“We are all feeling our way in the digital world”

An artist's impression of the Opening Remarks session at SXSWisteven-johnson-henry-jenkins.jpgsteven-johnson-henry-jenkins.jpgsteven-johnson-henry-jenkins.jpg

An artist’s impression of the Opening Remarks session at SXSWi 

As a self-confessed newbie to interactive, this comment by Henry Jenkins at today’s Opening Remarks session at SXSW no doubt had a greater impact on me than the 100s of other live-bloggers sitting around me at the Austin Convention Centre. I came to this event expecting to feel three steps behind most other delegates and prepared to google every other word in each keynote session.

But today couldn’t have been more different. It’s really opened my eyes to the fact that everyone involved in digital is on a learning curve. I doubt that my posts from SXSW will be ground-breaking to those who are already immersed in the digital world. But hopefully they will be an interesting read for those of you, like me, who are just starting to feel their way.

I started this morning at a session on ‘What teens want online & on their phones’. My first thought was, I doubt teens are going to confess what they really want in front of a room full of adults. But with the enviable confidence that seems ingrained in so many Americans, a panel of 7 young people spoke about their relationship with the web and answered questions, primarily from an army of marketeers (no surprises there.)

The session wasn’t hugely enlightening , but it did underline a few interesting points. It seems that even young people are experiencing social networking fatigue, and although sites like Facebook and MySpace are still seen as a necessity- as one panellist said ‘It’s not my life’.

The panel were asked how they engage with factual content on the web, good causes and news. It was a real eye-opener to learn that they all got their news and factual information through YouTube and Wikipedia, and not one of the panel had visited a traditional news site, such as CNN. One even mentioned that she learns about what goes on in the world through The Onion, a satirical news site. That raises a lot of questions about the news that is being consumed by young people and the value of current news sources for future generations.

One panellist, a young teenager, had her MySpace page invaded by a hacker and was sent a number of, in her words, inappropriate videos. I found it surprising that this wasn’t picked up during the panel discussion, or addressed by any of the audience in their questions. They were mostly too concerned with finding out how they could encourage young people to buy Pop Tarts and watch the Disney Channel.  

Despite working in marketing myself, I left feeling a little depressed, so was glad to get an injection of positivity during the Opening Remarks session with Henry Jenkins, Co-Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, and the author Steven Johnson (Everything Bad is Good For You).  It really blew away some of my prejudices and brought home the benefits of collective intelligence, particularly for young people. The web is there to inspire and help young people to create, not just to consume. I won’t bother to repeat the session here as it will all be available on the SXSW site, but its well worth a listen. I’m looking forward to finding out more.

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