YPP Network Description

The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) formed out of recognition that youth are critical to the future of democracy and that the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.

  • “Hope is an Active Verb”: Brenda Laurel Revisits Computers as Theater (Part Three)

    by Henry Jenkins

    In Utopian Entrepreneur, you offered a powerful call for designers and industry people to bring more of their own social values and political commitments into their work, making an argument for the ways that the design of media and culture can help change the world. Amazingly, you wrote this book after some of the set-backs you suffered with Purple Moon. Throughout this revision of Computer as Theater, we get a strong sense of your own commitments and values, especially as regard gender politics and environmentalism. Are you still optimistic about the potentials of Utopian Entrepreneurship? Can you point to some recent examples of people you admire who are working to achieve these kinds of meaningful change through entrepreneurial means?
    These days I’m questioning both words. ‘Utopian’ has a statist tone historically, although the common meaning, I think, is to do things that are good for people and societies in sustainable ways. ‘Entrepreneurship’ leaves out the great work done in universities and non-profits, but it does provide an explicit measure of success.
    That said, I must confess that Elon Musk is at the top of my list. People sometimes scoff at his excellent work with Tesla and SpaceX because they think Pay Pal was an egregious way to make money. Such folks need to remember that the big idea of Pay Pal was not to boost consumerism but to help people make monetary transactions of many types via the internet. I count that as good, if not utopian, work. SpaceX is filling a niche that is being vacated by NASA as it loses funding, and the working methods at SpaceX are speedier and yield a better product essentially because they are entrepreneurial.
    Jane McGonigal is another great example. Her game “World Without Oil” won her the South by Southwest award for activism in 2008. Her goal is to create games that improve the quality of human life. She describes her latest work, “SuperBetter”, as “a game that has helped more than 250,000 players so far tackle real-life health challenges like depression, anxiety, chronic pain and traumatic brain injury.” Her work has also made her a best-selling author and a presenter in high demand.
    In the world of serious games we have great examples of successful games like “Democracy” and “Democracy 2” from Positech. Another well-received example is “Peacemaker” from ImpactGames, originally developed by a team at Carnegie-Mellon. This particular game is one of many examples of work incubated within institutions of higher education. Although ImpactGames was later formed to publish the game commercially, it’s really important to remember its roots in the university. Your own work in the Games-to-Teach project at MIT provided a huge stimulus for the serious games movement, and much of the work is still done in universities. ‘Entrepreneurship’ may or may not be involved. Universities and non-profits can be great host organisms for pro-social work.
    The ‘entrepreneurship’ qualification is only important if you measure the value of the game by its success in the commercial marketplace. Entrepreneurial approaches help us to demonstrate value by noting that a particular sort of ‘utopian’ product or service has found a sustainable niche in the ecology of commerce, but success in entrepreneurship is not an accurate measure of the Good.
    Across the book, you shared some of your experiences as a Dead Head and as a participant in the Renaissance Fair culture. What models do these kinds of participatory culture offer us for thinking about the designed of shared social spaces and experiences within digital media?
    I’m also a Trekker, as you recall.
    I take away two important things from Deadhead culture. The first is a climate of trust. At Dead concerts, I never needed to worry about leaving a backpack on the lawn while I went to look at merchandise or buy a beer. I could be sitting next to a raving libertarian or a homeless hippie; it didn’t matter. Deadheads took care of each other as an ad hoc community. It would be lovely to establish a similar ethos in a social network or a multiplayer game.
    Boundaries are definitional of communities. People who behaved outside of albeit unstated norms of Dead culture were eased out of the community (or the space) by Deadheads.
    The other thing that really worked was the Dead’s attitude toward intellectual property. People taped the shows and special accommodations were made them. And anybody could hack the artwork to distribute their own home-grown merch. The Dead culture understands and accommodates appropriation as a need of fans. They made (and their successor make) their revenue from concerts, not intellectual property.
    In the book, I used the Renaissance Faire as an example of how the clever selection and arrangement of materials (to quote Aristotle) could predispose individuals with differing traversals through the space to have dramatically satisfying experiences. This moves the notion of the dramatic from a line to a field. Interaction designers can also think about what sorts of predispositions are set up by the arrangement and potential ordering of experiences and encounters.
    The embodied joy of walking around the Faire and speaking Faire-dialect English is not marred by the fear of attack or the need to fight. This demonstrates to me that it’s possible to create excellent multiplayer games without the need for explicit conflict as part of the play pattern.
    I was surprisingly moved by your final line, “Hope is an active verb.” So, what are you hoping for in terms of digital culture in the next decade?
    I hope we learn to use these capabilities that we continue to extrude to love our planet, ourselves, and one another better and more actively. Like the telescope and microscope, computer technologies hold the promise of allowing each of us to see deeply into nature, wild or urban. I believe that to see in this way can lead to both love and action. And I believe that we can develop digital tools that empower us to take action.
    I hope that we can model good governance and civility in the digital world that will ripple through reality to change our institutions and behaviors.
    I hope that we find highly engaging alternatives to violence and combat as the central element in the play pattern of most games. I remember when I came to Atari back in 1979, I played “Star Raiders” fanatically. But my first reaction was, “where is the negotiate button?” I hope we develop actionable negotiate buttons. I hope that the cultural ecology of connection and compassion can be strengthened. If we can do that in the digital domain, we can do it in our world.
    Brenda Laurel has worked in interactive media since 1976 as a designer, researcher, writer and teacher in the domains of human-computer interaction and games. She currently serves as an adjunct professor in Computer Science Department at U. C. Santa Cruz. She served as professor and founding chair of the Graduate Program in Design at California College of Arts from 2006 to 2012 and the Graduate Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena (2001-2006) and was a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems Labs (2005-2006). Based on her research in gender and technology at Interval Research (1992-1996), she co-founded Purple Moon in 1996 to create interactive media for girls. The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design (1990), Computers as Theatre (1991), Utopian Entrepreneur (2001), Design Research: Methods and Perspectives (2004), and Computers as Theatre: Second Edition (2013).

  • UDC Conference in San Francisco ended

    by Mine Bek

    UDC and Project Censored’s joint 2013 conference — The Point is to Change It: Media Democracy and Democratic Media in Action ended today. It was a great conference full of good discussions and inspiring 'comrade' mood.
    Yuezhi Zhao received Dallas Smythe Award last night. In her address, she said that China can save itself and the world with the rise of the new left; it's alliance with uprising workers movement; and the possible development of ecological socialism.
    For the program, please see:http://udcconference.org/conference-program/
    Civic media

  • Data Science VM: Set Up Your Server in Four Steps

    by natematias

    Data Science VM is a script that automatically launches and configures a data science system on your computer or in the cloud in a half hour or less, across Linux, Windows, and OSX.
    In my experience, any new machine for a serious project takes 3-5 days to set up. During my first semester at MIT, I spent weeks installing MediaCloud. I lost around 3 days each when my laptop was stolen in March of 2012, when my MacBook Pro died just before my thesis deadline, and when I started a summer internship at Microsoft. Setup time is also a major problem during hack days; I've attended too many events where the event ends just as the participants finish setting up their machines.
    What It Includes
    Data Science VM is a set of scripts that automatically launches and configures a new virtual machine locally or on Amazon EC2. Inspired by MIT StarCluster, It contains some basic tools for statistics, natural language processing, and data analysis:

    Python NLTK, with full language pack downloads

    The Python fork of the Stanford Core NLP Library, with a Web API

    iPython Notebook

    R Studio

    Python Scikit-learn



    ... make suggestions, and I'll add them (I'm planning to add rvm and ruby)

    Now, whenever I need to set up a new laptop (Windows, OSX, or Linux), I simply need to install Vagrant and VirtualBox (or VMWare) and run "vagrant up". Within a half hour, the core tools I need for basic data analysis work will be ready to go. Instructions and more are on the project's Github page.
    About Vagrant
    Vagrant is an awesome system for auto-configuring virtual machines across multiple services. My scripts offer custom configurations for popular data science packages, including web access for R Studio, iPython Notebook, and the Stanford Core NLP library.
    Making it Better
    Data Science VM was first tested at the Mozilla Festival session I co-hosted on Measuring News: Tracking Content and Engagement. I'm planning to maintain it in an ongoing way, so do send bug reports and feedback. This is also hardly the only way to set up a new data science machine. What's your favourite approach? Link to it in the comments.

  • From Cognitive Theory to Comic Books

    by Howard Gardner

    In conjunction with the Project Zero Artists-in-Residence program, HGSE Arts in Education Masters Student, Brendon Snyder, has created a graphic novel outlying how MI Theory has impacted his life:
    From Cognitive Theory to Comic Books – Brendon Snyder (PDF) 

  • Four models for civic organizations to crowdfund

    by rodrigodavies

    A few months ago I gave a talk at the Library of Congress's "Digital Preservation" conference in Washington, DC, in which I suggested four models that civic organizations could use to crowdfund projects: promoter, curator, facilitator and platform.
    Thanks to the ending of the government shutdown, I now have the video of my presentation, which is below. You can read also a short writeup of the talk I posted earlier. My slides are here.

    (cross-posted at rodrigodavies.com)
    crowdfundingcivic crowdfundingwashington dclibrary of congressgovernmentlocal communitiestechnology solutions

  • Liveblog: James Stewart, UK Government Digital Service

    by rodrigodavies

    Today James Stewart, Head of Technology at the UK Government Digital Service came to the Center for our weekly Civic lunch. 
    An internationally-recognized leader in design and implementation of digital public services, James' team is rebuilding 600 government services in the UK for the digital age. The team's work has impacted a wide range of functions, from filing taxes and starting a business to giving citizens better ways to engage with government and participate in decision-making processes, and has been the center of an initiative by the UK government to make all public services 'digital by default'.
    This is the liveblog of James' talk, by Ed, Erhardt and I. Feel free to point out errors and omissions. 
    Livestream: http://media.mit.edu/events/cfcm/
    Government Digital Service is part of the Cabinet Office (http://digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/). Established during the war to help coordinate policy - make sure different departments were talking to each other.
    Some changes in the last few years - there are areas of expertise and services to be delivered that need a central capability that all departments can tap into. Provides central expertise for large construction projects, procurement, etc.
    Quick background on how the UK government system is different:https://www.gov.uk/government/how-government-works
    There's no separation of powers in the UK similar to the US: PM sits in the House and also runs the executive branch.
    James is quite proud just to be able to simply quote the number of departments and agencies in the British government because that's hard to keep track of.
    Martha Lane Fox, founder of lastminute.com and proponent of digital inclusion, wrote a letter to Francis Maude that set the foundation for setting up the UK GDS. She was asked to review a couple of government websites, but instead decided to step back and ask broader questions about what digital media could mean for citizens.
    DirectGov 2010 and Beyond: Revolution not Evolutionhttps://www.gov.uk/government/publications/directgov-2010-and-beyond-revolution-not-evolution-a-report-by-martha-lane-fox
    The plan:- Create GDS: Bring lots of expertise together in one place- Fix publishing: UK govt had about 700 content management systems to get information to citizens, costly and confusing- Fix transactions: make processes like filing your taxes faster and more efficient- Go wholesale: Enable scaling of services through APIs, Open Data
    Five main areas1. Gov.ukSingle domain for government, the platofmr for everything (7m visitors a week, 600 publishers, with 5000 more coming soon; 2000 code releases in our first year)* Understand your interaction through what you're trying to do, not the department you have to go to* Enormous opportunities for making what government does more transparent** Example: If you wanted to know what the UK government is doing about knife crime, you used to look at the ministry of justice and several other organizations and see what they are saying about it. But now, when you have people going through a central system, you can see what people are looking at and create a landing page to answer the question, "What is the 'government' doing about this issue?" rather than "What is a particular department doing?"* All work done in an agile way: hiring from would-be startups, ship code every day, usually several times a day, responding rapidly to people's feedback. In the past, there was a cycle of 18 months from idea to action. Now the capability is there to do things overnight.
    2. Identity- A single sign-on for government services. You need to provide a simple way for a person to make assertions about their identity. For example, "I'm the person who owns this car or has this bank account."- Working with a several private identity providing services to make it possible to eventually provide proof of identity for 45 million users.- Hoping to open it up to local govenrment (currently outside the GDS mandate) and change the way things are provided in the private sector too
    3. Technology- Moving away from "technology projects" and towards enabling services.- Need to look at the entire procurement landscape- Currently spend 6.7b GBP per year on technology, 412,000 staff, 500m GBP savings first year.- Any large new IT contract can be scrutinized and used by people who understand technology- I'm using a government-issued Apple device, which is rare - what's important is not that it's Apple, it's that it's flexible and allows me to get my job done. We have lots of technology that's not fit for purpose. UK gov COO Stephen Kelly posted a youtube video showing it took 7 min to log into his laptop.
    4. Measurement- Building dashboards that provide high-level metrics that are published publicly which means they are accessible to all civil servants but also to the public, which provides scrutiny
    5. Transformation- Lot of similarity with some large corporate environments- Worked with departments to identify 25 of the most important transactions in government, so we can improve them- That starts with - instead of trying to outsource the whole thing, get the right capabilities in house- e.g. Electoral registration: there's an incentive to provide a really good, easy service. That will affect about 47 million people (population of CA + MA)- e.g. Student finance: UK has a central student loans system, and it can be very difficult to understand what you need to to do register, what you'll receive and what you pay back and when- e.g. Digital self-assessment (filing a tax return): If you're self-employed or earn above a certain amount, you need to file. Lots of people use the existing online system, but it's not very popular and doesn't give you rapid feedback.
    With all due humility, we're the show right now.
    How did we get here?
    Martha Lane-Fox's letter: instead of being a report that goes into committees for scrutiny and a long process, Francis Maude decided that they needed a proof of concept that people could interact with. Three months later, they started sketching it out. It looked a lot shinier than what it became. It began to establish a number of principles around user needs and the ability to accomplish discrete tasks. And we had to optimize for search because often users would come in, search for what they want, click and leave.
    (Shows image: gov.uk -- "What do you want to do?" with search box)
    The people gathered in the room brought together those ideas with understanding of the big systemic issues we all face.
    (Shows an image of MySociety team)
    That group of people are so productive that they've done many many projects which are either formally or informally linked to MySociety. Along the way they learned how things worked in government.- e.g. TheyWorkForYou.com: creates a much more usable transcript of what's going on in Parliament.- e.g. FixMyStreet.com: A way to report problems in your community easily and feed into the local council.
    We deliberately started small, and by routing around the issues.
    "The square of despair."
    Problems around digital government:- Money (Lack of money)- User satisfaction (often historically low, procurement makes it hard to focus on)- Security (government is a huge target and all too often it's something separate and arrives late in the process)- Procurement
    The alternative way round:1. Work on stuff that matters- Tim O'Reilly's idea that has drawn a lot of people to us, people who have a zeal for improving others' lives- e.g. Lasting Power of Attorney: if you want to prepare for the possibility that you lose mental capacity. Previously, you had to request a series of forms by mail, and we had a ~25% failure rate in completing forms due to complexity and duplication in the forms. People also tended to ask for outside advice for help. That's fine, but it shouldn't be compulsory.
    They worked with the Office of the Public Guardian on providing an online form tool. They made simple advances like only having to type your address in once. It is still a relatively complex process, but the rate of error is greatly reduced. Now the OPG had a new problem: they were getting calls from people to give them positive feedback, and they didn't have a category in their CMS to handle it. They didn't have a positive feedback button! So they had to create one.
    2. Deal with the enterprise- You can't dodge the way government has done IT in the past- Contrast our spending with what's going on in other places, e.g. 'Silicon Roundabout' in EC London
    3. Start recruiting now- We started as 6 people, now 300 (in 2.5 years)- Had to bring a lot of new skills in - UK govt decided to outsource everything 18 years ago, and that led to lots of developers and managers moving to work in those outsourcing companies -- that led to a real lack of expertise and knowledge in government- Jordan Hatch was a 17 year old software developer who joined us - he's an example of the new blood we're bringing in- Ben Terrett, head of design, led design for many large brands at advertising agencies- Mike Bracken was running the Guardian's digital activities before he came
    4. Start the hard reforms straight away
    - Driving License application process- Lots of parts, lots of expense- The office where those applications are processed gets several trucks of applications every day -- a significant proportion of the mail that goes through Wales is these applications
    5. Deliver- To win credibility, you have deliver the improvements that you promise- "It's not complicated, it's just hard."- People realize that you can get things done, and they want to ask for help and get things done- It really helps to have a Minister that 'gets it' -- that senior backing is vital. When people from other countries / companies ask us, we don't have much advice on how to get it, but we know it's vital- Mike Bracken presented to Cabinet this week, and was impressed and taken aback by the quality of questions he was getting
    6. Democracy faces profound pressures- All this change is coming in complicated times - as we were wrapping up our Alpha project, there was mass rioting on the streets of a lot of UK cities. That was a reminder that there are big gaps in our society.- "If we won't deliver what users need they will route around us."- We need to reconnect with people in order to understand what government should be doing- Digital services are not about changing government websites, they're about changing government
    Now switching to talk in more detail about GDS work
    Design Principles:https://www.gov.uk/designprinciples
    #3: Design with Data- As government we have the privilege of having lots of data, but we've not been using it very well in the past- Prototype and test with real users.- Performance Platform-- https://www.gov.uk/performance- Service creators have a dearth of tools. For instance, Getting Google Analytics added to a government service is incredibly difficult. There's a lack of those tools in general.
    Start by establishing a baseline
    - Just came from the Strata conference in New York where people were talking about the potential of Big Data, but we think there's a lot of foundational work to be done on what the basic metrics are that tell us if our services are working or not
    Give people tools
    - There's a lot of similarity between the services people are providing, but people often don't know about their 'peers' - we're trying to help service providers find each others' services- Committed to making performance information publicly available. Comparing similar services helps give context.
    e.g. Transaction Explorer (https://www.gov.uk/performance/transactions-explorer)- Gives information on 717 services across 17 departments. 1.41 bn transactions per year.- We published this knowing that there were gaps in the data, so we created an autofilling FOIA request form so that users exploring the data could help us fill those gaps.- e.g. Licensing Application tool (covers things like opening a street party, opening a restaurant). We helped build a tool to provide a single entry point for those applications. You can compare across localities (which areas are processing applications faster? Why?)- Can measure uptime and load time. We had an instance of a local government where an online service was being switched off every night, and the person in charge didn't even know it.- People in departments have been taking this as encouragement to do more work themselves, partly inspired by the kick-off work we've done with them
    PrioritiesMoving at a fast pace means that some things can slip.
    - Early on we created a tool called Needatron that tracked all the user needs we thought we needed to meet, the evidence for those ideas, and the actions taken (FYI most GDS code is on GitHub)
    - It's something that you have to engage with. If you have a group of people used to working in a traditional environment and a group who aren't, you have to think about what you're going to value- There's a degree of 'culture hacking' early on and establishing a culture
    Lessons on culture change:1) Cuture hacking is hacking in the sense that it's often about routing around a problem. And your approach has to change and mature.You can give things silly names, put decorations up around the office, establish traditions. But often those are examples of routing around problems, and at some point you have to fix those problems.
    2) Cultures are really about people so even if you hack you should remember sensitivity and empathy.
    3) Seek forgiveness, not permission.
    I was at OSCON last year and went to a session about open sourcing government, and people were talking about petitions to get the US government to open source code. We just did it. If we'd sought permission it would have taken months. By the time anyone noticed, it had already been widely recognized as a Good Thing and so we got away with it.
    4) Get top level supportWe are a cabinet level group, which means we have a great amount of access senior government officials and that's important. You need that buy-in to get things done and to be sustainable. We recommend that any online service launched after April 2014 by a civil service must be demoed by the relevant Minister beforehand.
    5) Then add Cake. (celebrate success)
    Mike talks about this a lot. Celebrate sucess.
    6) Do things With CareWanted to remind people that incredible design work has come out of the civil service in the past. We weren't doing anything new, we were reclaiming great public work.
    7) Reclaim traditionse.g. Before establishing a national road network, different locales had different types of signage.Margaret Calvert and Doc Kinnear spent a lot of time figuring out what the best typeface would be for signs. It's called Transport. Pretty much every country in the world uses it -- except the United States. We spent a lot of time talking to Margaret Calvert to understand the project. She's creating a new Typeface - New Transport - and we're using it on the Gov.uk website. That was a helpful symbol of us of reclaiming this tradition and saying that great design can come out of public service.
    Deliver before you publish your strategy.
    Find the processes that are really painful, understand why they're there, learn them better than anyone else, and then work to improve them.
    Make things open, it makes things better.
    Saul: The US govt has had a big digital service launch recently - healthcare.gov - have you followed that closely, and do you have any advice on how to do that better?
    JS: Following it closely. We know some of the contractors involved. So many things come together to lead to a problem of that kind. I don't know the inside story, I've only seen the coverage. Some of that is systemic issues around how to make projects smaller and break them into pieces. For us there were many factors leading to us being able to do this - one of them was a big failure in healthcare IT project. Sometimes failures can be instructive.
    Karina: How do you attract talent to your team?
    JS: Most procurement happens through frameworks of pre-approved suppliers. Before we came along it was mostly only big companies who could handle those processes. As a civil servant they were so complex that you wanted to get everything done in one shot. There were very few opportunities during the contract to ask how things were going.
    We've created one new procurement framework - GCloud, for virtual hosting, Saas, Project Management tools - and we're working on another. It's called the Digital Services Framework - to acquire skills rather than commodities.
    David: As digital becomes a more important service, does it have the danger of replacing face to face interactions and, if you don't have the right digital literacy, you're excluded?
    JS: Yes, we have two programs:
    Assisted Digital, for a segment of the population who we accept will never be online or be confident in using services. There we build partnerships with people who can help those users -- e.g. call centers, libraries, post officesDigital Inclusion project, which is increasing the number of people online and providing training for them.
    It would be wrong to exclude people from this process.
    james stewartgdsukdigital servicegovernmentgovernmenttechnology solutions

  • “Hope Is an Active Verb”: Brenda Laurel Revisits Computers as Theatre (Part Two)

    by Henry Jenkins

    Writing about a decade after Purple Moon’s demise, I argued that many of the core design principles your team developed were being deployed successfully to broaden the audience for The Sims to include many more female gamers. Now, another five years or so later, I wondered what you saw as the lasting legacy of the girls game movement?

    Without question the movement showed that intentional change is possible. Most of the companies were solvent (until their investors saw easier pickin’s in the web world), and some still exist today (e.g., Her Interactive). The interest of female-identified players in backstory creation as constructive play was demonstrated clearly and has carried through as a design heurisitic for broadening audiences.
    We still have big gender problems in the gaming world, as you know. Sexual harassment is pandemic in many to most online multiplayer games. Games, like theatre, turn the mirror to our natures, to paraphrase Shakespeare; in an ever more divisive culture, sexual harassment in game worlds should not surprise us. Female-identified players who would like to perform strong, aggressive characters often have only overly sexualized bad-ass female avatars or cross-dressing to choose from.
    On the other hand, I hear so often from girls—now women—who played our games. Many have gone into media design. It seems that most of my female design students played the games at some point in their lives. So something changed, if not in terms of the content, then at least in terms of the authorship.

    Re-reading your book brought home to me just how much the past decade — post-Web 2.0 — has resulted in a shift of emphasis between a focus on interactive design and the relations between humans and computers and a focus on participatory design and the social interactions between users. To what degree are the dramatic principles you discuss in the book relevant to considerations of the design of social media?

    As I said in the book, social media tend to be more narrative than dramatic, and that’s fine. By ‘narrative’ I mean the telling of extensified, episodic tales with little causal connectivity or overarching dramatic shape except through the relative constancy of characters (participants) and their networks. That said, social networks do have distinguishing qualities. On Linkedin, there may be little dramas about finding work, for example; on Facebook, there is competition for attention through photography and other means, and on Twitter folks compete is the construction of the brisk critique or the juicy link. Each of these systems has a sort of prevailing ethos with its own flavors of social regulation that is often more emergent than pre-designed into the structure of affordances. In fact, one often sees emergent behavior on Facebook that is picked up and codified into the system after the fact.
    You note that one of the biggest challenges is to get designers to develop for people other than themselves. You discuss at some length here how you were able to achieve this mental shift with your professional team at Purple Moon. I wondered, though, if you could share some of your experiences as an educator helping students to make this adjustment in their own work.
    When I teach design research (and I have, for the last 12 years), my primary goal is to expose students to methods for understanding people who are different from themselves and to design for those folks by meeting them where they are. The main point is: they are always, always surprised at how much can be learned through human-centered design research. It becomes a cornerstone of the design methodology that these students learn to practice. You will see it in every one of their thesis projects, and I often hear from them after they have launched careers and must argue for the relevance of design research within a firm or with a client. These people change things in the world of working designers. In places where design research is not taught, I find students and faculty sometimes searching for the audience after the project is in beta because their project does not address the audience they thought they were aiming at. This is a habit of mind that can be changed through experience as well as critique and exposure to design research methods, even when the colt is out of the barn.
    You had important things to say about transmedia design in Utopian Entrepreneur, coming out of your experiences with Purple Moon, and I often share some of those insights with my students. Among them, you were ahead of the crowd in thinking about how fans might be able to meaningfully participate in the development of a transmedia world and especially about the notion of foundational myths or charters that shape the relationship between participants. In part, I assumed that these ideas came out of your own experience as a fan as well as a designer. How important do you see audience engagement and participation — the social dimensions of consumption — to your ideas about transmedia design?

    I see audience participation as an extremely powerful affordance. In part, this goes back to the insight that backstory creation is a form of constructive play: players of Purple Moon could write articles in the Whistling Pines newspaper and suggest other dramatic arcs on our website, and we paid attention. Drama typically establishes empathy in conditions where the audience is passive. As you taught me, we create passionate relationships with characters and properties through our ability to appropriate them in order to construct meanings that are personally relevant. Cosplay has this one really right; so does slash. The vibrant domain of interactive narrative (Emily Short’s work, for example) does a great job of affording and encouraging player participation.
    It is time that we hear from more diverse voices in interactive narrative and game design. As you know, Queer communities are making great strides in Indie Games as well as in interactive narrative. In such games, players have a way to enter into an ethos and construction that differ greatly from those afforded by the traditional gender stereotypes that dominate mainstream gaming. Samantha Allen’s work is exemplary in this regard.
    Brenda Laurel has worked in interactive media since 1976 as a designer, researcher, writer and teacher in the domains of human-computer interaction and games. She currently serves as an adjunct professor in Computer Science Department at U. C. Santa Cruz. She served as professor and founding chair of the Graduate Program in Design at California College of Arts from 2006 to 2012 and the Graduate Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena (2001-2006) and was a Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems Labs (2005-2006). Based on her research in gender and technology at Interval Research (1992-1996), she co-founded Purple Moon in 1996 to create interactive media for girls. The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design (1990), Computers as Theatre (1991), Utopian Entrepreneur (2001), Design Research: Methods and Perspectives (2004), and Computers as Theatre: Second Edition (2013).

  • Growing Up: There’s No App for That

    by Howard Gardner

    In this exclusive review, The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses Howard Gardner and Katie Davis’ new book - The App Generation. To learn how young people let digital apps dictate their identities, visit the website today! 

  • Ta-Nehesi Coates and Hendrik Hertzberg at MIT on opinion journalism

    by Ethan

    Tom Levenson introduces Ta-Nehesi Coates and Hendrik Hertzberg , who are
    ">in conversation tonight at MIT’s Stata Center on the topic of opinion journalism. The event is hosted by CMS/W, MIT’s Comparative Media Studies and Writing department, where Coates is a scholar in residence. Both Coates and Hertzberg are giant figures in contemporary journalism, from different professional generations.
    Coates begins by admitting that he was burned out at the end of his last semester at MIT, but ended up missing his students a week after he left Cambridge. Teaching writing, he tells us, is deeply different from writing. Once you write well, you write on autopilot. But you can’t teach writing without thinking about the art form. Coates was reminded of this when Hertzberg came to MIT to talk with his students – not only is Hertzberg a master of opinion journalism, but he’s deeply insightful about the process of writing and of constructing complex and subtle arguments.
    Coates asks Hertzberg about his process: does he craft individual sentences or whole arguments? Hertzberg confesses to being a difficult writer – he struggles over sentences, particularly the first sentences in a piece. “It’s important to be fresh, to avoid cliches”. And while Hertzberg has roadmaps for his arguments, he explains that he spends a great deal of time crafting each sentence, ensuring the tone and imagery is right to construct the tone and ideas he needs to convey.
    Prompted by Coates, Hertzberg identifies Orwell and the Harvard Crimson as his most important writing teachers. He explains that, in writing for the Crimson, your copy was posted into giant comment books where editors ripped the work to pieces. Good pieces were marked “OOTAG” – one of the all time greats – and poor ones marked “PTS” – Pour to sea. All comments were signed – you knew exactly who was savaging you. So Hertzberg’s experience at Harvard came through the practice of newspaper writing, not the classroom. (He tells us that, if there hadn’t been a draft for Vietnam, he’d have dropped out and worked for a local paper, and likely burned out.)
    Hertzberg loves the appearance of newspapers – he tells us about a cross-country trip where he bought and saved local papers, documenting the journey one front page at a time. In his work at the Crimson, he loved laying out pages and wonders if he would have become a graphic designer had he chosen a career more deliberately. “That sense of proportion, balance and beauty” informed his work with the New Republic, his concern about how the magazine’s cover appeared and informs his work today.
    Coates confesses that his New York literati friends wonder whether people can actually write at MIT, and explains that this is a form of defensiveness from people who can write, but don’t understand math and science. Impressed by the quality of his writing students here, Coates asks Hertzberg whether it’s possible to teach writing. Hertzberg explains that editors – at least the really good ones – are writing teachers. “They show you what’s wrong and you can’t help but learn from that.”
    Hertzberg explains that his working method isn’t the only possible way – it’s possible to be a columnist without caring about sentences. He cites Paul Krugman as someone who is less obsessed with craft than with creating lucid, readable arguments. “If you have a great opinion and can express it clearly,” you ma be able to be a great opinion writer without being a great writer. Krugman, Hertzberg argues, has a narrow set of well-developed beliefs and explores them again and again without boring the reader.
    There are many ways to report, Hertzberg says: talking with friends, reading online, getting out of the house and experiencing events. He cites Murray Kempton as a columnist who got experienced the world on a bicycle and used that experience to inform his writing. But it’s possible to use any number of methods to build great opinion columns.
    Coates notes that Hertzberg writes about once every other week and wonders how he would write if he produced three columns a week. Hertzberg allows as his writing would come to a screetching halt with his suicide. Writing beautiful multiple times a week parallels Michael Jordan’s efforts in basketball. Coates notes that writers feel guilty about being slow writers; Hertzberg notes that Coates has the gift of Sitzfleish, the ability to sit in the chair and produce words.
    Blogging is easier than opinion column writing, Coates and Hertzberg argue, because blog posts don’t need to have a shape, while columns need to. As a result, Hertzberg explains, blogging is a recreation. This isn’t to say it’s not worth reading, but that it’s a different pursuit. Hertzberg notes that Coates’s blog serves as a diary on his other writing, giving insight on what he’s developing.
    Coates talks about the lowered barriers to writing in public these days. He began writing in public when the New Republic printed an excerpt from The Bell Curve, a notorious exploration of race and achievement in the US. Coates was furious about the piece and notes how hard it was to share his frustation, as a student at Howard University surrounded by brilliant black people, and have that opinion heard. Hertzberg notes that while everyone can have a press now, we don’t all get the fleet of trucks that delivers the papers. “It remains to be seen whether competition, whether this immense supply, will increase the quality of writing.” The proportion of well-informed opinions is clearly smaller than in years past – whether or not the cream will rise to the top is less obvious. And it’s quite obvious that it’s much harder to make a living as a writer.
    “Writing is becoming a group activity. It’s something that a large number of people do part time.” Hertzberg explains that writing used to be a living, even if not a great living. Coates wonders whether a Harvard Crimson byline still guarantees future employment in journalism as it used to. Hertzberg explains that the paper is, by choice, far less selective about writers than it used to be, and that this is likely a good thing for the institution.
    Hertzberg notes that he spends as much time reading blogs as he does reading newspapers and magazines. He’s bothered that he misses some important stories. (He religiously reads the New York Review of Books, the New Republic and less religiously, the Nation.) “Blogs are addictive. Every hour, you take a little snort of it,” he says.
    Coates asks about the importance of writing with conviction: if you don’t believe it, I’m never going to believe it as the reader. And given that there’s so many things you can do other than writing an essay, you’d better grab the reader by the collar and demand attention. Why would someone do something this hard?, he asks Hertzberg. The simple answer: being a newspaperman was the only thing Hertzberger wanted to do.
    Hertzberg explains the romance of newspaper journalism, the emotion that led people like Carl Bernstein to work their way up from copy boy to reporter. It’s probably healthier and more professional, he notes, but some of the romance may be gone.
    Coates thought Hertzberg must be an effortless writer. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth – he keeps an air mattress in his office and usually ends up sleeping in the office at least once, sometimes twice, during a column. But he doesn’t see a correlation between suffering and the quality of his writing, and if he could find a way to work without suffering as badly, he’d gladly claim it.
    Tom Levenson offers a first question: Is the degredation of our political culture linked to the status of our opinion writing? Hertzberg notes that it is possible to live in an echo chamber and those echo chambers are likely damaging our politics. But he wonders if things were better in the age of strong gatekeepers. We all live in our own universes, he tells us – the Republicans may live in one of more epistemic closure.
    Levenson persists: as a science writer, he’s seen the polling shift on climate change and wonders to what extent that shift (away from a belief in human-influenced climate change) is the responsibility of opinion journalism. Hertzberg notes that the blame is more properly placed on the political system. If we’d not faced filibuster, we’d have had a cap and trade system for carbon emissions. How can we take climate change seriously if our government doesn’t do anything about it? “Our politican institutions can’t give us what we want, and eventually we stop wanting it. We blame the failure on the media,” rather than on the actual machinery of government that is supposed to solve our problems. Hertzberg explains that the filibuster is his “unified field theory” – he writes about it as much as his editors will allow him to.
    “The constitution, an incredibly advanced machine for 1789, isn’t working so well. But observing that isn’t as easy as figuring how to fix it.”
    Patsy Baudoin asks where the joy is in writing, given how much Hertzberg suffers for his art. He notes that there’s a big pleasure in getting these pieces done, a great deal of pleasure in having the work praised, and little pleasures associated with a well-placed phrase. But those pleasures are counterbalanced by the dread of not finishing the piece.
    A questioner notes that while government may be broken, figures like the Koch Brothers have had enormous influence on debates like climate change. He then asks what bloggers and aggregators Hertzberg finds most useful, and what he and Coates think about Greenwald’s writing about Snowden and his new journalistic project. Hertzberg identifies Andrew Sullivan’s blog as his favorite, followed by Coates and Fallows at the Atlantic. Talking Points Memo merits a daily visit, as does the Guardian. In addressing Koch, Hertzberg suggests organizations accept as many gifts as possible, as a theatre paid for by the Koch brothers represents lost opportunity for the right.
    In addressing Snowden and Greenwald, Hertzberg thinks of them as inevitable historical figures, genies that cannot be put back into the bottle. We need a polity that does what it’s supposed to do and can live with what these revelations have exposed. He admits this isn’t an answer with great moral clarity, but that he’s still wrestling with these implications.
    Coates wonders how journalists who call for Greenwald’s arrest can consider themselves to be journalists. He cites the conversation between Bill Keller and Glenn Greenwald in the New York Times yesterday and suggests that Greenwald has a tendency to piss people off. In the piece, Greenwald demands Keller to explain why the New York Times’s inconsistency on use of the word “torture” is considered “objective”. That’s a deeply important distinction, and one he is glad Greenwald is demanding be addressed.
    In addition to the blogs Hertzberg reads, Coates namechecks Grantland, The Atavist, New York Magazine, and The Toast, a small blog he finds consistently hilarious.
    A questioner, a science writing grad student, notes that there’s a lot of trash journalism that’s hiding the quality journalism being produced. How do we feature and highlight the best journalism being produced? Hertzberg warns that we shouldn’t glorify the past too much: “Most journalism has always been pretty dreadful. More people have been interested in the contemporary Kim Kardashian than the contemporary Glenn Greenwald or Bill Keller.” He suggests that we’re at a “Gutenberg moment”, wondering when and how journalism will eventually settle. In sheer numbers, he argues, there is more good journalism done than ever, but finding and collating it is a problem.
    Another question asks about journalism as a profession. Hertzberg notes that journalism is now both more professional and more compatible with poverty. He suggests that no one go into journalism in a half-hearted way. For Hertzberg, journalism was the path of least resistance – it’s not today.
    Tom Friedman at the New York Times, George Will at the Washington Post seem to hold their jobs forever, one questioner observes. Would journalism be healthier with journalistic term limits? Should columnists have the job security that Supreme Court justices have? Coates wonders how much influence columnists actually have on the culture, and suggests that they more often reflect the culture. For Coates, it’s important to write in different ways – the short form of the blog, the long form for The Atlantic, his occasional columns in the New York Times. Each exercises a different set of literary muscles and he suggests it would be better for the writers than for the audiences.
    A former student at MIT notes how valuable she found Coates’s writing about the roots of libertarianism as she reacted to the Occupy movement. She wonders whether Coates will piece together his writings in the news into a long form? Coates suggests that this is what he actually does. He uses the blog as a place to develop ideas he builds in longer formats. “It’s a record of me thinking things out. I have no idea what effect I’m going to have on people thinking about Ron Paul… I don’t really write to convince people.” Coates writes by arguing with himself and believes that his strongest work comes from that process of argument, testing out arguments and seeing what works.
    A questioner asks Coates: “Who do you read that’s black?” Coates offers Wesley Morris as a regular read, then notes that most of the black writers he focuses on are historians, writing books, not writing magazine articles. (He later namechecks Jamel Bowie and Anna Holmes as black writers doing terrific work in short form.) “The only person I read who does what I do is William Jelani Cobb.” This suggests that we have a real problem with an absence of black authors in magazine writing. “But most of my influences come from books”, Coates explains, noting that James Baldwin is his most powerful influence.
    Chris Peterson notes that Coates argued that you need to grab readers by the shirt collar and shake them. How do you do this when you’re working through your ideas and agenda in writing a piece, he asks Hertzberg. Hertzberg notes that he’s lucky – as a New Yorker writer, he doesn’t need to grab people by the lapels. Readers come to you with faith and trust, that your piece will be worth reading. It’s a giant advantage and privilege. Hertzberg is glad that the New Republic is under new management, but wonders whether the magazine is now working too hard to grab the reader’s lapels. These magazines have an intimate relationship with their readers and the journalism Hertzberg admires does less lapel grabbing. On the web, however, you need to do more of that grabbing because there are no blogs that have the reputation for quality that the New Yorker or New Republic has.
    A questioner explains that he comes to Coates’s blog again and again not because of the great writing, but the ethical core. Coates notes that there are people who think George Will is a good writer. Coates says bluntly, “He lies,” in his pieces about football and violence and his pieces about climate change. Hertzberg talks about deep and shallow beauty – he enjoys reading some writers because they write beautifully, but argues that they don’t think beautifully.
    A questioner asks both whether they read the Huffington Post and what they think of the quality. Hertzberg allows that the question is like referring to the universe and asking what you think of the quality of the stars. It’s vanity publishing writ large, he suggests, and wonders if there’s any way of reading the Huffington Post other than looking at who links to pieces of it. Coates simply doesn’t read it, and notes that HuffPo’s misleading headlines are another form of lying.
    A final questioner wonders about the centrality of politics in opinion journalism. Do writers approach more gradual, slow issues more gradually than writing about fast-breaking political stories? Hertzberg argues that culture, ultimately, is more important than politics. But the stakes are higher in writing about politics, as the real-world consequences are great. Art is superior to journalism, and music is the most superior to all, Hertzberg asserts.
    Coates agrees – music is superior because it crosses language. But he doesn’t think his process is different in writing politics versus culture, as he’s always trying to figure something out. Sometimes the most popular pieces Coates writes are the ones where he’s dismissing something as ridiculous, but writing those pieces isn’t very satisfying because it doesn’t involve working something out.

  • How to amplify the voices of marginalized communities in Brazil

    by Alexandre Goncalves

    During the last weeks, our friend Paulo Rogério has conducted Vojo trainings in Salvador, Brazil. The photos are amazing! I translated one of his articles about this initiative that has been connecting and empowering people from quilombola communities with no internet access on the outskirts of a Brazilian metropolis.

    The youth from quilombos at Ilha de Maré are publishing news stories with their mobile phones and giving voice to the needs and concerns of their communities. Last Friday (Oct 25th), around 20 girls and boys from Porto dos Cavalos community participated in the workshop: “Vojo Brazil: amplifying Quilombola voices through mobile phones”.
    Organized by Mídia Étnica Institute, in a partnership with the MIT Center for Civic Media, the initiative is a ground-breaking effort that has enabled many young people to post content in the Web with cheap mobile phones and no Internet access.
    During the workshops, Mídia Étnica Institute shows a video with previous similar activities and discusses the future of the Vojo Brazil project. The main aim is to empower young “quilombolas” and help them identify and denounce the violence they witness in their communities. Vojo enables them to reach bloggers and media outlets outside Ilha de Maré.
    The initiative, a pilot project, aims to spread to other traditional communities in Brazil that have little or no internet access, for instance, communities in remote rural areas, indigenous groups, landless workers, and other disenfranchised groups alienated from the information society.
    Vojo enables everyone to create and update a blog even whether she/he does not have computer or internet access. The tool allows the user to post audio stories from mobile phones and even public telephones. It is also possible to post photos and video from cell phones.
    The idea is to help the youth to become tech-savvy and connect their communities to a social network that can increase the awareness to their social, cultural and political demands in the Brazilian media ecosystem. The project has the support of the MIT Center for Civic Media, a well-known center of excellence in the relationship between technology and civic engagement.

    “Nowadays, one of the main challenges Brazil faces is the integration of a historically marginalized population. They still do not have access to basic rights and technologies. With Vojo, communities all around the country will be able to publish their stories, even in remote places. They will be able to voice their views and demands to the Brazilian government and society”, says Paulo Rogério Nunes, executive director of Mídia Étnica Institute.
    For the past eight years, the Mídia Étnica Institute has conducted projects in the fields of communication and diversity. In addition, it is responsible for many actions related to community communication and citizen journalism (e.g. our portal Correio Nagô).
    Practical experience. After the training, around 20 girls and boys from quilombola communities in Ilha de Maré used Vojo to cover the Third State Conference on the Promotion of Racial Equality (III Conepir). With their mobile phones, they interviewed and took pictures of the participants. So far, five quilombola communities are engaged in the Vojo Brazil project: Bananeiras, Martelo, Porto dos Cavalos, Maracanã and Praia Grande.
    Vojo is a hosted mobile blogging platform based on VozMob, a community-led project that appropriates mobile phones to amplify the voices of immigrant workers in California. In 2012, Mídia Étnica Institute helped to test the “newborn” Vojo with Brazilian house cleaners in the Boston area. Vojo is one of the main technologies integrated to our portal Correio Nagô.
    Fredson Santana, one of the participants in the Vojo Brazil training, describes the initiative as “fundamental” to the marginalized communities. Last month, Santana and his friend Érica de Jesus went to an event in São Paulo organized by the National Department of Youth to talk to other activists about Vojo Brazil.

    “In addition to Vojo, they had talks on sexually transmitted diseases, black identity, media democratization and basic journalism. They must be able to spread the technology to other communities in Salvador and Brazil”, says Luciane Neves, one of the project coordinators.
    Island. According to the report “(Un)sustainable urbanization in Ilha de Maré: case study of Vila de Santana”, by the Department of Urban Development of the Bahia State, Ilha da Maré is located 3 miles from São Tomé de Paripe, on the outskirts of Salvador. It has 5,712 inhabitants and an area of ​​1378 hectares.
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