Digital (alter)natives with a Cause
In the 21st Century, we have witnessed the simultaneous growth of internet and digital technologies on the one hand, and political protests and mobilisation on the other. Processes of interpersonal relationships, social communication, economic expansion, political protocols and governmental mediation are undergoing a significant transition, across in the world, in developed and emerging Information and Knowledge societies.
The young are often seen as forerunners of these changes because of the pervasive and persistent presence of digital and online technologies in their lives. The Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore, in collaboration with HIVOS Netherlands, started a research inquiry to uncovers the ways in which young people in emerging ICT contexts make strategic use of technologies to bring about change in their immediate environments, under the name “Digital Natives with a Cause?”. Ranging from personal stories of transformation to efforts at collective change, it aims to identify knowledge gaps that existing scholarship, practice and popular discourse around an increasing usage, adoption and integration of digital technologies in processes of social and political change.
In 2010-11, three workshops in Taiwan, South Africa and Chile, brought together around 80 people who identified themselves as Digital Natives from Asia, Africa and Latin America, to explore certain key questions that could provide new insight into Digital Natives research, policy and practice. The workshops were accompanied by a ‘Thinkathon’ – a multi-stakeholder summit that initiated conversations between Digital Natives, academic researchers, scholars, practitioners, educators, policy makers and corporate representatives to share learnings on new questions: Is one born digital or does one become a Digital Native? How do we understand our relationship with the idea of a Digital Native? How do Digital Natives redefine ‘change’ and how do they see themselves implementing it? What is the role that technologies play in defining civic action and social movements? What are the relationships that these technology based identities and practices have with existing social movements and political legacies? How do we build new frameworks of sustainable citizen action outside of institutionalisation?
One of the knowledge gaps that I want to focus on, is the lack of digital natives’ voices in the discourse around them. In the occasions that they are a part of the discourse, they are generally represented by other actors who define the frameworks and decide the issues which are important. Hence, more often than not, most books around digital natives concentrate on similar sounding areas and topics, which might not always resonate with the concerns that digital natives and other stake-holders might be engaged with in their material and discursive practice. The methodology of the workshops was designed keeping this in mind. Instead of asking the digital natives to give their opinion or recount a story about what we felt was important, we began by listening to their articulations about what was at stake for them as e-agents of change. As a result, the usual topics like piracy, privacy, cyber-bullying, sexting etc. which automatically map digital natives discourse, are conspicuously absent from this lecture. Their absence is not deliberate, but more symptomatic of how these themes that we presumed as important were not of immediate concerns to most of the participants in the workshop who have contributed to our research.
In this lecture, I shall look at some of the key-findings, knowledge gaps, learnings and future avenues of report that have emerged from these interactions.
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