What are the demographics of the internet's culture of sharing, and how does our upbringing affect the degree of interactivity we expect from our media? Chris Carrick sent me a talk transcript by Clay Shirky titled Gin, Television, and Social Surplus, which later came up in conversation with Drew (pseudonym given to preserve privacy upon request), a friend of mine who works in education and continually boggles my mind with ideas on how to incorporate technology into the curriculum in a way that changes how students think. I found Drew's response to a section of Shirky's talk so striking that I asked for permission to post it, so here it is.

Clay Shirky:

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she's going back there  to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn't what she was doing.  She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, "What you doing?" And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, "Looking for the mouse."

Here's something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here's something   four-year-olds know: Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for.  Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won't have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan's Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

Drew's response:

The mouse and Dora example he referred to - It is very possible that the reason why the child was looking for the mouse is because of the way Dora the TV show was designed or conceptualized. The TV screen looks like a computer screen. There is an arrow moving and pointing to objects on the screen, and it clicks on the items to respond to questions. Because the child has knowledge and experience using the computer with a mouse, she knew that there should be a mouse somewhere that was moving the arrow pointer on the screen.

My two children both watched that same show, one of them watched it about 8 years ago, and the other one watches it now. Both sat and watched the show without ever getting up to look for a mouse. There are probably more than two ways to interpret what was happening to the child described in the article and to my two kids. Here are my initial thoughts:

One has to do with culture. Culturally, have my two children been conditioned to assume a passive role when placed in the context of a new experience or when placed in the context of a "lecturer/teacher-student" relationship (where Dora the TV character is the lecturer and the viewers are the students), while the child referred to in the article is culturally encouraged to be more actively engaged, or culturally permitted to disregard or challenge the "lecturer-student relationsip" and pursue their own questions or desires regardless? Both of my children occasionally responded out loud to Dora when she asked questions, but I do not think they have ever gotten up to find the mouse. Perhaps the question of where's the mouse occurred to them but they stayed put on their seats because that is what they have learned to do.

My second thought has to do with being able to distinguish differences between the two experiences. Did my two children recognize the difference between computer monitors and television set, so that they know that they are watching a TV show and not looking at a computer game, whereas the child who got up to look for the mouse is did not recognize the difference between TV screen and computer screen at that time? It would be consistent with what Piaget refers to as period of equilibrium and disequilibrium.

The author looked at that incident and made several leaps in his thought - quite thought-provoking and very interesting. It made me think about the notion of "sharing." This is what came to my mind. I think that there is more "sharing" happening in the cyberspace community because that is the culture that has been established. In the world we physically live in or "earthspace," that is not the culture fostered in many dominant communities. Those societies that have a "colonial/superpower" mentality control and often inhibit "sharing" so that distribution of ideas, materials, resources is controlled and disproportionate. "Wanting to be in control or have control" is a big issue.

I face that even in the school where I work. Some colleagues question the relevance and practicality of our Quaker principles, arguing that the way we do things in our school does not meet those principles and therefore those principles are too lofty. My argument is that it is not the Quaker principles that are flawed and therefore need to be rejected. It is us, humans, who are flawed. We have our strengths and weaknesses. We need our Quaker principles to guide us and lift us from our weaknesses and strengthen them.

One reason why some people have a hard time with the Quaker principles is that it asks people to release their truth to the Meeting or the community, so that their truth becomes a part of the collective wisdom. Some people may not be able to do that (yet). I think it is the same with sharing knowledge and ideas with the larger cyberworld. Personal intellectual property vs. collective wisdom. The notion of cognitive surplus is interesting.

I think that the wikis are a wonderful way for people to share, and learn to share, and release individual control over the knowlege pool. It would be interesting to find out who participates in wikis - whether or not a certain profile of people would emerge as frequent participants.

Mel's request:

Responses and comments are very welcome - we'd both love to continue this conversation. Drew was recently introduced to wikis, the XO, and etc. and the resulting outpouring of commentary has been enlightening to me, a geek who's started to take these tools for granted. Hopefully we'll get to post more of the resulting  enthusiastic reactions to these "new technologies" and how classrooms can use them (and more importantly,  how teachers working within the current establishment can be empowered to use computers as more than  expensive typewriters).

Drew comes from the world of education and is a newcomer to our world of hacking. Do you know anybody like Drew who'd like to join the conversation? What would you introduce such a person to - what would you show them, what would you want to get their thoughts on?