I'm currently reading Lawrence Lessig's new book, Free Culture, which is available as a free download under a Creative Commons license. I'm only up to pg 64, but already I've discovered some great new ideas. One of them is "media literacy". This is the best definition I've found so far of media literacy:
"The ability to read, analyze, evaluate and produce communication in a variety of media forms (television, print, radio, computers, etc.)."
Lessig refers to it as "an expanded literacy - one that goes beyond text to include audio and visual elements" (pg 50). He follows this with a paragraph that really made me sit up and take note:
"Read-only." Passive recipients of culture produced elsewhere. Couch potatoes. Consumers. This is the world of media from the twentieth century. The twenty-first century could be different. This is the crucial point: It could be both read and write. Or at least reading and better understanding the craft of writing. Or best, reading and understanding the tools that enable the writing to lead or mislead. The aim of any literacy, and this literacy in particular, is to "empower people to choose the appropriate language for what they need to create or express." It is to enable students "to communicate in the language of the twenty-first century."
In a nutshell:
20th Century = Read-Only
21st Century = Read/Write
Now obviously this is exactly what I've been trying to promote on my own weblog over the past year, but it's only been recently (after my interview with Marc Canter in fact) that I've begun to appreciate that "personal publishing" goes far beyond writing. It's whatever form of multimedia is most suited to you, the Reader/Writer.
Writing in Multimedia
Lessig goes on to tell a story about a group of kids from "a very poor inner-city Los Angeles school". They created multimedia projects to express themselves on a subject that was very relevant to them - gun violence. They used a combination of images, sound and text:
The project "gave them a tool and empowered them to be able to both understand it and talk about it," Barish explained. That tool succeeded in creating expression—far more successfully and powerfully than could have been created using only text. "If you had said to these students, ‘you have to do it in text,’ they would’ve just thrown their hands up and gone and done something else," Barish described, in part, no doubt, because expressing themselves in text is not something these students can do well. Yet neither is text a form in which these ideas can be expressed well. The power of this message depended upon its connection to this form of expression.
That last point is worth repeating: the power of a message is intimately linked to the medium it's expressed in. Sounds pretty similar to the famous McLuhan maxim, doesn't it: The Medium is the Message. This is how McLuhan described his famous soundbite in a 1969 interview (which I've written about before):
"...because of their pervasive effects on man, it is the medium itself that is the message, not the content, and unaware that the medium is also the massage -- that, all puns aside, it literally works over and saturates and molds and transforms every sense ratio."
The bit I want to focus on here is where McLuhan says the message isn't the content itself, but the medium. In other words, how the content is expressed. It's the same thing Lessig is talking about when he refers to "the language of the twenty-first century" and it's composed of images, sound, text. In my words: Web technology is increasingly enabling people in the 21st Century to write using multimedia. Nowadays you can express yourself in whatever medium best suits you (nb: the plural of 'medium' in this sense is 'media').
And, as Lessig goes on to say, it's all about constructing meaning for yourself: "Text is one part - and increasingly, not the most powerful part - of constructing meaning." One of his interview subjects explains further:
"[But i]nstead, if you say, "Well, with all these things that you can do, let’s talk about this issue. Play for me music that you think reflects that, or show me images that you think reflect that, or draw for me something that reflects that." Not by giving a kid a video camera and . . . saying, "Let’s go have fun with the video camera and make a little movie." But instead, really help you take these elements that you understand, that are your language, and construct meaning about the topic. . . ."
The Future of Blogging
I've been following the recent activity over at Lucas Gonze's new music-logging website, WebJay. Seb Paquet and Jon Udell have been talking about it and Lucas and Alf Eaton have been developing musiclogging apps. I've played around with Webjay a bit, downloaded a couple of playlists, but I can't say I've fully groked it yet. But then sound isn't my main "language", even though I'm a big music fan in my own way (mention The Velvet Underground to me and you won't shut me up!). WebJay is an example of one new form of media expression that is popping up in the 21st Century. A lot of people potentially will grok it, because sound is their medium, and they'll go on to create playlists and so forth with WebJay.
Writing text will continue to be my main personal publishing medium. Words are my thing and I'm reasonably good at creating them. I can't draw or paint, and I can't make music. I don't know anything about film-making or taking photos. So I'll mainly stick with words...and weblogging the 'text way'. But other people are different. And that's where I think blogs may struggle to accomodate peoples innate creativity. Unless weblogs can morph into sound-visual-text multimedia publishing tools. Which perhaps they will, if Lucas' experimentation with the sound form is any indication of the future of blogging. I'll certainly welcome it, as I want everyone to participate in the Read/Write Web. Not just plain text people like me :-)