Monday, 2 November 2009

Note to a Mentor 'learn from your students'

"Twitter, as Wired journalist Stephen Levy put it, 'rocketed into the mainstream without really knowing what its service was. Its users defined it.' And they still are."

I've taken to starting some of my lectures by asking, how many of the students use social media to research, develop and extend their practices?

The silence is deafening.

I know, the language is tricky, but that packages my point quite nicely. I follow it by asking;

'Okay let's look at this another way, how many people have a Facebook account ?' (most)

'How many have Myspace pages?' (most)

'Any users of Bebo, Twitter, YouTube ?' (by now everyone is involved).

'Okay, how many people have ever uploaded a picture to show to their friends?' (all)

'Has anyone here directed anyone to watch a movie that they liked/disliked or found funny/scary/inspirational?' (all)

'What about music? (chaos) okay, okay, we all listen to music, either on our own or with friends. And it's a nice thing to share and listen to together.
That's why clubs play music right ? Because it drawers us all together and transcends just a bunch of notes and some random (often) lyrics. Although you probably wouldn't want your Grandma with you when you go clubbing (nods),- STOP - Why?

Why wouldn't you want your Grandma to come clubbing with you ?

There are usually wide and varied responses to this question.

Okay, so Grandma goes into a different set of sharers. As do some other people, like your Professor, and another still for clients or employers etc. Each of these groups we push information to, all the while editing what we send to whom along the way.

We have, and discriminate between, a bunch of these different groups, and it's us as the 'author/sharer/creator', that constitute the one thread drawing everyone together.

All this is stuff that we already do, and in one way or another, we always have. People have always shared friends, places and things that they liked, what's changed are the mechanics and infrastructure for doing this. Consequently so has the scale and effect of this sharing.

To the new student, this is both good and bad. It's good because historically the opportunities for entrepreneurship have never been more democratic, and what's more, the student already speaks the language of this new democracy intuitively.

It's bad, because right now, the teachers don't. They're too often people fettered by understandings pre-dating the Social-Media revolution. A revolution gaining momentum so rapidly that it's seemingly impossible for most to catch up, and join in.

The students see them trying and think they're watching their uncles try to dance at a wedding.

It's worth remembering that the internet is only 26 years old ( a bit older than most students).It also continues to astound me that; Google is only 11 years old, Myspace is 6, Facebook is 5, Youtube 3 years, Twitter isn't even quite that yet and over the last year it's number of users went from 1,000,000 to 70 000,000.

Technology has ripped up many of 'the market's' historical barriers to entry. It has located new communities, enabled new collaborations, it is demanding new contracts, creating new disciplines and defining new modes of sustainable practice.

A writer no longer has to go through and seek approval from an editor in order to publish. A photographer doesn't have to be on contract to a magazine or signed to a gallery, in order to successfully sell their work. A musician can bypass a record label and still reach number one and someone hand-making books out of bicycle innertubes can reach, nurture and develop a global community of customers from her front room in Copenhagen.

What all of these creators have in common, is that they are generators of content. Enabling these students/creators to fully realise the potential of their ideas remains the role of the Mentor/Teacher.What's changed for the current generation of them though, is that they/we must un-pick the students application of this 'created content'.

We must learn from our students (the digital natives) how to navigate and negotiate new-media/ social media technologies. There's nothing to be gained by conceiving of some romantic past where artists of integrity didn't need to adapt and innovate in order to maintain their practice (See my earlier post on the Renaissance), the outcome of which is usually a bleeting in CAPS-LOCK that "Photography (insert Music/Books/Journalism etc)" is dead (insert dying,ruined,over etc).

We must instead empower the student by pointing out that whenever we share a Photograph on Facebook, a movie on Vimeo or a link on Twitter, that we are the people defining these new business models and re-defining old ones. We are simultaneously both the cause and the effect and we as Mentors are also learning about all of this along with, and from them.

The lead quote is from this great article on Twitter over on The Guardian's website.

As you're still reading,you might well be inspired (as I am very much) by David Campbell, so here's a great place to read him.

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