New Futures Summer Youth Group @I Workshop Week 2

This week at the Summer Youth @I workshop we discussed identities on the web, freedom of expression rights and responsibilities, and means to protect ones privacy rights. We closed the conversation reviewing the implications of sharing sensitive media with others.

In Monday’s session we started by discussing the spectrum of tools and web content available to teens. The many ways that people use the web, and in particular their use of Facebook as a virtual journal that serves to share our individual perspectives and interests. The discussion centered on the need to control the message. Facebook’s platform allows us the virtual equivalent of the commons bulletin board. We can quickly exchange information with our circle of friends. Yet, we seldom consider the repercussions of our posts, the impact it has on others, and the need to be sensitive to the audience we are communicating with.

Our discussion on the rights of expression encoded into the constitution of the United States, and the responsibilities we have to use this right effectively, led me to bring up the story of Pandora’s Box. Once the message is out, it is difficult to control its impact. The group was slightly familiar with the story, and their curiosity about the creation myth allowed me to set up an exercise for them to conduct further research and self-directed discovery online.

Today’s (Wednesday) session began with a review of their findings. As I revisited some of the questions I had previously proposed to encause their research, I realized how excited they responded to the challenge. We talked about how Pandora’s story was a creation myth similar to the story of Adam and Eve; their realization that the original text referred to a container (jar) and not a box; that a later translation had misrepresented the object; that the evils of the world were entrusted in both stories in the form of the Tree of Knowledge and the Pithos; that the curiosity of women had caused them to break their compact to men; and, how these early stories affected how women were perceived throughout history.

Our discussion then moved to consider the importance of semantics and terms in searching for information. I proposed how significant English had been to the development of programming languages and the structure of the web. Millions of developers in nations across the globe have trained in English so that they could participate in the medium, and this meant they had easy access to knowledge across borders.

They were challenged to consider the volume of information that was produced daily and available to them on media sites like YouTube, which is why understanding how to narrow down search results was so important.

Once it was clear they understood they had a role to play in the virtual conversation, and that they needed to adopt new ways to navigate the vast knowledge space, we moved the discussion to consider what types of information were acceptable or inappropriate.

We went over a few recent tragic stories about what happened to some unfortunate teens and adults who shared too much information; and, discussed how easy it was to break the law or even destroy relationships with friends.

The conversation today closed with a discussion of the rise of sexting messages, and their effects on relationships and the community at large. We had come back full circle to the issue of trust, and how easy it was to trust a friend with sensitive images of oneself or others. I offered that it was best that they refrain from revealing too much information or sharing revealing certain images or videos of themselves, given how easy it was for even best friends to react in a way that compromised their privacy.

I was relieved in how comfortably they asked questions, and I got the sense they were now feeling much more empowered to manage the narrative of their lives arising through their social media posts.

I think Pandora’s story served its purpose quite well. ;P

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