[iDC] From Digital Natives to Digital Outcasts: Reflection 1

Nishant Shah itsnishant at gmail.com
Sat Sep 3 17:04:46 UTC 2011

Dear Megan,
It is such a privilege to have somebody recount and build upon my ideas with
such eloquence, in parts doing it more justice than I was able to do! Thank
you very much for this detailed, nuanced and inspiring response. I am caught
up in the tyrannies of time-zones right now, traveling and approaching
sleep-time, but I did want to drop in and say that I indeed, do look forward
to the conversations we will have when we get face-time at the summit.

I look forward to waking up tomorrow and reading the paper that you have
shared with the group here. I am sure it is going to be quite a treat! In
the meantime, one of the future directions of our research is heading
towards looking at "the changing face of civic action" in order to look at
more contextual, embedded and complex relationship that users have with
digital technologies and processes.

I am going to take some time out later in the week to engage with some of
the thoughts that you have charted out in this email. I can hardly wait to
get to the summit and get these conversations rolling :)


P.S. Radhika, Are you sure you can't make it? It would be so much fun to
have you coming into the summit... I know a lot of us will learn so much
from your presence there!

On Sat, Sep 3, 2011 at 6:01 PM, Megan Boler <megan.boler at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear Nishant,
> I find your Reflection provocaive and productive for many reasons, two of
> which I will mention here as prelude to one of my roles at the upcoming
> Conference.
> 1. Your description of the "everyday digital natives" as those who (in
> contrast to the outcasts?) are "users of technologies who have a stake in
> social transformation and political participation" offers helpful
> alternatives to the vacuous and non-vernacular terms such as 'civically
> engaged youth,' so often used in disciplines ranging from media education,
> media literacy, political science, sociology, youth studies, social movement
> studies, and/or media studies to understand youth, social media, and “civic
> engagement”.
> Whether we’re talking about everyday social media practices of “youth” or
> “students,” or those engaged in the Arab Spring revolutions, or more
> recently those protesting economic and cultural disenfrachisement in the UK,
> many of us remain confounded: How best to describe and understand, much less
> theorize the practices and/or subjectivities, of those using digital
> technologies and social media for purposes of “social transformation and
> political participation”?
> Though a graduate of the interdisciplinary History of Consciousness program
> and mentored by Donna Haraway, I have found myself turning to mixed-methods
> studies (semi-structured interviews, etc) since 2003 in order to better
> understand the social and political implications of these everyday media
> users/practitioners/activists/producers/prosumers.
> My research continues to reveal the inadequacy of traditional vocabulary
> and conceptions of politics, ‘democracy,’ political ‘engagement’ or
> ‘apathy’—such concepts no longer accurately capture the sensibility and
> approaches of what some scholars are calling “alteractivism” (overall a
> conundrum you describe with great nuance!) During my first 3-year funded
> study (2005-08) “Rethinking Media Democracy and Citizenship after 9/11” we
> studied the motivations of those engaged in digital dissent in North America
> after September 11.  Even these diverse users contesting the power of
> corporate-owned media through indy media practices, rarely describe
> themselves as 'activists' or even 'political.'
> I am now commencing a three-year funded study “Social Media in the Hands of
> Young Citizens: Evolving forms of participatory democracy.”  We are
> beginning this work by asking and exploring how those who have a “stake in
> social transformation and political participation” describe and express in
> their **own** terms, their practices, identities, networks, motivations,
> etc.
> 2. Another of your points offers a segue to issues of “difference” and
> pedagogy I see as crucial to our conversations across Mobility Shifts. You
> note: "The research questioned the age based, geo-politically marked,
> gendered notion of the digital native that seems to make oblivious the
> traditional axes of discrimination, exclusion and violence." Throughout the
> past months of IDC's conversations surrounding education, learning and
> technologies, I have felt uncomfortable with the relatively rare attention
> to 'difference,' and the (relative) absence of nuanced consideration of who
> are the different 'learners' whom we study, theorize, offer technologies,
> etc.  "They" are not homogeneous, of course.  And given how challenging it
> is to attend to difference in 'traditional' embodied learning environments,
> how do the kinds of techno-digital-media practices which are the focus of
> Mobility Shifts, present *new* challenges in terms of how we understand the
> needs and values, educational aims and desires and lives of these
> 'learners’?  The learner (the everyday digital native and the digital
> outcasts alike) represent diverse geographies, locations, identities,
> communities.  Of course, 'identity politics' are seen by many as a vestige
> of the past.  Even “queer” no longer does full justice to the fluidity of
> identity experienced by many; likewise, “digital native” even in its most
> inclusive sense (as your Reflection makes clear) cannot do justice to the
> complexity of new modalities of subjectivities, networked collectives, the
> blur of on- and offline practices...A huge topic of course, but all to say,
> Nishant, I am excited by what you offer to ground a conversation about
> difference within shifting mobilities.
> Regarding these key questions of  “difference” and pedagogies, Trebor
> invited me to facilitate a conversation during part of the Saturday Oct 15
> panel on *Progressive Digital Pedagogy*.  I am inspired to draw on your
> Reflection, Nishant, to help our consideration of the different learners
> assumed by the myriad cutting edge projects represented at Mobility Shifts.
> Trebor also suggested I attach my essay on “Hypes, hopes and actualities:
> new digital Cartesianism and bodies in cyberspace” (published in New Media
> and Society and recently anthologized in The New Media and Cybercultures *
> Anthology*. Pramod K. Nayar (Editor)--please find it attached here as well
> as linked off my website: publications as a PDF).  In this essay (first
> presented in 1999) I address identities in web-based environments and the
> challenges faced in developing 'radical' pedagogies suitable for 'blended
> earning.'  I will be very curious how a decade of changes in technologies
> and practices render moot or alter the concerns raised in this essay about
> the risks of reinscribing traditional mind/body dualisms in many web-based
> environments.
> I am very excited about the F2F conversations in which we will all engage
> in October.
> Regards
> Megan Boler, Professor, University of Toronto
> www.meganboler.net
>  On Fri, Sep 2, 2011 at 6:34 AM, Nishant Shah <itsnishant at gmail.com>wrote:
>>  Dear All,
>> I have been following up the discussions on the list with great interest,
>> even though my status so far has been ‘largely lurking’. I take this
>> opportunity to throw open some of the questions that I, at the Centre for
>> Internet and Society Bangalore (http://www.cis-india.org) have been
>> working through, especially in relation to this strange thing called a
>> ‘Digital Native’. In this first of the 3 reflections I am writing for the
>> group, I want to begin by charting the shift that marked our own
>> understanding of youth-technology relationships. I shall end today by
>> offering you a conceptual identity that I am trying to formulate right now
>> and hope that you will join me in adding to or questioning this idea.
>> Let me begin by talking about things that I am more familiar with –
>> Digital Natives. In the last 3 years, in a research collaboration with Hivos
>> (Netherlands), through a knowledge programme called “Digital Natives with a
>> Cause?” we have worked with young(ish) users of technologies who have a
>> stake in social transformation and political participation, in order to
>> understand the affective and effective relationships that users have with
>> the techno-political apparatus they are within. The research has been a huge
>> learning experience for us as the digital natives (no fixed definition, no
>> capitals) opened up ways in which they understand and engage with the
>> information ecologies they are embedded in.
>> Hence we conceptualised the idea of an everyday digital native - somebody
>> whose life has been significantly restructured by the presence of digital
>> and internet technologies - interested in effecting change in his/her
>> immediate environments. Especially with these users located in the Global
>> South (bits of Asia, Africa and Latin America), where ‘digitality’ is not to
>> be taken for granted and remains a privilege contained to a few,
>> conversations were as much about these technosavvy cybertots as they were
>> about those who remain flung to the fringes, tentatively on the borders of
>> the digital and the technological.
>> We quickly came to examine the imaginary of a digital native – the almost
>> Peter Pan like, always young, incessantly connected, globally networked
>> individual that navigates the intricate paths of information exchange and
>> knowledge production online – in order to see what were the common sets of
>> presumptions which were built into, often conflicting and contradictory
>> approaches and analyses premised on this particular identity. The research
>> questioned the age based, geo-politically marked, gendered notion of the
>> digital native that seems to make oblivious the traditional axes of
>> discrimination, exclusion and violence. There was a call to start thinking
>> of the binary other of the digital native – most debates would call these
>> digital immigrants or settlers; or in another context (ICT4D) these would be
>> called the have-nots or the digitally disempowered. In both these
>> formulations, we found easy solutions provided within popular discourse:
>> Solutions which thought of greater infrastructure and access as an answer.
>> However, in order to actually understand the digital natives’ problems
>> within the digitally amplified and networked systems within which we imagine
>> they exist, we searched for a Digital AlterNative and eventually started
>> working with the idea of a Digital Outcast (Shafika Isaacs) or the Digital
>> HaveLess (Jack Qui). This particular idea of the digital outcast – somebody
>> who is within the pervasive technology paradigms but not necessarily the
>> mainstream prosumer of the Web 2.0 revolutions – was fruitful to escape the
>> dominant battle-lines within Digital Natives discourse.
>> *First*, it allowed us let go of the age-based idea of a digital native,
>> discarding the idea of being born a digital native and instead focusing on
>> processes of becoming a digital native. We stopped talking about natives,
>> immigrants and settlers and instead looked at this particular identity that
>> is within the digital circuits, imagined as its recipient beneficiary and
>> yet persuasively kept at the borders.
>> *Second,* we shifted the conversation about the digital divide – the
>> dissonant gap between the haves and have-nots of internet technologies –
>> from questions of infrastructure and access (which appear as the standard
>> solutions to these questions) to a more nuanced discussion of literacy and
>> acumen. The digital outcast is not somebody who doesn’t have access to the
>> technologies; s/he is somebody who, after the access has been granted, fails
>> to actualise the transformative potentials of technologies for the self or
>> for others.
>> *Third,* it enabled us to short-circuit the idea of digital users as
>> contained in a technosocial bubble, adrift in alternative realities.
>> Instead, we focused them within a larger politics of inclusion, rights and
>> engagement. Looking at other regional specificities of marginalisation,
>> exclusion and discrimination, in their geopolitical and socio-cultural
>> locations helps understand the ways in which digital and internet
>> technologies enmesh themselves in the local.
>> The Digital Outcast, then, became a way by which the outsider insider of
>> the digital worlds can contest the popular perceptions and discourse around
>> digital native identities and practices. The Digital Outcast is not simply
>> the have-not who shall be included in the system once we have enough
>> infrastructure to breach the last mile. The Digital Outcast was not merely a
>> disenfranchised or disempowered because of lack of access to digital and
>> technological resources. The Digital Outcast, in many ways, resounded Hannah
>> Arendt’s formulation of the ‘Stateless’ as somebody who is the beneficiary
>> of the Rights bestowed by the State but does not know how to exercise
>> his/her ‘right to having rights’.
>> The Digital Outcast began to shape our understanding of how these bodies
>> at the fringes, even though they are the intended beneficiaries of the
>> digital development plans, often stay on the fringes of our imagination when
>> we conceive of the digital divide or the digital native.
>> I offer to you the Digital Outcast as a non-actualised but realised
>> identity, which has been created, accounted for, and resolved by
>> technological apparatuses, and thus rendered a-political and impotent in the
>> discourses of digital learning and politics. I am going to stop here today
>> and tomorrow look at some specific imaginations of technology mediated
>> rights, justice and learning vis-à-vis digital natives/outcasts in India,
>> specifically locating them within the higher education systems of university
>> based learning. In the meantime, it would be really helpful if you can help
>> me think through this idea of the Digital Outcast and what would be its
>> implications on your practice and thought.
>> Warmly
>> Nishant
>> --
>> Nishant Shah
>> Director (Research), Centre for Internet and Society,( www.cis-india.org)
>> Asia Awards Fellow, 2008-09
>> # 00-91-9740074884
>> http://www.facebook.com/nishant.shah
>> http://cis-india.academia.edu/NishantShah
>> _______________________________________________
>> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (
>> distributedcreativity.org)
>> iDC at mailman.thing.net
>> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
>> List Archive:
>> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
>> iDC Photo Stream:
>> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
>> RSS feed:
>> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
>> iDC Chat on Facebook:
>> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
>> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref
> --
> Megan Boler
> Professor
> OISE/University of Toronto
> www.meganboler.net

Nishant Shah
Director (Research), Centre for Internet and Society,( www.cis-india.org )
Asia Awards Fellow, 2008-09
# 00-91-9740074884
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20110903/ac67bae9/attachment-0001.htm 

More information about the iDC mailing list