We live in dynamic times, and it can be extremely valuable as well as thought provoking to have an opportunity to listen to an insightful scholar share analysis about our evolving information landscape. This evening, thanks to a tweet from Jackie Gerstein, I watched an hour long lecture presented by danah boyd (@zephoria) recently in Detroit focusing on “The Future of Information.” To understand our present and future, danah related (among other things) stories of how troll culture has emerged and become a significant part of our media environment which confuses many and leaves people wondering who to trust.

Among her many provocative points and stories, I found danah’s exhortation for us to consider how we can “re-network our society” timely and important. We seem, often, to feel “distanced and distracted,” and mainstream media feeds into these emotions as they emphasize spectacle and stories which tend to divide rather than unite us as human beings. We need to find more ways to connect, both face-to-face and online, with others and (in danah’s words) “hold them.”

I also found danah’s assertion that “trust comes from experience” important. She said if people do not know someone personally involved in the production of the news today, they are much less likely to trust the news. The same thing goes for politics in government: If you do not personally know someone in government, you’re unlikely to trust government. She cited a quotation from George Washington, when he said democracy can’t survive if elected officials represent more than 30,000 people. Today, of of course, many represent far more.

I compare the informed and fast paced analysis of danah, along with her storytelling and anecdote sharing style, with Clay Shirky, author of one of my favorite books from 2008, “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.” His presentation at Harvard from March 2008 on key ideas from that book remains one of my favorites of all time.

danah’s recent talk in Detroit is helpful because it stitches together names and events which demonstrate how fringe Internet society (4chan, for example) has been amplified by conspiracy theorists, who have gamified SEO (search engine optimization) on Google and other search engines, and also hijacked mainstream media coverage in multiple circumstances through social media. She talked about how many people (including many youth today) are “destabilized,” and the ways in which extremist groups are using the Internet and social media to “take these destabilized people down rabbit holes” and radicalize them. Yes we have state actors like Russia acting to sow discord, division, and mistrust in our U.S. society, but we also have other groups who have seized the digital reins of the keyboard to powerfully alter and shift individual as well as public perception of events and “truth” writ large.

danah also highlighted the important ethical choices of media agencies in covering the news and events, like the suicides of famous people. Somehow (and I’m not sure if this is possible) we need our news media to embrace again ethical standards on this issue and others. See ReportingOnSuicide.org for more.

I highly commend this lecture by danah boyd to you. I look forward to reading and learning more from her in the weeks and months ahead, as I seek to better understand our information landscape and the roles we can play as educators, parents, community leaders, and netizens to constructively shape it.

danah boyd by Joi, on Flickr
danah boyd” (CC BY 2.0) by Joi

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