By Belle Gironda
The New Everyday: A Media Commons Project is a collaboratively authored web publication edited by Nick Mirzoeff, professor of Media, Culture and Communication at NYU. The format is described as something “between a blog and a journal” and contributors are encouraged to propose curated “clusters” of conversation around a single topic. The title, “The New Everyday,” draws attention to the fact that what the editor calls “the era of globalized digital media” is so fully upon us as to be considered mundane. No longer just the purview of techno-geeks and visionaries, it pervades most aspects of everyday life. Even those who choose to minimize the use of digital technologies in their own lives, cannot ignore the ways that economies and politics, communications and social life, religion, education and work are affected by the transformations of digital culture. Increasingly, too, the choice *not* to participate becomes less and less available. Certainly, for this generation of college students, there is virtually no option to opt out.
A recent cluster of ten contributions from new media practitioners and activists, scholars, students and teachers, is curated by professors Brian Goldfarb of UC San Diego and Alex Juhasz of Pitzer College and titled, “Distraction Span: Technologies of Productive Disruption.” The intention of this conversation is to generate some alternatives to what the curators refer to as “distraction panic” — the popular discourse that focuses on the fear of and pathologization of the use of social media by young people. One goal of the conversation is to look at, in Goldfarb’s words, “…actual media practices to dispel the common diagnosis that networked media is rewiring young minds, displacing valuable forms of engagement, and making sustained reflection a thing of the past.”
Many of the contributions are teaching-focused and describe diverse and emerging pedagogies that try to leverage students engagement with new media technologies in support of identified learning goals. UCSD graduate student in Communication, Lauren Berliner, describes the evolution of her teaching plan in a weekly media workshop she designed. She sought to introduce LBGTQIA youth to video production, as a venue for critical engagement, exploring current and historical media representations of Queer experience in relation to their own lives. She describes how she changed her initial instructional plan as she learned from the students what they were *already* doing with new media that she could then help them to develop and refine in the workshop.
In another offering, an attempt to use Twitter to enliven student engagement in a large (200 student) lecture class leads to some unanticipated results and what UC San Diego professor, Elizabeth Losh terms, “a teaching failure.” Her explication of the events and the other contribution by her TA, Tara Zepel, suggest that despite the chaos that ensued, the class was clearly a unique learning experience for the faculty member, her TA and the students in the room. This experiment also generated an invaluable case study with which to probe the nature of the medium and the complexities of communication in the digital age as well as the power relations in a traditional lecture hall.
Sara Harris, a journalist and teacher who works on media production projects with high school students in Atlanta, writes about a series of different teaching scenes and settings where she conducted workshops. She notes that the success of the projects and the level of student engagement was dependent in part on the cultivation of a “culture of creative focus” in the learning environment that would help students to see these tools, that some of them associated with distraction, as venues for interactive, collaborative and enjoyable learning and production.
A piece by new media practitioner, Asher Danziger, offers an example of an emerging media form: the multi-modal book, and uses the art work itself to argue for “the possibilities of depth in a medium that is often considered shallow.” Danziger suggests that the relevance of meditative and immersive thinking can be harnessed “within the rhythms of the current social moment and media.”
In his concluding contribution to the cluster, Gabriel Hankins, a University of Virginia PhD candidate in English Language and Literature and a Fellow at the university’s Scholar’s Lab, invokes Henry James’ 19th century story, “In the Cage,” about the experiences of a young telegraphist, to remind us that some of the current panic over digital distraction is not without its historical precedents. His analysis of James’ story argues that part of what James is exploring is emerging “varieties of attention that arise in the context of a new media technology.” Hankins draws parallels between 140 character Twitter messages and the pithy communications sent by telegraph, and identifies, in James’ depiction of the telegraph operator’s imaginative inner life, forms of agency, empathy, curiosity and a sometimes useful selective attentiveness, that he suggests are comparable to attributes potentially cultivated through contemporary social media use.