Crossing the streams: using lessons from fandom to talk about digital life

Crossing the streams is an expression that I first heard in fandom, which means when two fandoms intersect in a way that you didn’t expect. An example of it from my work this year was when due to some odd light, there was a strange shadow under one of the library tables. Many of my students are Doctor Who fans and immediately thought of Silence in the Library, an episode where extra shadows appear in a planetwide library and signal enemies. When I got the reference, the students were amazed and then loved it as we all tried to figure out what was going on with the shadow. We never did but it was a powerful moment of the world of fandom becoming part of the life of the library.

This is a fairly simple example and a nice one, where my knowledge of Doctor Who became another way for me to understand what was going on with my students. In terms of their lives online, it becomes complicated but I think is no less important.

Two of the main concerns I see brought up when educators talk about life online are safety and creation and consumption. The worry is that young people are consuming too much online and not creating enough, that the internet is too passive. This will make them not as thoughtful about information online or what they post online. I think these are important concerns and have an idea of how to approach them.

I think crossing the streams and using the understanding of how young people are creating and posting their work online as well as how they live online can be a way to help teach them about issues of safety and copyright. What’s key about this idea is to make certain that its coming from a place of understanding and in a safe environment for the students.

Since high school, I’ve been involved in fandom and friendships online and have seen platforms change plus how those platforms are used. I know that I don’t consider myself an expert, there are parts of the online world that students will know better than I will. Yet I’m older and have more experience in terms of what will work and what won’t in a greater sense of the world. I learned this year when I was talking with students, observing them and trying to help them make good decisions that one of the best ways to begin was to listen. When you’re a teenager and an adult takes the time to listen to you and respect your opinion and understanding of what you’re doing, that’s powerful. Libraries are a space where there isn’t as clear a hierarchy between young people and adults, which means they’re a good place to have these sorts of conversations. These are risky conversations because much of what’s shared online and explored isn’t easy, teenagers are using fandom to explore their desires as well as their dislikes. I know I would have to begin any of these classes with an important disclaimer that what’s shared is what’s chosen to be shared or else no one will feel comfortable. Once that safe space has been created, then its possible to look into the mechanics of sharing and creation and consumption online. Since its important to realize that young people are going to not choose to share everything with all adults but talking with them about choices and giving them ways to think about them will help.

I wish these thoughts were more complete but I don’t think there are any right answers. Instead its important to get these discussions going and make certain that they spread from those living online to those who don’t understand what’s online.

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Filed under online life, roeper reflections, Uncategorized

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