Future of social networks demands media literacy education"Our next generation cannot afford overprotection. To grow and evolve with social networking, they need the free environment that those in other countries enjoy—to develop, prosper and compete with the world."
Every day, someone asks me how to “develop a Web 2.0 strategy.” But what they really seek is a media strategy to connect people, deliver messages of information, and maintain relationships.
As always, examining history helps us learn how to stay relevant tomorrow. In 1800, face-to-face communication was the only “social network”—to interact, buy or sell, speak or listen, you needed to visit the local marketplace. But by 1900, newspapers and magazines allowed a person’s ideas to be communicated to people they’d never met.
For the next sixty years, newspapers dominated the media scene. But by the 1920s, radio had attracted attention, especially live radio news—instead of reading articles by people you’d never met, you could now listen to their voices. Once television arrived in the 1950s, you could even see the stranger’s face.
Enter the digital
Although the world-wide web debuted in the 70s, it wasn’t until the 90s that the Net hit the mainstream. Now, even after the dotcom bubble burst, virtually everyone has an e-mail address, and most companies or institutions have a Web site. All this web activity has been accompanies by a frenzy of speculation, and those who said the Net would fundamentally change communication were fundamentally correct.
Now the latest buzz on social networks—Facebook, Twitter—promises that these will eliminate blogs and traditional Web sites. Some even claim that traditional media channels are withering under the constant stream of rich information from social networks (then again, some claimed your refrigerator would order deliveries of milk when it detected your supply was running
That said, even three years ago no one imagined social networks would be as popular as they are today. I didn’t imagine when I first joined Facebook that I would be using it—ever evolving to the chagrin of us users—the way I do today.
And the pace of change is frantic. It’s futile for corporations, organizations and individuals to “learn how to use Web 2.0 tools” because what can you master if the media continually changes as you try to “learn it?” Forget “learning to use” any particular social media—instead, become part of the media, so the media can discover how to work for you. Remember one of tech guru Tim O’Reilly’s key principles of Web 2.0: it’s an “eternal beta.”
How do we train our business people, government officials, and (most of all) our young people to cope with the dizzying evolution of social media applications? The answer: media literacy. On May 23, the Internet Society Hong Kong held the HKSAR’s first Media Literacy Forum for the ICT and education sectors in Hong Kong. We hope this will start a trend in the HKSAR.
Wikipedia defines media literacy as “the process of accessing, analyzing, evaluating and creating messages in a wide variety of media modes, genres and forms...[it] uses an inquiry-based instructional model that encourages people to ask questions about what they watch, see, and read.” This is a critical survival skill of the future: the ability to discern information. It’s as important for corporations and institutions as well as citizens.
Governments in Europe, North America and Australia are increasing media literacy education for young people. Yet teachers in Hong Kong still struggle with model answers and examinations. Meanwhile, our government grapples with educational as well as censorship systems to decide for our young people what they should or should not see—instead of encouraging them to ask questions about what they watch, see and read, and settling on their own answers of choice.
Our next generation cannot afford overprotection. To grow and evolve with social networking, they need the free environment that those in other countries enjoy—to develop, prosper and compete with the world.
Hong Kong is a world-class city, and our young people deserve world-class education, no matter how quickly it shifts. None of us expected the twenty-first century to be quite so challenging, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt, and it’s up to us to learn how to play it skillfully.
Published on Computerworld Hong Kong, June 2009 issue