Thinking about media literacy…

/ 12 January 2017

There’s been a bit of a firestorm in the last few days following danah boyd’s piece entitled “Did media literacy backfire?” I know I tweeted out almost immediately, suggesting that while I respect her work I thought she hadn’t taken account of the last couple of decades of media education.

Today I spent some time listening to three media ed scholars I deeply respect — Paul Mihailidis (Emerson College), D.C. Vito (The LAMP), and Renee Hobbs (University of Rhode Island) as they engaged the essay through brief web discussion (see below).

I found their discussion very interesting, pertinent, and thoughtful — and it reminded me of my own work, which is very much in line with theirs, because what they are pointing to are the challenges that come from shifts in authority, authenticity and agency in the worlds we are currently inhabiting. And it’s that third dynamic — agency — that danah boyd was ignoring.

Media educators focus a lot of our work around helping people to create and collaborate in media, and we do so with the explicit intent of helping them to take action in their contexts. That is all about “agency” — and danah seems to somehow have ignored that dynamic.

I would add an additional element from my perspective as a theologian — and that is that we also need to pay attention to what we mean by “divine agency.” That is, of course, a way of understanding the world that is rarely discussed in more secular spaces, but it is an element that has helped religious communities think about how we “know” for a very long time.

There is a lot of discussion happening right now about “truth” and about whether are living in a “post-truth” world — but of course, religious communities have been struggling with notions of truth for millennia, and in particular, in the last few decades, we have been thinking about truth in the midst of digital cultures. So I think we actually have an opportunity in front of us at this precise moment, to help our communities remember that truth comes as a form of “pledging troth” (to draw on Parker Palmer’s work), and that “troth” has a communal and collective element to it.

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of our current spaces is the way in which truth as devolved into “individual” or “personal” experience, and in doing so lost touch with its wider, communal elements. Media education — and for me, specifically, digital storytelling — plays an immediate and constructive role in reconnecting, re-membering, personal experience with communal meaning-making. We need to do more of it!