenomenon. From the built spaces we inhabit, to the paths of circulation we travel through–a set of expressive practices, professional skills, and making protocols–plays a critical role in the production of global culture. During the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, I believe that all media makers became like co-designers of the transformative, speedy, historic event(s) in the region–from the 800,000 posts on #Jan25 in Twitter, to the role of Facebook, YouTube, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, to White House and Egyptian State Television broadcasting. Just as large numbers of Egyptian were flooding the streets of Egyptian cities throughout the country, pedabytes of data were mediated through various networks.

And so when it all began in last month, my first reaction was to start to archive and aggregate this exponentially growing corpus of data into our prototype. I started by adding #Tunisia then #Jan25 to the existing R-Shief’s Twitter Analytics. Despite what some scholars and journalists might have said before, Twitter (and other social networking sites) had undoubtedly been causal in recent events in the Middle East. Since August 2010, R-Shief has been data mining (pulling from Twitter and storing onto our own server every 15 minutes) tweets by selected hashtags. (A hashtag is Twitter nomenclature for ‘subject heading’). After storing the tweets by hashtag, we chose to use language field by which to sort the data because language is able to offer culturally specific indicators of the Middle East beyond its current geopolitical place in the world.

Effectively, R-Shief continues to make accessible all tweets following hashtags: #Wikileaks, #Tunisia, #Jan25, #KhaledSaid, #Abdulemam, #Gaza, and #Flotilla going as far back as September 2010. This simple, craigslist-like interface is meant to encourage users to filter searches through these hashtags by language and/or range of dates–while providing interesting word clouds and parsing out top contributors and hyperlinks within tweets.

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Over the following days, I crafted a VJ remix in support of my fellow Egyptians, “#Jan25, Oum Kalthoum, Sadat, Latuff, #Video Remix,” which I published on both Vimeo and YouTube on Monday, Jan 31, 2011, one week into the protest in Egypt. The entire country of Egypt was taken offline, which had repercussions beyond Twitter–ATM’s were down, banks were closed; the Egyptian economy came to a “sudden stop.” And so along with that there came a sudden urgency to spread the word. Secondly, I wanted to illustrate the irony of the recursive nature of history itself, incredible in the face of human integrity. It was ironic to me that the very same army which was responsible for the coup d’etat of 1952 that led to the expulsion of King Farouk was now being usurped by the people in the name of peace, solidarity, and unity. Whereas the previous generation was led by individual icons like Gamal Abdel Nassar, Anwar Sadat, Oum Kalthoum, images used to represent today’s iconic power reflected the scale of the protests, the eagle multiplied into a flock of birds, The images that took the breath of the world revealed numbers and numbers of people–the beauty was in its plurality and diversity. Published only a week into the revolution for the Egyptian people, this video remixed significant milestones of that week with historical references, YouTube videos that rocked the world, a visualization of live Twitter posts of #Jan25, original music, and illustrations by revolutionary cartoonist, Carlos Latuff. The animations I made in After Effects and the recording of the Twitter visualization built in Quartz composer were added into Final Cut Pro for final editing. If I had enough time, I would have added translated too.

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Using spatially designed information visualizations along with other representations, these remixes by VJ Um Amel demonstrate live media mixing as a research methodology whereby one can capture temporally specific conjunctures such that others can witness them.

This next remix was a total inspiration–immersed in all the media coming from Tahrir square I began noticing patterns emerging. One thing that struck me was how instrumental were the Arab women and youth in this movement. Even though all generations, professions, classes, faiths came out to protest in unity, there were several key voices that swept through social media, new media, and even satellite media like hot fire–and they were that of women, young women. There were several photo albums specifically of Egyptian women protesting that got reposted around social media sites. And when I saw the video of the young girl leading the chants and waving the Egyptian flag, I realized I had to do another remix that captured the contributions women and youth were making to the revolution. The final motivation to do this piece came when DJ Lucxke pinged me on Facebook with a link to the dubstep and bass song he had just composed. Using this style of music allowed me to bring out the techno-feminist cyborg in VJ Um Amel.

“Women & Youth of the Arab Revolutions (Suheir Hammad, Carlos Latuff, Dubstep Remix)” is done entirely differently than the previous one (published on YouTube on Feb 8, 2011). This video is a recording of a live VJ session where I edited the clips in real time–the cube effects, the rotoscoping, the layers and transitions, were all performed using real-time video processing software, VDMX and patches. This is a very different process than post-production editing in Final Cut Pro. Though the video is raw, I find that there is a certain poetics that real-time mixing was able to bring out.

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Through my research developing R-Shief Twitter Analytics, I have accumulated over 800,000 tweets on the hashtag #Jan25 alone since Jan 25, 2011. And that includes the several days at the height of the conflict in Egypt, when 85 million inhabitants in Egypt were cut from the Internet–still the world tweeted. How did that happen? How were millions of tweets generated over protests in Egypt while the entire nation was offline? I wrote about my experience managing this Twitter aggregation in a recently published article in critical code journal, ThoughtMesh: “social media operates based on principles of uncertainty, where there are no groups, only formations of groups, and where non-linear time and space still create narratives and meaning vis-à-vis the database, and where objects (such as Twitter) have agency in a social network.” (ThoughtMesh.net, Feb 5, 2011).

This info vid below is a good example of what how computers can run semantic analytics on a set of strings (words), an interactive experience that demonstrates how a database narrative might express meaning through recombinant and indexical instantiations.

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The purpose of these data visualizations is to capture that special something that makes Twitter (and other social media sites) so feared that a government would shut down the Internet to an entire nation during civil uprising and protest. This next information visualization below, also published Feb 12, 2011, was designed to have a more poetic (and less narrative) meaning to express. This is a running hashtag of all the tweets on #Egypt that were posted to Twitter the day Hosni Mubarak resigned as president of Egypt. Whereas the previous semantic content info vid is more like content analysis or data visualization, the hashmap presented here offers a sentiment analysis and is intended to be evocative.

I programmed it in Processing, which runs as a Java applet. Crunching the data was not as straightforward as you might think. I have only begun to consider the design challenges to producing data visualization. Ideally, my process is to problematize the project’s approach in order to get beyond the obvious and expected, i.e.: “Muslims” AND “Christians” combination. In future research, I will be conducting link analysis, term frequency analysis, creating a network map based on themes and links, and if possible identifying primary grouping. My aim is to make people say, “ah, that’s what’s going on with Twitter. That’s how it participated in the #ArabRevolts.”

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What we need most at this point is illumination on the kinds of research questions we need to be asking plus a good perspective how others are going about content analysis. I am confident we can master the tools and generate data. I think the big challenge is designing it in a way that renders meaning. The revolution that started in Tunisia is having its Tsunami effect felt all the way over on the West coast of the United States. Next week I have been invited to attend a roundtable workshop on “Blogs & Bullets: Social Media and the Struggle for Political Change,” hosted at Stanford University with US Institute for Peace and The Institute for Public Diplomacy & Global Communication at The George Washington University. Other participants will be from the Oxford Internet Institute and Meedan online translation along with Larry Diamond, Marc Lynch, Clay Shirky, and others. I am looking forward to this.

I see the ecology in the field of database narrative making and visualizing as rich, undiscovered territory to explore. We need to consider various methodological approaches to social media analysis for both the expert and the student. In the months to come, I plan to provide suggested approaches of social media analysis for teachers. Also, I will be documenting the techniques used in the research practice as we uncover–all of this is work in progress.

In parallel, my itch to create innovative VJ mixes continues. They are like my version of blog posts, a type of serialized commentary. Last week, I wanted to do a live remixing of tweets and people’s YouTube videos and project it into Tahrir via Al Jazeera’s bandwidth. I still want to do it, however, Tahrir no longer makes sense. So am connecting with friends and family there to find an appropriate time and place. One way this might go down is as a show comprised of performances of other Arab-American/ Egyptian-American artists like L.A.-based comedian, Ahmed Ahmed, Omar Effendum, Wesam Nassar, Rita Qatami, Leyya Tawil and others. Imagine projecting back to the people in Egypt the tweets from around the world–parsed out by language, Italian, French, Arabic, Japanese, etc…

Common among the creative fields–the arts, science, technology and design–is a commitment to the production of new knowledge based on original research. This presentation hopes to have extended notions of how innovative methods might be applied in a Media studies or Middle East studies context. Through this VJed publication, my aim has been to demonstrate the notion of design/ art practice as transformative research. Most recently in Arab countries, social media and its surprising political usages have created interplay between the application of structure and resistance that have been transformative. In conclusion, I argue that social media in the Arab world be unique–both in terms of how the society is operating, tightly woven; and in terms of media’s history in the Arab world, born in print form as an apparatus of the state since the Ottoman Empire. Where U.S. media, in principle, acts to ensure the power of the government remains under checks and balances, in the Arab world it functions quite differently. And so when, in Egypt, media became actively dependent on the social fabric, rather than institutional sources of information and analysis, that opened up an uncertain bag of worms for an entire region.

Laila Shereen Sakr (a.k.a. VJ Um Amel) is a media artist whose practices include ambient visual projection, live cinema performance, game design, database design, and innovative research. In her live VJ performances, she explores the implications of juxtaposing the identity of “mother” and a techno-feminist construct of “cyborg” within local and transnational expressions of “Arab.” Currently, she is pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Arts and Practice at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts where she was awarded an Annenberg Fellowship.

Starstruck: An Interview with Elizabeth Currid-Halkett (Part Two)

You also call attention to the less visible labor which goes into the production of the celebrity. Why is becoming a celebrity such hard work and why is it worth it for people across a range of different sectors of the entertainment industry?

One thing that my research has indicated is that celebrity is big business – hundreds of thousands of people and billions of dollars go into the production and upholding of celebrities. Many paychecks and livelihoods beyond those of the stars themselves are a result of celebrity. Being a celebrity is hard work in that one has to constantly keep on top of cultivating one’s public persona and of course getting into the Hollywood star machine is virtually impossible for most of us. That said, many of us question the self-perpetuating, almost tautological nature of celebrity, but if we look at the number of jobs and payroll it makes a lot of sense why there are so many people who want to keep the celebrity industry and the production of stars in business.

John McCain rather famously attacked Barack Obama for being a “celebrity” on the same order as Paris Hilton. What were the implications of this slur and what might it suggest about our ambivalence towards celebrity?

For someone like Obama McCain’s slur has no negative impact – Obama is really talented and a very gifted politician so McCain can try to compare Obama to Hilton but it does not detract from Obama in the way he might have wanted. McCain’s comment rings true though: we’re collectively fascinated with both Paris and Obama and we care about how they drink their coffee and when they go to the gym. We are ambivalent about celebrity because we do think it’s frivolous but the fact is that we care about our stars and they build empires around our fascination (See again: Paris Hilton. See also: Kim Kardashian).

What are “celebrity networks” and what approach did you take to studying them?

I was interested in how celebrities might be different from us. One way in which they are different is that they spend time with an elite group of individuals and invite-only exclusive events – these social behaviors are part and parcel of one’s celebrity status. In order to capture celebrity networks my colleague Gilad Ravid and I looked at the caption information for over 600,000 Getty Image photographs and ran social network analysis to study who was in the photos, at what event, when and where. We found that celebrities really do have more exclusive networks but also that they are able to access one another with much greater ease than those of us in “random” networks. Given that much of career mobilization hinges on “who you know” this means that they have greater possibilities to advance their careers in these industries by virtue of being a part of the network.

How do the “democratic celebrities” which emerge through reality television differ from the more traditional kinds of celebrities you mostly discuss in your book?

Well, democratic celebrities are different because they are more like us – again less icons of perfection than our Hollywood stars. They give us the belief that should we want that type of stardom we could achieve it. They are also circumventing the conventional star system and they are created through the public’s – their fans’ – preferences. They’ve “beaten the system” and don’t have to comply to rigid Hollywood standards of stardom.

Some scandals seem to focus greater awareness on celebrities, while other scandals may destroy them. Do you have any sense on why these very different consequences?

I think the different consequences are a result of whether or not there is a disconnect between our perception of the star the scandal in which she/he is involved in. Tiger Woods took a hit because he was perceived as a clean cut family man and it turned out he was engaged in a string of infidelities. We expect a lot less from Charlie Sheen – not that his behavior is in any way okay but we’ve never thought him to be the poster child of good behavior. Kate Moss’ cocaine scandal was initially thought to hurt her career but she’s even more famous and in demand than ever – but she’s always been the bad girl of the fashion world and never pretended to be anything other than that. It’s really about synchronicity between the star’s public persona and their behavior – good and bad.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett is the author of The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City (Princeton University Press) and Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity (Faber & Faber). She is assistant professor at University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Developme

Starstruck: An Interview with Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

Celebrity culture is in many ways the flip side of fan culture. Having spent many years studying fans, I was delighted upon arriving at USC to meet a new colleague, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, who studies celebrities. We instantly began comparing notes. In many world, those fans who are drawn towards celebrities display very different dynamics than those drawn towards fictional characters. Celebrity-focused fans seem more competitive, less collaborative, with each other, in part because the celebrity is a limited good. The fans who get close to the celebrity often become “protectors” of that access by “policing” the behavior of other fans. Only a limited number of fans can be “close” to Johnny Depp, while there can be as many Jack Sparrows as there are fan fiction writers. And so, I suspect celebrities often see fans at their worst rather than understanding the richness of all that fan culture has to offer.

Currid-Halkett’s book, Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity, was released late last year and I am happy to present it to my readers “for their consideration,” as the posters around Hollywood this time of year would put it. I found it a very engaging and informative read, one which seeks to understand the economics of being famous, and one which takes an imaginative approach to mapping the social networks which grow up around celebrity culture in Hollywood and elsewhere. She certainly has a lot to say about what it means to be famous in our culture, including being famous for being famous, as is true say for Paris Hilton, or being famous in a niche community, as might be true for Big Name Fans in the science fiction world or in her example, designers in the wargaming world. While there’s just enough gossip here to keep us turning the pages, people checking out this book will get a lot more — a deep understanding of what makes being a celebrity or being close to a celebrity or selling news and pictures of celebrity such a lucrative business in today’s culture.


You open the book with a comparison of the kinds of lifestyle information some people divulge on Facebook and the role which celebrities play in our culture. In what way are they the same? How are they different? Why do you think so many young people want, above all, to be famous?

Celebrity hinges on the collective fascination we have with particular people which means it can exist in all social stratospheres. Hollywood is just a very visual mega version of a phenomenon that exists in all of our lives. Facebook and social media more generally just provide more avenues for people to cultivate a public persona. If we look back to high school or the family reunion we see the same type of collective fascination in more old fashioned contexts as much as in “celebrity 2.0″.

You define celebrity as “the special quality that some individuals possess that propels society to care more about them than about other people.” Do we have any basis for understanding why some personalities become celebrities and others fall below the grade?

Yes and no. I think that it’s hard to truly pinpoint what makes us anoint some people as stars while we discard others – is there a meaningful difference between say Paris Hilton and every other pretty socialite? That said, celebrities do behave differently than everyone else. They over share, they put themselves in the spotlight, they show up at events that are documented and they create a public persona – we see this on Facebook as much as we see it in Hollywood.

You suggest that the nature of celebrity shifts when the media system changes. How might we contrast our current era of celebrity gossip from, say, the Hollywood star system of the 1930s?

Social media and the 24/7 gossip cycle have transformed stars from being icons of perfect who we admire from afar to individuals who we attempt to relate to and who are, to borrow US Weekly‘s phrase, “Just Like Us”. Also the ability to take a photo and have it online in under 10 minutes means that we are recording the day by day activities and banality of stars. I actually feel bad for them because now it’s not just looking fabulous at the Oscars, they have to think about what their makeup looks like when their grabbing their morning Starbucks order.

One of the interesting aspects of the book centers around what you call “relative celebrity,” a topic which takes you from the Warhammer workshop to ROFLcon, trying to understand how people become famous within smaller niches. What can studying such relative celebriities tell us about the larger phenomenon of celebrityhood?

Relative celebrities are simply fractal versions of mainstream Hollywood-style celebrity. They are not on their way to Hollywood, they are autonomous forms of stardom. In this sense, relative celebrities tell us a lot about how celebrity is a social phenomenon everywhere and a way in which society is organized. We anoint special people, we collectively obsess about certain people for things that transcend their talents and our stars provide an important social function -as you’ve pointed out in your own work, they are the material and information we gossip about. So their function is more than just existing as people – their existence provides a stickiness for society to bond over.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett is the author of The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City (Princeton University Press) and Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity (Faber & Faber). She is assistant professor at University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development.

Announcing Transmedia, Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design

Transmedia registration can now be done through

http://www.ticketmaster.com/Transmedia-Hollywood-2-Visual-Culture-and-Design-tickets/artist/1559777

TRANSMEDIA, HOLLYWOOD 2:

Visual Culture and Design

A UCLA/USC/Industry Symposium

Co-sponsored by

UCLA Producers Program,

UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television

and

USC School of Cinematic Arts

Friday, April 8, 2011

James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television

9:45 AM – 7 PM

Event Co-Directors:

Denise Mann, Associate Professor, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, USC Annenberg School of Communication

Overview

Transmedia, Hollywood 2: Visual Culture and Design is a one-day public symposium exploring the role of transmedia franchises in today’s entertainment industries. Transmedia, Hollywood 2 turns the spotlight on media creators, producers and executives and places them in critical dialogue with top researchers from across a wide spectrum of film, media and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary summit for the free interchange of insights about how transmedia works and what it means.

Co-hosted by Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins, from UCLA and USC, two of the most prominent film schools and media research centers in the nation, Transmedia, Hollywood 2 builds on the foundations established at last year’s Transmedia, Hollywood: S/Telling the Story. This year’s topic: Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture and Design is meant to move from an abstract discussion of transmedia storytelling in all its permutations to a more concrete consideration of what is involved in designing for transmedia.

The past year has seen the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA) embrace the concept of the transmedia producer. The other Guilds have begun discussing the implications of these developments for their membership. A growing number of small production units are springing up across the film, games, web, and television sectors to try to create and distribute transmedia content. Many of today’s new transmedia producers are helmed by one-time studio or network insiders who are eager to “reinvent” themselves. Inside the studios, the executives tasked with top-down management of large media franchises are partnering with once marginalized film directors, comic book creators, game designers, and other creative personnel.

The underlying premise of this conference is that while the traditional studios and networks are hanging onto many of their outdated practices, they are also starting to engage creative personnel who are working outside the system to help them re-imagine their business. With crisis and change comes the opportunity for the next generation of maverick, independent-minded producers–the next Walt Disney and George Lucas– to significantly challenge the old and to make way for the new. So, now, it is time to start examining lessons learned from these early experiments. Each of the issues outlined below impact the day-to-day design decisions that go into developing transmedia franchises. We hope to break down the project of developing transmedia content into four basic design challenges:

  • What does it mean to structure a franchise around the exploration of a world rather than a narrative? How are these worlds moving from the film and television screen into other media, such as comics, games, and location based entertainment?
  • What does it mean to design a character that will play well across a range of different media platforms? How might transmedia content re-center familiar stories around compelling secondary characters, adding depth to our understanding of the depicted events and relationships?
  • What does it mean to develop a sequence of events across a range of different media? How do we make sure that the spectator understands the relationship between events when they are piecing together information from different platforms and trying to make sense of a mythology that may span multiple epochs?
  • What does it take to motivate consumers to invest deeply enough into a transmedia franchise that they are eager to track down new installments and create buzz around a new property? How is transmedia linked to a push towards interactivity and participatory culture?

As with the first event, Transmedia, Hollywood: Visual Culture & Design will bring together comic book writers, game designers, “imagineers,” filmmakers, television show runners, and other media professionals in a conversation with leading academic thinkers on these topics. Each of our speakers will be asked to focus on the unique challenges they faced while working on a specific production and detail how their understanding of transmedia helped them resolve those issues. From there, we will ask all our speakers to compare notes across projects and platforms with the hopes of starting to develop some basic design principles that will help us translate theories of transmedia entertainment into pragmatic reality.

The creative personnel we have assembled include many of the key individuals responsible for masterminding the fundamental changes in the way traditional media operates and engages audiences by altering the way stories are told temporally, by exploring how graphic design translates from one medium to another, and by explaining how these visually-stunning worlds are being conceived in today’s “connected” entertainment arena.

Conference Schedule

Friday, April 8, 2011

9:15–9:45 am

Registration

9:45–10:00 am

Welcome and Opening Remarks

  • Teri Schwartz, Dean, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television
  • Denise Mann, Associate Professor/Head, Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
  • Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts, Annenberg School of Communication, USC

10:00–11:50 AM

Panel 1: “Come Out 2 Play”: Designing Virtual Worlds–From Screens to Theme Parks and Beyond

Hollywood has come a long way since Walt Disney, circa 1955, invited families to come out and play in the first cross-platform, totally merchandised sandbox–Disneyland. Cut to today and most entertainment corporations are still focused on creating intellectual properties to exploit across all divisions of the Company. However, as the studios and networks move away from the concrete spaces of movie and TV screens and start to embrace the seemingly limitless “virtual spaces” of the Web as well as the real-world spaces of theme parks, museums, and comic book conventions, the demands on creative personnel and their studio counterparts have expanded exponentially.

Rather than rely on old-fashioned merchandising and licensing departments to oversee vendors, which too often results in uninspired computer games, novelizations, and label T-shirts, several studios have brought these activities in-house, creating divisions like Disney Imagineering and Disney Interactive to oversee the design and implementation of these vast, virtual worlds. In other instances, studios are turning to a new generation of independent producers–aka “transmedia producers”–charged with creating vast, interlocking brand extensions that make use of a never-ending cycle of technological future shock and Web 2.0 capabilities.

The results of these partnerships have been a number of extraordinarily inventive, interactive, and immersive experiences that create a “you are there” effect. These include the King Kong 360 3D theme park ride, which incorporates the sight, smell, and thunderous footsteps of the iconic gorilla as he appears to toss the audience’s tram car into a pit. Universal Studios and Warner Bros. have joined forces to create the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new $200 million-plus attraction at the Islands of Adventure in Florida.

Today’s panel focuses on the unique challenges associated with turning traditional media franchises into 3D interactive worlds, inviting you to come out 2 play in the studios’ virtual sandboxes.

Moderator: Denise Mann

Panelists will include:

  • Alex McDowell, Production Designer for Tim Burton and Zack Snyder (Corpse Bride, Watchmen)
    • Dylan Cole, Art Director, Tron, Alice in Wonderland, Avatar, Lord of Rings
  • Thierry Coup, Art Designer, Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Angela Ndalianis, Associate Professor and Head of the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Melbourne, Australia (Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment)
  • Bruce Vaughn, Chief Creative Executive, Disney Imagineering

12:00–1:50 PM

Panel 2: “We’re Looking For Characters”: Designing Personalities Who Play Across Platforms

How is our notion of what constitutes a good character changing as more and more decisions get made on the basis of a transmedia logic? Does it matter that James Bond originated in a book, Spider-Man in comics, Luke Skywalker on screen, and Homer Simpson on television, if each of these figures is going to eventually appear across a range of media platforms?

Do designers and writers conceive of characters differently when they know that they need to be recognizable in a variety of media? Why does transmedia often require a shift in focus as the protagonist aboard the “mothership” often moves off stage as extensions foreground the perspective and actions of once secondary figures?

How might we understand the process by which people on reality television series get packaged as characters who can drive audience identification and interest or by which performers get reframed as characters as they enter into the popular imagination?

Why have so few characters from games attracted a broader following while characters from comics seem to be gaining growing popularity even among those who have never read their graphic adventures?

Moderator: Henry Jenkins

Panelists will include:

  • Geoff Johns, Chief Creative Officer of DC Entertainment
    • Geoffrey Long, Program Manager, Entertainment Platforms, Microsoft
  • Alisa Perren, Assistant Professor, Georgia State University
  • Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson, Executive Producers of Smallville

2:00–3:00 PM

Lunch Break

3:00–4:50 PM

Panel 3: Fan Interfaces: Intelligent Designs or Fan Aggregators?

Once relegated to the margins of society, today’s media fans are often considered the “advance guard” that studio and network marketers eagerly pursue at Comi-Con and elsewhere to help launch virtual word-of-mouth campaigns around a favorite film, TV series, computer game, or comic book. Since tech-savvy fans are often the first to access Web 2.0 sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, and Second Life in search of a like-minded community, it was only a matter of time before corporate marketers followed suit. After all, these social networking sites provide media companies with powerful tools to manage fans and commit them to crowd-sourcing activities on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere.

Given the complexities and contradictions involved in negotiating between industry and audience interests, we will ask the game designers to explain their philosophy about the intended and unintended outcomes of their fan interfaces. Marketers clearly love it when fans become willing billboards for the brand either by wearing logo T-shirts or by dressing a favorite Madman avatar in the 1960s clothing, accessories and backgrounds on display on the AMCTV.com “Madmen Yourself” and then spreading the content through Facebook and Twitter.

What is the design philosophy behind a video game like Spore, which allows fans free range to create their own creatures and worlds but then limits their rights over this digital content? Who owns these virtual creations once they appear for sale on E-bay? These and other intriguing questions will be posed to the creative individuals responsible for designing many of these imaginative and engaging fan interfaces.

Moderator: Denise Mann

Panelists include:

    • Jeph Loeb, Executive Vice President, Head of Television, Marvel (executive producer for Lost, Heroes, Smallville)
    • Craig Reyna, Disney Interactive Studios Marketing (Epic Mickey, Tron, Chronicles of Narnia)
  • Avi Santos, Assistant Professor, Dominican College and Co-editor, FlowTV.com and In Media Res.com
  • Matt Wolf, Double 2.0, ARG/Game Designer

5:00–6:50 PM

Panel 4: “It’s About Time!” Structuring Transmedia Narratives

The rules for how to structure a Hollywood movie were established more than a century ago and even then, were inspired by ideas from earlier media — the four-act structure of theater, the hero’s quest in mythology. Yet, audiences and creators alike are still trying to make sense of how to fit together the chunks of a transmedia narrative. Industry insiders use terms such as mythology or saga to describe stories which may expand across many different epochs, involve many generations of characters, expand across many different corners of the fictional world, and explore a range of different goals and missions.

We might think of such stories as hyperserials, in so far as serials involved the chunking and dispersal of narrative information into compelling units. The old style serials on film and television expanded in time; these new style serials also expand across media platforms.

So, how do the creators of these stories handle challenges of exposition and plot development, managing the audience’s attention so that they have the pieces they need to put together the puzzle? What principles do they use to indicate which chunks of a franchise are connected to each other and which represent different moments in the imaginary history they are recounting? Do certain genres — science fiction and fantasy — embrace this expansive understanding of story time, while others seem to require something closer to the Aristoltelian unities of time and space?

Moderator: Henry Jenkins

Panelists include:

  • Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer, Starlight Runner Entertainment
  • Abigail DeKosnik, Assistant Professor, University of California-Berkeley (Co-Editor, The Survival of the Soap Opera: Strategies for a New Media Era; Illegitimate Media: Discourse and Censorship of Digital Remix)
  • Jane Espensen, Writer/Producer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood.
  • John Platt, Co-Executive Producer, Big Brother, The Surreal Life
  • Tracey Robertson, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Hoodlum
  • Lance Weiler, Founder, Workbook Project
  • Justin Wyatt, Executive Director, Research at at NBCUniversal, Inc (High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood).

7:00 PM

Reception

Lobby, James Bridges Theater

Location

James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television

Registration

Faculty/Students:

Tickets are $5 for faculty and students of accredited institutions and will only be sold at the box-office of the UCLA Central Ticket Office and at the door on the day of the event (prior registration required). Valid university I.D. is required. Registration includes admission to conference and reception.

General Public:

Tickets for the general public are $30. Registration includes admission to conference and reception. Please register: http://www2.tft.ucla.edu/RSVP/index.cfm?action=rsvp_form

Directions

Directions to UCLA:

http://www.ucla.edu/map/

Campus Map:

http://www.ucla.edu/map/ucla-campus-map.pdf

Parking Info:

http://map.ais.ucla.edu/go/1002187

http://www.transportation.ucla.edu/portal/maps/parkingmap/0206UCLAParkingMap.htm

Bus Info:

http://www.metro.net/

http://www.bigbluebus.com/home/index.asp

Contact

UCLA Producers Program

UCLA Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media

203 East Melnitz

Los Angeles, CA 90095

Phone: (310) 206-3761

Fax: (310) 825-3383

Email: producers@tft.ucla.edu

Web: www.tft.ucla.edu/producers

Measuring New Media Literacies: Towards the Development of a Comprehensive Assessment Tool (Part Two)

Measuring New Media Literacies: Towards the Development of A Comprehensive Assessment Tool (Part Two)

by Ioana Literat

Results

Although all of our scale items collectively attempt to measure new media literacy levels, and the overall reliability of the scale was high (Chronbach’s α=.903), we were interested in identifying the specific subcomponents that make up this concept. Our initial research question was whether the subscales of this survey instrument map well onto Jenkins’ 12 NMLs. Particularly, we were interested in seeing if, as predicted, the scale would break down into components that were similar to those identified by Jenkins.

To address this question, we performed a factor analysis on the 60 items, and then assessed the reliability of each separate subscale that emerged from the factor analysis. With the exception of 2 NMLs (collective intelligence and simulation), the factors identified in this analysis mapped well onto Jenkins’ 12 NML skills, indicating the definite existence of subcomponents that tap into dichotomous skill sets. Thus, out of the 12 NML skills that make up Jenkins’ framework, 10 were identified in the factor analysis of our scale; furthermore, all 10 of these components had adequate reliability. This is a rather impressive and encouraging finding, especially given the fact that all 60 items of the scale were completely randomized and thus the items that made up each of these 12 subscales never appeared in order. The two NMLs that did not distinctly emerged from the factor analysis were collective intelligence and simulation; rather than clustering together as distinct factor components, the items measuring these two dimensions ended up being spread out over the different subscales.

Once the factor analysis revealed the various new media literacy skills that the scale constituted of, we proceeded to explore the relationship between these NMLs and patterns of media exposure and digital participation, by running multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs).

We first looked at respondents’ cumulative media exposure, which included time spent with all forms of media: Internet, television, print media, and videogames. According to our second hypothesis, we expected to see a significant difference in NML skills between high and low media users. The multivariate difference in media literacy levels assessed using MANOVA was indeed significant: F(10, 316)= 3.025, p=.001, with avid media consumers scoring higher across all NML skills than less enthusiastic media consumers. The univariate differences between the high and low media exposure groups were particularly pronounced in the areas of negotiation, networking, appropriation, play, multitasking, and transmedia navigation.

Next, we explored the relationship between NMLs and exposure to specific media. In terms of Internet use, there was a significant difference between low and high users: F(10, 316)= 3.171, p=.001, with the most striking contrast occurring in terms of networking skills. Due to the interconnecting and socializing features of the Internet, less enthusiastic internet users scored much lower in networking skills than frequent users. For videogames, the difference between frequent and infrequent users was also significant (F(1, 316)=2.811, p=.002), with avid gamers scoring substantially higher than their peers in the domain of play, or experimental problem-solving.

Our questionnaire addressed users’ exposure to four different forms of media: two new ones (internet and videogames) and two old ones (television and print media). Interestingly enough, while the difference in NML skills between light and heavy users of the Internet and videogames – i.e. new media – was substantial, this difference was not significant in the case of traditional media. This is an interesting conclusion, which supports the view that new digital media, due to their interactive and highly socializing nature, are more adept at breeding the social and cultural competencies needed for a full participation in today’s digital environment than traditional media, which are inherently more passive.

In terms of digital participation, we hypothesized that higher levels of media literacy should predict a higher degree of engagement with Web 2.0 platforms, as well as an increased propensity for multimedia creation. This hypothesis was fully supported: the difference in NMLs between users with high digital participation levels versus those with lower participation levels was indeed significant (F(10, 316)=3.172, p=.001). Out of the digital platforms we explored in this study, the ones that emerged as particularly significant in this analysis were Facebook (F(10, 316)=5.294, p<.001), Twitter (F(10, 316)=3.181, p=.001), YouTube (F(10, 316)=4.553, p<.001), and blogging (F(10, 316)=4.747, p<.001).

For Facebook, the difference between light and heavy users was especially pronounced in the area of networking, with enthusiastic Facebook users displaying extremely high networking skills. This result is unsurprising, given the function of Facebook as a social networking site, but this connection is important in regards to the applicability of such online-learned skills in the context of one’s offline behavior.

In the case of Twitter, the two main NMLs where light and heavy users significantly differed were networking and transmedia navigation. We found that light Twitter users (including non-users) scored much lower in these 2 NMLs than more enthusiastic tweeters. This conclusion makes sense, and can be explained by the hyperlinked and social nature of the Twitter platform.

YouTube also emerged as an extremely significant platform in terms of NML skills.

The NMLs that YouTube users excelled at were appropriation and transmedia navigation, but also, to a less astounding degree, performance and negotiation. These results are most likely explained by the primary functions of the YouTube platform as a crucial depository of popular culture clips (to be used in appropriation processes) and as a source of multimedia information (encouraging transmedia navigation), but also a democratic limelight for stardom and personal opinion (performance) and a transnational hub that facilitates intercultural learning (negotiation).

Finally, blogging emerged as another particularly important platform in terms of NML skills. We found a significant difference in overall NML skills between bloggers and non-bloggers, and individuals who keep a blog scored much higher in appropriation and networking skills. Most likely, this is due to the increasingly interlinked nature of the “blogosphere”, with writers linking to other blogs of interest, keeping a blogroll on their personal page, republishing relevant posts, and so on. This process of hyperlinked interconnectedness, while gradually transforming the personalized “blogosphere” into one global community, increasingly requires networking and appropriation skills that allow one to most effectively tap into this informal community.

The results of this study also supported the connection between multimedia creation and NMLs. As hypothesized, higher NML levels predicted a propensity for multimedia creation, and the difference between frequent and infrequent digital creators was extremely significant (F(10, 315)=6.635, p<.001), with the most acute contrast occurring, not surprisingly, in the area of appropriation. This is in line with the literature in the field, which claims that the ability to creatively produce and distribute multimedia texts should correlate strongly with higher levels of media literacy.

Similarly, the results also confirm the connection between new media literacies and civic engagement, which is emerging as a critical application of NML educational initiatives. Our hypothesis regarding the positive relation between media literacy and civic engagement was fully supported, with respondents that scored highly across the NMLs showing much higher degrees of civic engagement than their less media literate peers (F(10, 313)=3.516, p<.001).

In conclusion, as evidenced by the support for our main conceptual hypothesis, the data gathered in this study will be instrumental in perfecting a validated quantitative assessment tool to complement NML initiatives built around this particular framework. So far, educational endeavors aimed at cultivating these skills only benefitted from qualitative evaluation tools, which are inherently unfit for use with large samples, and are much harder to implement due to logistical considerations. We therefore hope that this questionnaire, especially used as a baseline measure of new media literacies, will help provide a more accurate and comprehensive picture of individuals’ abilities in this domain.

Furthermore, the study provided critical information about the connections between new media literacies, media exposure, and engagement with different Web 2.0 platforms; this represented a much-needed addition to the literature on media education, which so far did not address these specific correlations. In terms of the validity of the present assessment tool, the fact that our hypotheses regarding the connection between media literacy and media use habits were strongly supported lends additional predictive validity to this survey instrument. This is a highly significant conclusion that adds further import to the current study. While the causal relationships between these variables would need to be examined longitudinally, over time, it is our interpretation that the relationship between media use and media literacy is a circular one, involving a virtuous feedback loop: for instance, while extensive use of the internet raises one’s new media literacy levels, individuals with high NML levels are also more likely to access the internet considerably more.

While further research is certainly needed regarding the feasibility and scalability of quantitative methods of assessment in the field of new media literacies, we believe our study is a valuable starting point in this direction, and a much-needed inquiry into the challenges facing such assessments in both national and international contexts. While this particular study represented a pre-test of the validity of the current survey instrument, we are now working on its practical application as a baseline measure of NML levels at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, where Project New Media Literacies will be implementing an after-school program starting in February. Stay posted for updates regarding this initiative, and an upcoming report on the quantitative assessment of new media literacies among the high school students at RFK!

Ioana Literat is a PhD student at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and a research assistant for New Media Literacies. She has taught digital storytelling and social justice curricula to children in the Dominican Republic, Romania, Uruguay and India, and spent the last year working as the field coordinator of The Modern Story program in India. At USC, Ioana is researching the social impact of media and its potential to stimulate positive change, with a special focus on the future of educational media and virtual communities. As a result of her extensive international experience, she is particularly interested in the global scalability of NML projects, and the applicability of such educational initiatives in the developing world.

Measuring New Media Literacies: Towards the Development of a Comprehensive Assessment Tool (Part One)

Last fall, I spread a message to my Twitter followers, asking for their participation in an online survey we were conducting, trying to assess new media literacies skills. Needless to say, people who follow this blog and my Twitter account are apt to have a higher degree of technical and cultural literacy than the general population, but we were looking for a sample base large enough to be able to test and refine our instruments before applying them to other populations, such as the students at the schools where we are doing after-school programs or which are adopting some of our curricular recommendations.

Given the intense response we received, and our deep gratitude for everyone who participated in the survey, I wanted to make sure we shared the results with you in a timely fashion. Ioana Literat, a PhD candidate in the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California, did the work as part of a class project in Lynn Miller’s class, COMM 550: Research Methods in Communication. She also is part of the Project New Media Literacies research team and we are immediately putting her tool and her insights to work by pre-testing students entering our programs here in Los Angeles.

Her results are interesting in that they do suggest that the skills we have identified through the White Paper I helped to write for the MacArthur Foundation do cohere in real world contexts and that these skills improve through engaging with new media platforms and practices. I should stress here that we believe that the relations between increased skills and increased use of new media tools does not simply mean that the people who consume more media get better at it.

As writers like James Paul Gee have argued, these “affinity spaces” contain powerful forms of informal learning which motivate and support the acquisitions of these skills in a way that would not be true for most people watching films and television outside of the context of a fan community, which might perform similar work for its members. Further, we are not simply describing consumption per se, but rather we are talking about forms of participation which involve applying those skills rather than simply observing. At its heart, then, the argument is that participatory culture communities and practices actively support the learning of their members and reversely, that as we first asserted certain skills have emerged as characteristic of and often necessary for meaningful involvement in participatory culture. Today, we are going to lay out the methods behind this research; next time, the findings.

Measuring New Media Literacies:

Towards the Development of a Comprehensive Assessment Tool

by Ioana Literat

The present study was motivated by our observation that, in spite of the increasing popularity and impact of Henry Jenkins’ New Media Literacies framework, there was a lack of an appropriate quantitative measurement tool to assess these new media literacy skills. Certainly, existing tools do not capture the full spectrum of skills and propensities suggested by Jenkins. Furthermore, the reliance on qualitative data – which is typical of most studies in this field – means that such assessment projects are not feasibly replicable with larger groups. Therefore, this study aimed to address methodological lacunae within the NML framework by developing and validating a comprehensive quantitative assessment tool that could be used to measure new media literacies (NMLs) in both adult and juvenile populations.

Below, you will find an overview of the survey instrument and a summary of the results. If you would like to see the complete NML questionnaire that was used for this assessment, as well as the full report on the findings of this study (including all the statistical data), we encourage you to contact Ioana Literat at iliterat@usc.edu.

In assessing the psychometric properties of this new assessment tool, survey data was first factor analyzed in order to assess the reliability of the measure, and determine how these emergent factors compared with Jenkins’ original 12 NML skills. If the survey instrument was accurately constructed, we expected to see 12 separate subscales – similar to the 12 NMLs identified by Jenkins – resulting from the factor analysis. In terms of the relationship between media exposure and NMLs, we hypothesized that higher levels of new media literacies would correlate with a higher degree of engagement with media forms – particularly new digital media – and that there would therefore be a significant difference in NMLs between people with low versus high levels of media exposure. An increased degree of digital participation in various Web 2.0 platforms should also relate to high NML levels, with light users scoring lower in media literacy than heavy users of these digital platforms. Finally, we also hypothesized that high NML levels should predict a greater propensity for multimedia creation, and, respectively, civic engagement.

The sample for this study (N=327) was a convenience sample of normal volunteers over the age of 18, who completed the survey online. In terms of gender distribution, the sample contained 131 male respondents and 187 female respondents. The average age was 33.7 years (SD=11.7). In regards to ethnicity, 83.9% of respondents were white, and 77.3% indicated English as their primary language. Income and education levels were normally distributed.

Survey Design

The survey was structured around 4 main sections: demographics, media use habits, new media literacies (NMLs), and civic engagement. All questions were randomized, so that each participant received them in a different order, to maximize the validity of the findings.

The section on media use habits queried respondents about their access to a computer and to the Internet, the extent of their exposure to different media forms, their digital memberships and affiliations, and their creative engagement with multimedia. The NML section of the survey – the most extensive and critical part of this instrument – aimed to assess respondents’ new media literacy skills (NMLs) by presenting them with a randomized series of 60 statements about their personality, social and cultural modes of engagement, online and offline peer interaction, learning styles, and media consumption and creation patterns. The statements were conceptually built around the 12 NML skills identified by Jenkins (2006): play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation, and visualization. To ensure an adequate factor analysis while minimizing the duration of the survey, we decided to include 5 items for each NML, for a total of 60 questions. These items addressed both technology-related and non-technology-related behaviors, in accordance with our view that the NML skills are social and cultural competencies that stretch beyond media expertise or technological capability.

Finally, the last section of the questionnaire contained a set of 5 questions that attempted to measure the respondents’ degree of civic engagement, by addressing three principal dimensions of civic engagement: self-efficacy, civic responsibility, and commitment to civic action.

Ioana Literat is a PhD student at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and a research assistant for New Media Literacies. She has taught digital storytelling and social justice curricula to children in the Dominican Republic, Romania, Uruguay and India, and spent the last year working as the field coordinator of The Modern Story program in India. At USC, Ioana is researching the social impact of media and its potential to stimulate positive change, with a special focus on the future of educational media and virtual communities. As a result of her extensive international experience, she is particularly interested in the global scalability of NML projects, and the applicability of such educational initiatives in the developing world.

What Constitutes an Open-Book Exam in the Digital Age?

Several weeks ago, I shared here the syllabus for the undergraduate class I am teaching this semester at USC. As I noted, it is my first time doing a lecture hall class in some years and my first undergraduate class at USC, so it has been a learning process for all involved. I wanted to share with you a pedagogical challenge I’ve faced this term in part as an illustration of the kinds of transition higher education is undergoing as we try to absorb new media technologies and practices into our teaching.

It starts with the decisions we made about the course readings. We opted to put the scanned essays onto Blackboard, the classroom management tool which USC urges us to use, rather than having them printed out at a local copy shop. My hope was to save the students money and to also save trees by having as close to a paperless class as possible.

Then, I made the announcement that the exams in the class would be open book, open note and that I was planning to distribute a list of potential questions in advance from which I would draw in constructing the exam, a practice I have used for more than 20 years without any great confusion. I’ve found that this approach lowers stress for students by allowing them to feel more in control as they are preparing for and taking the exam. In practice, some fraction of the class works really hard, prepares for the exam by writing out their answers in advance, and copies them into the blue book. Another fraction studies their notes, comes in and improvises on the exam, or develops an outline in advance that they write from. And some fraction, for their own reasons, pays no attention to the advanced questions, doesn’t study, and does really badly on the exam. The kicker is often the identification questions, which would be simple to answer by anyone with a textbook open in front of them, but nevertheless often end up unanswered or answered wrongly. The result is a grade distribution curve not very different from what I would have if I gave a closed book, closed notes exam — but as I said, it lowers stress.

No sooner did I announce this policy than I got a question I’ve never been asked before. A student wondered whether open book, open note, meant open laptop. I needed time to reflect on this and said I would answer in the next class period. Actually, it took me a few to get back to them with a response. Given this was a class on technology and culture, I decided to use this as a teachable moment.

So, I started by breaking down the computer into two elements. First, there is the computer as a stand alone word processing machine. I certainly would have had no great objections to students using the computer to write their answers or even to access their materials. Indeed, as someone with painfully bad penmanship, I had been the first in my graduate program to take my quals on a computer the department provided. They made sure to give me a clean disc as I entered the room and I was allowed to take nothing else with me into the test.

But this was before the era of networked computing, which fundamentally changed the character of what a computer is. So, allowing students to use a laptop during an exam suddenly would allow students to access any information anywhere on the web and more significantly would allow students to trade information with each other throughout the test in ways which would be extremely difficult to monitor.

As I thought about it, the challenges of designing a meaningful test under those circumstances intrigued me. What would it mean to create an exam which could be taken not by individual students but by networked groups of students — either the class as a whole or a specifically designated study group? Could we enfold ideas of collective intelligence into the design of tests? Could we create challenges which demonstrated their mastery of the material through the search strategies they deployed and the knowledge they produced together? In theory, such an exam holds promise as more and more jobs require the capacity to pool knowledge and collaborate with a team of others to solve complex problems, and learning how to mobilize expertise under these conditions should be a key goal of our educational process.

But, how would we deal with such an exam in the context of our current grading systems? After all, we still assume that grades measure individual performance and so if we gave group grades, that might prove unsatisfactory to everyone involved. Would students raised in a culture where grades based on individual performance know how to act fairly in a culture where grades were based on group performance?

After all, we know that on group projects, bright students are often treated unfairly, exploited by their classmates, who fail to do their fair share of the work, and who may, in fact, not be capable of contributing at the same level? Under such system, teachers have had to devise systems to measure individual contributions to the group, thus going back to personalized rather than collective grading? What would be involved in terms of time and technology in monitoring what each student contributed to the group’s collective performance on the exam?

And of course, all of this assumes that all of my students do have laptops or can borrow laptops, a more or less safe assumption given the relatively affluent population of USC, but hardly the case at many other colleges and universities around the country. How could you give one group of students such an intense advantage on the exam? Would we then have to issue laptops the way we now issue blue books?

As I started to contemplate these issues, I started to choke. As much as I wanted to be the cool, open-minded teacher, the model pedagogue for the digital age, there was no way I was going to be able to work through all of the implications of this radical shift in classroom practice in time to apply it this semester. A real answer to this question may not be possible in our current educational system, though it is a kind of question which we are going to be asked more and more. So, I spelled all of this out to my students, and challenged them to start thinking through the issues.

But, then came the turn of the knife. If they could not use their laptops, and the course texts had navigated to the web, then in what sense was this going to be an open book test? They could no longer access the course materials without printing them off, which would undo everything we saved by making them digital in the first place. The answer of course is that with the questions in advance, they could print out notes or print out the essays they needed to address the questions. They wouldn’t have to print out everything, but they would no longer be working in a paperless environment.

So, we went back to the drawing board one last time, and asked the tech people if it would be possible to shut down the wireless in the room for the duration of the exams. They were not able/willing to do this, so that’s where things stand as of the moment. Neither the students nor I are fully satisfied with this resolution, but both the pedagogical and technological structures of the modern university would seem to block any path out of this challenge that I have come up with.

I can’t be the only faculty member on the planet facing these challenges, so I am posting this to see how other educators are dealing with these transitions. I can see the world we are surely evolving towards, but I don’t know how to get there on my own.

So, let’s use our laptops to work through this problem together. Oh, wait….

While we are on the subject of Digital Media and Learning, I wanted to give people a head’s up for a great new documentary, New Learners of the 21st Century, which will be airing on PBS stations across the United States this coming Sunday, Feb. 13. Some of you will recall how one-sided and negative I found the Digital Nation documentary which aired last year, despite having talked to many key researchers and collected some compelling material for their webpage.

New Learners of the 21st Century offers the flip side of that documentary, taking us into innovative school and after school programs which are making creative use of new media platforms and practices for pedagogy. You can get a taste for what to expect from this opening segment which they have posted to PBS Video, but it is really, in this case, only the beginning.

By the second segment on Quest to Learn, the New York charter school which uses game design to teach, you can see the difference in the ways the two documentaries approach their topics. In Digital Nation, the Quest to Learn segment is almost incomprehensible: we see lots of activities involving technology but we have no idea what the kids are doing or why, and as a result, it feels like technology for technology’s sake. Here, we learn about their pedagogical approach; we see processes unfold; we hear about when they use technology and when they ask the kids to put it aside. The focus is less on the use of computers in the classroom, an old topic after all and as my above discussion suggests, one we are still struggling with, and more on the use of new media literacies in education.

The same holds true for the film’s treatment of a range of other pedagogical sites, including great stuff on work being done by the Smithsonian Institute and by the YouMedia Center at the Chicago Public Library, both important innovators in this space.

Because the topic is more narrowly focused, and because the goal is to explain and not simply stir up controversy, this film does do justice to the complex research which the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning program has funded in this area. I have been honored to be part of this initiative from the start, so my recommendation is scarcely unbiased here. But if like me, you’ve been burnt several times already by PBS’s treatment of youth and digital media, I want to let you know that this one will be more rewarding.

DIY Media 2010: Video Blogging (Part Three)

This is the sixth in an ongoing series of curated selections of DIY Video prepared in relation to the screening of DIY Video 2010 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and organized by Mimi Ito, Steve Anderson, and the good folks at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy. The following is my interview with Ryanne Hodson, author of The Secrets of Videoblogging.

Let me ask the painfully obvious one first just to get it out of the way. Many of those who dismiss YouTube and other video sharing platforms as exhibitionistic are probably visualizing something like the classic video blog. How have these charges been confronted within the videoblogging community?

In the beginning, a majority of the videos being shared were people talking into the camera, or showing a day in their life, so there were a few critics who called videoblogging narcisistic, self centered and boring. Basically ‘Who wants to see that?’. The reaction the community had was two fold. First of all, we wanted to see that, so that’s what we were making for each other. And we challenged anyone who didn’t want to see that, to make something else. If you have a camera and an idea, make it happen. There were no limits to what you could make. The best defense to criticism of any online media is the choice not to watch or participate. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it. It’s really that simple. To take that a step further, maybe it will even inspire you to make something that you think is better. In fact, that’s why a lot of us started- because several had been television producers and editors and wanted to make something different.

What has been the response within the videoblog community to projects such as Lonelygirl15 which have sought to imitate the visual rhetoric of the videoblog in order to create “fake” or fictional materials?

The initial reaction to Lonelygirl15 within the community was fear that a wider audience would now question the authenticity of our videos as well. It was the first project that really called into question wether what we were saying was real or not. Several of us were trying very deliberately not to be produced or written like a television show, but to simply share genuine, personal and creative moments. Eventually the buzz about the Lonleygirl project died down and they moved onto to more obviously fictional interactive project but the fear of having your genuine voice questioned was a real one that has stuck with a lot of creators.

As you’ve emphasized here, these video blogs are part of an ongoing regular series of communications. To what degree can they be viewed and understood outside of the sequence of their original production?

The context of the videos could never be fully controlled on the web, that’s true now more than ever with videos being shared on facebook, twitter, etc.

A lot of the original videos from 2004 were part of a series of conversations, but could be viewed as their own individual moments as well. I feel like the videos we made back then weren’t meant to be as portable as they are now, but we didn’t have video on phones or wifi on planes then either. A lot of us have moved from strictly editing video for a blog and distributed through RSS to shooting moments on our iPhones, emailing to flickr and automatically posting to Twitter.

You also suggest that these videoblogs constitute a system of communication between multiple people who have gotten to know each other as friends. Does this suggest something significant is lost when we view the work of one videoblogger without looking at others with whom they are communicating?

This was more true in 2004-2005. There is so much video online right now, it really depends on what you’re watching. I find that some communities online are very exclusive and are often making videos for very specific people, maybe mentioning them by name and referring to previous conversations. But there are so many micro-communities happening at this point, that it’s truly like the wild west. Watching a section of a conversation could mean just as much to you as the people it was intended for. That’s why I love video on the web. Everyone has their own interpretation of the importance or coolness of one single video. If you want to trace the conversation back to it’s beginnings, most likely, you can. If you just want to enjoy one piece or one part of a meme, you can do that too.

How has the videoblog changed with the rise of a range of other social media, which also allow for and support these communications within a community?

As I’ve mentioned before, for me personally, Twitter changed the way I videoblogged dramatically. I felt i could share ideas and have conversations more quickly and fluidly, whereas on my videoblog, it would take a lot more time and effort. With the introduction of video on the iPhone and video hosting on places like Flickr and Facebook, several videobloggers have all but abandoned their blogs for the instant gratification of shooting to sharing in the same 5 minutes. This is not to say that creators have forgotten about making more complex content. Using these tools to sketch and have conversations and collaborations has opened up the flood gates of creativity, in my opinion. Making ideas flow faster and further breaking down the barriers to media access is nothing but good for everyone- creators and participants alike.

You suggest that the videoblog is becoming more visually sophisticated as some veterans have sought to move beyond to face in camera approach. As this happens, are they looking towards other kinds of media production for inspiration in how to create more experimental modes of expression?

A lot of us were media producers before we were videobloggers. And every one of us has been influenced by television and films since birth. As the tools get smaller, cheaper and the quality gets higher, people expand what they feel they are capable of. I have a small, DSLR HD camera with a relatively inexpensive lens and mic. I have seen, in the last 6 months, several independent films and a couple TV shows shot with almost the same equipment. If you have the idea and the gumption, the distribution exists, there should be nothing stopping you from making something just as compelling and creative as what comes out of Hollywood.

ryanne_miami_sq.jpgRyanne Hodson (RyanEdit.com, RyanIsHungry.com) co-author of the first published vlogging book, The Secrets of Videoblogging, started her career as a video editor at WGBH PBS Boston and in Boston public access television. From Bangkok to Delhi, Amsterdam to San Francisco, Ryanne has taught diverse audiences the hows and whys of videoblogging. With partner Jay Dedman, she produces RyanIsHungry.com featuring stories of individuals hacking everyday life and exchanging notes on survival.