Following the chair’s introduction by Dr. Henry Jenkins, the opening keynote talk was delivered by S. Craig Watkins. Highly regarded for his research about race, youth and digital media usage and his books, The Young and the Digital and Hip Hop Matters. He was invited to join the MacArthur Foundation Series on Youth, Digital Media and Learning.
With this in mind and with no experience in this area I was looking forward to hearing the perspective from which he considers this space. Below is provided a few key insights I took out of his keynote talk:
- SCW Insight: The conversation around youth use of digital media and the digital divide as a racial ravine has changed. Black and latino youth are using technology and the degree of engagement has evolved considerably since 1998?
Here he poses the audience to reflect on what this conference might have looked like in 1998, over ten years ago in terms of race and usage?
- SCW Insight: If we ask them [youth] if they use and access – it assumes they are not connected for a certain period of the day? They are in fact using social media ‘more’ than heir white counterparts.
He presents to the audience a number of emergent patterns about black and latino youth usage, which challenged historical views about black and latino participation in the digital media space:
- Usage is mobile: Mobile phones are merging as the preferred platform. 92% own a mobile phone …
- Usage is peer and Interest driven: They are ‘Living and learning’ with new media … engaging their peers … peer interaction … peer informed spaces that drive their usage and interest driven genres (e.g., hip hop)…
- Use digital media is the new town square: ‘Back in the day’ .. hip hop … youth always writing stories, carrying pens and papers, documenting their stories about their life in poems and hip hop … today, the digital landscape is the new town square about hip hop … they go online to engage with their community, and engage in a ‘stunning’ critique about the world around them ….
- Use digital media as a space of opportunity: Messaging & hanging around in digital media is NOT just wasting time, but they are creating gateways for them to create opportunities and engage with what they are love and passionate about … e.g., a young girl who used hip hop to connect with hip hop artists, but also to connect with her friends and record/tweet about her own hip hop …
He goes on to discuss the affinity between social media and hip hop (e.g., mobility, DIY, peer-based learning, participatory, view of them in their world) and summarises some key tenants of what they have learnt so far about black and latino youth in the digital media space:
- Black youth capital is about – ‘keepin it real in the digital age’
- Black cultural capital wherein “soft skills” and code switching in/between digital and real world is important. Soft skills he defines as the ways people interact with others, esp. how they talk … black and latino youth profiles in digital space, how they present themselves, their linguistic practices, these styles of behaviour suit their peers, but not perhaps the wider/formal view of the world (e.g., getting a job).
- Creating and critiquing expression and peer-group connection: Digital media is the space where they grapple with their own fears and their own concerns and peer-group connection. He gives an example of New Orleans and Katrina and how a young boys digital media practices changed before (i.e., didn’t use/value Myspace) and after Katrina (e.g., place to express and reconnect with his peers, post evacuation.
- Creating and critiquing the politics of race and place … public memorials, grieving and engagement with social issues… are engaging with differing skills and life experiences and these life experiences are shaping their interaction and participation in the digital world.
- Creating and critiquing in any place through digital space … Black/Latino … more likely than white via handheld … more reliable than home access and in these places they feel ‘policed’, not so with mobile technologies … mobile becomes an empowered space in any place …
In summary, S. Craig Watkins poses some interesting insights into not just the usage of black and latino youth with digital media, disposing the historical view of the 1990’s of the synergy between race and digital divide .. but also sharing his learning on black and latino youth in the digital space … their experiences, values and in his words ‘how they are in this world’ (S. Craig Watkins, DML-2010).
From this delivery I felt an additional area worth exploring:
- In addition to how black and latino youth use, are, see, interact and participate in the digital media space, how does digital media make black and latino youth feel as part of this experience? This question comes from an exploratory study with MedisSnackers in the UK that I was fortunate to be part of entitled: The Web Makes Me Feel!