Friday, March 4, 2011

Assignment 2 - Youth are the innovation engine

     Today’s youth work to create opportunity, solutions and partnerships through the digital tools that are so ubiquitous in their lives. Whether through their schools, communities they live in or communities that they travel to, Martinez outlines the many ways in which youth are active rather than passive participants in the issues that they are exposed to. Political campaigns, high school networks, climate solutions road tours are some of the ways in which youth are using “new tools to harness collective knowledge and action” (Martinez, 2009).

     Perhaps this is no great feat because the human ability to collaborate has been an innate part of our history since the beginning of time. The difference now, that Martinez mentions is that the tools and technologies of today - email, smart phones, social networking sites, allow for opportunities of mass collaboration which have never before been available. One example of this is the Indian Youth Climate Network. Through the use of YouTube, their climate solutions road tour findings were shared with users throughout the world, who then have an opportunity to learn, share and do more.

     Without the use of technology the sharing of this information could perhaps be onerous or impossible. Now these initiatives serve as examples of what Howard Rhiengold (2002) defines as smart mobs, people conducting intelligent and efficient behavior through increasing network links. Martinez lists many initiatives that allow for today’s youth to participate in these smart mobs.

     It also speaks to the larger participatory culture that is a defining characteristic of today’s youth. Jenkins defines participatory culture as having the following characteristics:

  1. With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  3. With some type of information mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
  4. Where members believe that their contributions matter
  5. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created.

     As this participatory culture and the existence of smart mobs continue to be the way of learning, working and socializing it must be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps this is because as we all become collaborators and creators, the level of information and the source of information is no longer comprised of the traditional sources of validation that are so much a part of our learning, at least how we once knew it. One key example of this is that a sorority funds Martinez’s article. Perhaps in traditional academics this would be a cause for concern, however if we see what Rhiengold and Jenkins use to characterize today’s innovative youth, they simply are vital members of our participatory culture.


Martinez, M. (2009). INNOVATION: Students as Smart Mobs, Phi

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media   
     Education for the 21st Century [White paper]. Retrieved from

Additional sources of interest:
Friedman, T. (2009, February 14). Yes, They Could. So They Did. The New York Times. Retrieved from


  1. I think the example of the uprising in Egypt led by Egypt's youth is a classic example of the way that the ubiquitousness of social media is changing the world led by a media savvy youth collaborating in ways never before available to them.

  2. Thanks Tarjinder for the Article. Martinez raises a very relevant question:... isn’t it time to provide today’s youth with opportunities to “remake” the current structure and systems that drive social, cultural, and economic production? I think, with smart phones in their hands, it’s already happening.

    I would like to comment on couple of Jenkins’s observations on participatory culture:

    Low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement:
    The web 2.0 ideology has given everybody and opportunity to be the ‘creators’. But the diminution of one barrier might create newer barriers in newer mediums. To be ‘seen’ on the web is obviously a greater challenge.

    There can be questions on civic engagement too: It is true the Obama campaign could bring many youngsters to vote but is it a onetime ‘phenomenon’ We need to wait and see the continuity and consistency in such engagements in the future without especial cause or interest. But we cannot deny the fact that the new media engagement has created new interest.

    The most experienced is passed along to novices:
    The question ‘junk’ on the web came to mind reading this observation. It is true that there is a possibility of passing along the experience, but with volume of ‘stuff’ created, there are the challenges of quality, which being one of the criticisms on web 2.0.

    Members believe that their contributions matter:
    People participation in online discussions and comments have obviously increased with the ease of technology.