Civic Media Should be People-Centered
As a scholar in the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program, Rogelio has conducted research regarding the use of new media among Latina/o activists in Los Angeles. Emphasizing a "from-the-ground-up" approach to scholarship and civic engagement, Rogelio has been involved with integrating media and technology into social justice geared movements. His work looks into lessening educational and health related disparities among historically underrepresented and underserved communities. Past examples of such fusion between media and public service include his involvement with the Fast for Our Future, a human rights focused hunger strike that utilized a new media campaign, and the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund, which aims to provide low income communities with affordable organic produce and essential dietary education with the assistance of new media.
Rogelio will work closely with the Center for Civic Media to further develop the use of technology and media as a means of addressing societal disparities, with an emphasis on ensuring access to emerging technology, media, and digital information among communities that often fall victim to the "digital divide."
Civic Media Should be People-Centered
Last Wednesday was the first day of Introduction to Civic Media, taught by Comparative Media Studies Professor Sasha Costanza-Chock. As part of our first assignment, we were instructed to tell a little about ourselves to our fellow classmates using a blog, to reflect on the first day of class, and also to discuss our own understanding of what civic media is. For those that do not know me, I am a 2nd-year Master’s Student of Comparative Media Studies and a Research Assistant at the Center for Civic Media at MIT. My research interests include media activism, youth social movements, and popular education/communication, among other things. I began studying media activism in the immigrants’ rights movement as a consequence of direct involvement in political actions in Los Angeles. I still continue to study the role of media and technology in immigrants’ rights movements and youth movements in both Los Angeles and Boston.
Our first day of class for Introduction to Civic Media was carried out as most would expect: introductions, covering the syllabus, and answering logistical questions. However, in addition to reviewing the material in our course syllabus, the students of Intro to Civic Media were instructed to add topics and interests that they would like to see covered in the course. These topics and interests were written down on sticky notes or “stickies” (as we civic folk like to call them), placed on a wall in the classroom, and then collaboratively arranged into categories. These categories included: law and censorship, internet culture, mobilization, data visualization, among others. The three areas that I have particular interest in are: mobilization, data visualization, and internet culture.
The rest of the class was devoted to an activity to define “civic media” using the “Intertwinkles” 10 Points tool developed by Media Lab Doctoral Candidate, Charlie De Tar. Our task was to come up with 10 principles of civic media collaboratively while working in teams. 10 Points is a web-based collaborative platform that lets multiple users create any 10 principles of their choosing simultaneously, and vote for or revise any principle that is submitted. The catch, however, is that any principle that is revised loses all of its votes and restarts the voting process for that particular principle. This was not the first time that I used the tool, but it was my first time using it with a large group. With over 25 people present, the exercise seemed somewhat challenging. The first thing that I noticed was that people were very quick to come up with 10 points (in under 1-2 minutes). The next thing that I noticed, was that when votes were low, groups were more willing to revise and rework principles, even with small changes such as word choice and sentence length. As more time passed by, people began to disagree with entire ideas altogether, which initiated a debate about semantics and the meaning of terms such as “inclusion” and “accessible.” We then proceeded to debate whether the principles were realistic, idealistic, unrealistic, or aspirational. We eventually agreed that the principles outline our aspirations for civic media, and may not reflect actuality. In the end, we were not able to come to consensus on all of the principles. Only 2 principles received every vote needed:
1. Civic media aspires to be participatory.
2. Civic media reflects the community it comes from.
What I learned from this exercise, besides group dynamics and the challenges of reaching consensus, is that every person in our course has his/her own idea about what civic media is. These ideas are influenced by the diverse experiences that people are bringing to the table. This is a good thing, since my 11th civic media principle would be that civic media should be adaptable to its context. That is not to say that a given tool or technology must take every single user in the universe into account when being created, because that is not feasible. But I do believe that it is important to understand and acknowledge pre-existing cultural practices and contexts when employing civic media, even if very challenging. Another observation that I had was in relation to the preferred forms of communication among students. For the record, 10 Principles is an awesome tool and a great example of what civic media can be. The tool is participatory and it incentivizes democratic processes. However, what stood out to me the most was not the tool, but how we had to occasionally break from our groups and reconvene as a larger group in order to discuss the principles face-to-face. There came a point where the technology just didn’t cut it, and people needed actual human faces to hold accountable for their digital actions on 10 Principles. Emotions flared, discussions were heated, and it seemed that people had very important personal reasons, grounded in their worldly experiences, for advocating for a certain principle. I am still not entirely sure what most of this means, especially as it relates to civic media. I generally agree with most of the principles that our class was able to generate, and overall I think we have an awesome group of talented students from many walks of life.
I am still trying to figure out how I would personally define civic media, which is not an easy task. I tend to favor adaptable explanations that evolve with people and environments, which can come at odds with academic norms that demand consistency. There are some things about civic media though, or perhaps my own personal approach to civic media, that I would like to be undoubtedly true. This can be best clarified with an example from our 10 Points exercise, during a point when all students reconvened to clarify a principle. When explaining one of my authored principles to a fellow classmate (I am not sure which, because the principle underwent revisions), I said that civic media should ultimately be about people and for people, and not so much about the tech. That student suggested that we include a principle related to that idea, because it seemed so central. So, if I could have a single principle for civic media, it would be: Civic media should be people-centered.