The theme of this year’s Digital Media Learning conference is “Democratic Futures,” but as I move through today’s panels and presentations, the process of learning to use/create digital media and the process of participating in an open democracy are growing so similar that the conference theme seems in many ways redundant with digital media learning itself. Both involve issues of access, participation, critical thinking and production, and both are having profound impacts on the way societies today function. As conference chair Craig Watkins pointed out this morning, many of the biggest news and advocacy stories in recent memory owe their existence and success to media-savvy activists (examples: the shooting of Malala Yousafzi, the successful petitioning for President Obama to speak about gun violence in Chicago, the Tumblr rallying support for Planned Parenthood in the wake of lost funding from the Komen Foundation).
The first day kicked off with a keynote from M.I.T.’s Ethan Zuckerman, whose model of thick engagement versus thin engagement may turn out to be one of the biggest takeaways for conference-goers (assuming Twitter is a reliable indication–search for #DML2013). He talked about the need for divorcing politics from activism by teaching youth about levers and infrastructure for change, and the importance of empowerment and agency in building a movement. A session about the learning model for the Digital Youth Network revealed that the organization grew from the recognition that although all youth can consume media, not all can produce it, and that the learning process needs to connected home and school spaces. Another session on civic media theory (not nearly as dull as a topic as it might sound) talked about the ethical quandaries around DDoS as a means for political protest. And so on.
Day 1 is not technically even done yet; there are still Ignite talks to go to and a 21st century science fair to attend (stop by The LAMP’s table and say hi!). But for those of us who more or less get out of bed every morning intent on empowering youth through digital media–and I think that includes pretty much everyone here–this conference is already a bit of a dream. More than that though, it’s a force for mobilizing like-minded people and reinforcing the raison d’être for our networks and organizations. That’s a good thing; changing the world isn’t easy, and we surely can’t do it alone. A democratic future does indeed depend on partnerships.
Keep up with The LAMP at DML 2013 by following @thelampnyc!