Internet Research 9.0: Rethinking Community, Rethinking Space. Key speaker: Mimi Ito

October 16, 2008

Notes from the conference: Internet Research 9.0: Rethinking Community, Rethinking Space. Copenhagen October 15 – 18, 2008. Mimi Ito: Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out: Youth Participation in Networked Publics.

Mimi Ito is a cultural anthropologist studying new media use, particularly among young people in Japan and the US. Her research right now focuses on digital media use in the US and portable technologies in Japan. Her last works published are: Networked Publics and Beyond Barbie® and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming. I strongly recommend the reading of her blog.

Her presentation was based on Digital Youth Research project:

Since the early 1980s, digital media have held out the promise of more engaged, child-centered learning opportunities. The advent of Internet-enabled personal computers and mobile devices has added a new layer of communication and social networking to the interactive digital mix. While this evolving palette of technologies has demonstrated the ability to capture the attention of young people, the innovative learning outcomes that educators had hoped for are more elusive. Although computers are now fixtures in most schools and many homes, there is a growing recognition that kids’ passion for digital media has been ignited more by peer group sociability and play than academic learning. This gap between in-school and out-of-school experience represents a gap in children’s engagement in learning, a gap in our research and understandings, and a missed opportunity to reenergize public education. This project works to address this gap with a targeted set of ethnographic investigations into three emergent modes of informal learning that young people are practicing using new media technologies: communication, learning, and play +info.

Mimi Ito stars with the team members of the project and with the objectives:

The first objective is to describe kids as active innovators using digital media rather than as passive consumers of popular culture or academic knowledge.

The second objective is to think about the implications of kids’ innovative cultures for schools and higher education and to engage in a dialogue with educational planners.

The third objective is to advise software designers about how to use kids’ innovative approaches to knowledge and learning in building better software.

Then she explains the methodology based on ethnographic research in both local neighborhoods in Northern and Southern California, and in virtual places and networks such as online games, blogs, messaging, and online interest groups. Mimi Ito also remarks the amount of data collected: 594 semi structure interviews; 79 informal interviews; 67 groups; 28 diary studies; 4146 questionnaires and also more than 5000 hours of observation of 10468 profiles; 15 on-line forums; 389 videos; 50 events and classroom observation.

After that she introduces to the audience the term networked publics as “an alternative to terms such as audience or consumer. Rather than assume that everyday media engagement is passive or consumptive, the term publics foregrounds a more engaged stance. Networked publics takes this further; now publics are communicating more and more through complex networks that are bottom-up, top-down, as well as side-to-side. Publics can be reactors, (re)makers and (re)distributors, engaging in shared culture and knowledge through discourse and social exchange as well as through acts of media reception”.

Mimi Ito remarks that Youth Networked Publics like traditional youth publics are based on: local scale of interaction, many to many and peer to peer forms of participating, sharing and learning. But unlike traditional youth publics are also based on: accesibility 24/7, persistence, networked peer space, access to more specialized and niche publics, broader contexts for publication and privacy.

Networked publics are sources of diversity about identity, culture and practice. Further beyond  access issues, Mimi Ito identifies two main drivers:

1. Friendship-driven learning and participation: peer to peer sharing and reputation.

Kids prefer to hang out, participate, socialize off-line but time, space and structural restrictions encourage them to go on-line. Research results reveals that most of the kids prefer to meet people first off-line and after that face to face meeting go on-line. Otherwise, you can be consider as a freak or a geek by your own friends “Meeting people first on-line is not cool”.

Mimi Ito uses the term peer pressure to identify some practice among kids “If I put someone in my top ten friend on Facebook or MySpace, that someone is supposed to do the same with me”. On-line reputation has consequences on off-line reputation. Another way of peer pressure was the consequences of private data available on SNS as amplifiers of “drama” thinking about the changes on engaged or falling in love in the personal profile.

Finally, Mimi Ito states that kids share social practice… they help each other to create, produce and distribute content through social technology.

2. Interest-driven learning and participation. Still a minority of youth is driven by interest. Two case studies based on FANSUBBING and ANIME MUSIC VIDEOS.

After the explanation of these two case studies Mimi Ito finishes her talk with some considerations about the diversity in genres of youth participation on-line;  peer based learning, participation and reputation; the scale of networked communities and the youth access to broader audiences; new forms of litarecy and media social practice used by youth to produce knowledge without the constrictions of the adul world.

I really enjoy Mimi Ito speech and her work but I wonder why her research project does not take into account the traditional categories like education level, parents’ wages, family structure,… Do they matter? Am I old fashion?

Update – Video Mimi Ito Keynote @ IR9.0