As Moby does with other people’s sounds and musical phrases, David Shields does with words, saying that mashing up other people’s words (or “recombinant” art) is much more interesting than creating fiction, which is sort of an appropriation of Mark Twain’s “reality is stranger [more interesting?] than fiction.” “Mr. Shields’s book consists of 618 fragments, including hundreds of quotations taken from other writers like Philip Roth, Joan Didion and Saul Bellow,” the New York Times reports. That’s a huge contentious subject – copyright, intellectual property, fair use, etc. – important and fascinating, but it’s only about content. What about the other part of new media? Moby, Shields, and other mass-media natives are gutsy, but they’re focused merely on content at a time when there’s a lot more going on in media. Much more interesting for our (parents’) purposes is the behavioral part: all the sociality we – especially youth in the pressure-cooker social environment of school life – are constantly observing, appropriating, and mashing up with the help of social digital media.
We are remixing and creating a recombinant reality that is pressing in upon us with the same constancy, volume, and intensity as content is. Can you imagine a time in history when there was ever a greater need for media literacy than there is now, with our children growing up with online+offline, 24/7 exposure to the school, family, local, national, and international dramas of life – but, for them, especially school-related drama? Or a greater demand on all of us, too, for civility, perspective-taking, and respect for self, others, and community? If we can’t model these for our children – at home and school, on phones and online – how can we teach them? If we keep fearing and blocking new media, we can’t really be there for them in these tricky media waters. As they navigate both adolescence and the new-media space, they need breathers, reality checks, a sense of balance, and guidance (shore leave, buoys, dramamine, and a lighthouse, maybe? Sorry!), by which I mean:
Remixing content may lead to “recombinant art,” a hybrid of fiction and nonfiction or an alternative altogether. But what about when we add to this recombinant content, constantly coming at us, the online/offline mashup of all the sociality – family, school, local, national, and international – we’re also exposed to? I think we increasingly need to be very centered and mindful, very socially and media literate to stay firmly on course in our lives. Especially when some of us are still growing up. Let’s be sure to support our children’s developing tech literacy, media literacy, and life literacy! They never needed or deserved these skills and our support more.