“Use the Web to go beyond the Web”

MySpace, Wikipedia, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and myriad other technologies are changing the surface of democratic youth engagement for a large minority of American young people today. They are making democracy a real, tangible, and experiential reality for a lot of youth (although not calling it that). If my work with Freechild over the last 6 years has shown me nothing else, its that the Internet really is a powerful tool, for so much more than what most adults recognize.

There are exceptions – some adults “get it.” Out there in Pioneerland there is a growing consensus among adults that the Internet is powerful- duh. Ami Dar from Action Without Borders is one of those people. But those are adults, and they are usually talking about Adultland and the people who occupy that (see MoveOn).

What I’m interested in is the adaption of what Tim O’Reilly calls the “Architecture of Participation.” Basically, the Architecture of Participation is meant to describe the culture of openness that, online, encourages “openness” and ultimately, a democratic-type of engagement for users. Its about being able to change the content at Wikipedia, and then getting that content checked or used by other people. Its about being able to create a MySpace page, change the layout, content, and purpose of the page, and connect to all your friends. Its about being able to mark your spot on a map and show everyone where you belong and what you believe in. But its so much more than that.

I think that we can translate the spirit of the Architecture of Participation into a practical, applicable journey with young people, one that transcends the Internet and propells us into action in our local communities. That goes back to Ami Dar, who recently implored social entreprenuers to “use the web to go beyond the web.” I would love to hear what YOU think that could look like. Reply to this blog and share your two cents. That way we’ll interact, all “web 2.0”-ish.

2 comments

  1. In terms of youth media and the whole ‘participation’ debate – technology has enabled young people to populate the virtual on so many levels and are creating content more than ever.

    I have a positive feeling about how young people are adopting these mechanisms to connect and create but also very passionate that the ‘virtual’ should be part of other ‘real’ experiences.

    The gap I see is in the youth professionals understanding and adopting this ubiquitious technology and integrating it into their work to at least find some parity with young people.

    A babble I know and don’t know if I contribuated anything to the conversation…

  2. Hey DK, thanks for the babble – it made perfect sense. With respect to your concern, that’s exactly why I quote Ami Dar who said, “Use the Web to go beyond the Web.” That’s key: we’ve got to translate the authoritative experiences young people are having online (being able to create their own content, unhinderedly contribute to “community” conversations, etc) and do two things:

    1. Translate those experiences so that young people understand that they are examples of democracy (online), and;

    2. Transfer those experiences online to experiences in the “real world.”

    I believe a core fear (and cold reality) of many adults is this: young people have such powerful abilities online, why would they ever want to go offline?

    I don’t know if you’re getting it in the UK, but here we’ve got a media backlash against MySpace. That’s where I think its coming from: fear.

    Let’s take those misconceptions and remove them from their pedestal, dismantle them, and create a new vision for democracy – online and in-person. And that’s the end of this sermon.

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