Tuesday, March 31, 2009

When last year, Facebook decided to change the prefix on the status bar for it's 65 million users, it got me thinking. They had previously only allowed 'Martin is ...' for the status area, and for most users that was fine. 'Martin is snowboarding' or 'Martin is having a coffee' etc. For a minority however, it wasn't enough, and so the 'is' was removed after much badgering to allow more freedom in this status field for Facebook users.

It got me thinking about the way in which web applications, or the businesses behind them, direct our experience online, particularly the social online experiences of young adults.

One of my greatest concerns in this brave new digital age we're accelerating through, is that young adults will for the most part, simply accept and allow online tools, particularly social media websites, to direct their experience. That their socialisation will be subtly guided by the businesses that own the platforms on which they are playing.

I'm concerned that young adults won't question sources of content, why information is presented in a particular way, or how their own data is used by businesses behind the web tools we're becoming reliant on.

I'm not suggesting a conspiracy, but that young adults need to be equipped to question the online environments they are exploring and spending their time in.

One of the best ways to help students to explore the features of a web application and to teach them to use it for their own purposes rather than those it was designed for, is to encourage them to create stories.

Building creative narratives with Facebook and digital image editing websites, chat services and collaborative tools like Google Docs helps students to be more objective. It shows them that these tools can be used for purposes other than those they were built for. It encourages them to question why these online applications are designed and built the way they are.

When young adults build stories using web media, when they subvert the original purpose of these online applications to be creative - they take control.

The Digital Narrative was built with this purpose, to encourage educators to guide young adults toward taking control of their experiences online.

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