[iDC] The wrong kind of youth and distributed capitalism

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Tue Jan 2 12:09:35 EST 2007

I agree with Brian that youth should not be looked at as a prime example to be imitated or as a solace for our own bad habits. However, at the same time it is absurd to claim
that today's kids are just the "wrong (uncritical) kind of youth." 

[The phrase "the wrong kind of snow" goes back to a statement by British Rail's Director of Operations Terry Worrall, who stated on 11 February 1991 that "we are having
particular problems with the type of snow".]

Youth needs to be educated and what that means changes frequently. Today, informal "peer education" plays an increasingly important role. Finding your way around
participatory cultures is crucial for professional life in the "creative industries," for citizenship, and for personal growth. This literacy needs to be taught and right now many
relevant skills are mainly taught outside of institutions of learning. Kids are not born with a better ability to cope with information overload (like a sixth finger to text faster).
Teenagers don't have dual processor brains. Some of them are more fearless and playful in their encounters with technology partially because they grew up with networked

However, if you don't know how to deal with the constant influx of music, videos, software, email, friends on IM, and blogs and wikis and MySpace posts (now also available
for life on the go), then you will be simply drown in a swamp of data. Your attention will be so diffuse that you can't follow through with a concentrated, long-term project. It
will also be hard for you to be present with another person, to actually "meet" them. 

We need an ethics of participation! That's part of  participation literacy. Do I let myself being taken advantage of by those who pull the strings behind sociable environments?
"Why would I not help out Amazon.com by writing book reviews for them (?), they sold great books to me." I heard this puzzling logic from a young student. I paid and
therefore, in return, I give my labor away for free. (It's of course more complex than that as arguably  these reviews serve the public as well.) Another example:

In mid-December at the LeWeb 3 conference in Paris a disconcerting project was launched: YAADZ. To the realm of viral video and guerrilla marketing you can now add this
site that offers "video advertisement by the people who watch them." YOU AD[Z]. Somebody who loves Reebok shoes can now create their own video ad and upload it too.
And it's free. They don't even have to pay for giving their immaterial labor away for free. 

Critical participation literacy will make kids aware that projects like this exemplify the self-exploiting hell of distributed capitalism. (Many of them lack totally this criticality.)
They have no hesitation to "outsource" their photo memories to Yahoo (Flickr) or to leave all their daily life traces with Rupert Murdoch (MySpace). The ethics of participation
need to be taught. 

In a recent survey that I conducted, a participant (age 18) stated that she wears MySpace and YouTube like clothes. "They are an extension of my identity," she said. If social
networking sites are an expression of identity, then we need to teach a critical awareness of the environments in which kids hang out online. Students may be aware that it is
uncool to wear Abercrombie & Fitch but they don't hesitate to trust MySpace with their life. (Abercrombie & Fitch was accused of discrimination against minority employees--
2004 lawsuit Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch).

My argument is clearly against continuous partial attention. In my opinion cpa is caused by information overload and the vertigo of choice that comes with it. To shape their
own vision, to follow their own life direction (not remote controlled by the carrots of distributed capitalism) youth needs to learn-- 

to filter, 

to judge information sources, 

to play, 

to experiment,

to collaborate with others,  

to be critically aware of the ethics of participation,

to master cooperative tools and instruments 
-this includes simple email skills

and to meaningfully distribute their ideas (create platforms).

It's not the wrong kind of youth, it's merely youth that needs to be educated. 



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