Media Literacy: Out of bounds.

The overwhelming assumption made towards media literacy in the digital age is that its locus of need is not an individual, but towards commerce, schools, media industries and so on.

On the whole, the work being done is not concerned with how the mind works in relation to media exposure and communication characteristics – [think] – why are people glued to their screens in public and private spaces? – but towards artificial construction of meaning from those messages. For example the self-referential need to ‘selfie’ or ‘like’ a media image, not to ‘troll’ other people and to abide by socially constructed norms, based on commercial policies and economic drivers.

The needs of the individual are increasingly secondary to the need build central cognition of the media as it represents itself and the world. Children especially need to develop deeper understanding of media-forces, not merely ‘being aware’ or ‘using it responsibly.’ Children, even young ones, are not passive receivers of so called ‘media effects’, but active in social construction and reconstruction of media. This is why banning or allowing games is peripheral to the central problem of parochialism.

We don’t know enough about how the mind works during media exposures, and media evolves at a pace current research can’t match. This leaves anyone reporting “kids must learn to …” followed by a list of ‘digital skills’ is at best guessing – but welcome to add to the research as well as the rhetoric. I acknowledge also that education futures is a form of mass entertainment, tuned to a very willing and responsive group in our society – teachers. It is this which I find most offensive and unhelpful these days, the individuals greatest contribution is being part of a paying (but unknown) audience.

Media literacy is a way to empower individuals and includes understanding the motives of media industries, potential positive and negative effects which accumulate as byproducts of daily (some say continual) behaviour because media companies (Facebook, Google, Twitter etc.,) are not subject to ‘strong’ public policy and often refuse to respond to public criticism. They do however coerce individuals to act as agents though offering some vague promise of increased personal status or wealth in exchange for loyalty and labour. One conclusion which can be drawn is that if the individual (the student) is prime, then current assumptions and calls for media-literacy are both down-stream and conditioned by automatic routines of  media itself (check status, like, add a follower, take a selfie).

The media are conditioning the way people ‘see’ the world through stories and routines — and sadly, teachers are implicated in this. For example, some media reports have claimed that teachers are the most active group on Twitter. Without better ‘media education,’ information processing, meaning making and matching is at best being ‘filtered’ by educators as well as their institutions. The so called ‘flipped classroom’ is a good example of knowing more about the media than about the mind of the individual who is required to watch it as part of their learning. The challenge is not to know how to ‘get’ or ‘curate’ information but how the individual mind can be protected from the flood of messages until such a time cognitive media theory can be applied to both curriculum and methods.

This all points to a growing and corrupt market for media messages towards educational experiences. It’s central to my belief why digital games are ‘out of bounds’ too. Media literacy is concerned with what children will provide (cultural production) to the ‘structure’ of society, rather than the ‘agency’ of the individual. Game-playing has not been seen as particularly useful by schools. In the home, digital games are effective tools to sell phones, computers and home entertainment. Schools do almost nothing to address this through their structures — so can’t complain when games-networks take on the community task of deschooling children from the media-norms that  hailed as the vanguard of emerging classroom methods — aka “Web2.0.”

Without building a ‘media literacy’ curriculum around the needs of the individual’s cognitive mind, we’re left to build it around brands, money and the aspirations of a small group of teachers who inhabit media itself. In addition, schools cannot escape responsibility for unwanted social side effects (stuck on Facebook, driving while texting, etc.) as there’s no evidence that what is being done now (a patchy mix of trial, error and personal belief) produces any lasting changes on the individuals media literacy. How does the structure differentiate ‘bad’ media messages from the individuals own ‘good beliefs’? On the basis of evidence so far, playing Last of Us or Titanfall is just as valid as making children write a blog or use Google Drive. But surely … logic and reason is that the individual is too feeble minded to know what is good for them.

By insisting the current version (popular, but guesswork) “media literacy” is ‘good’ – is simply a byproduct and subset of the ongoing commoditising of the individual. Education appears to create a demand, rather than provide effective defences from it. It seems very odd that in all the market reforms to education, media education remains ‘off limits’ when it comes to curriculum and teacher training. Now why is that?

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