My slides and transcript for my introductory talk at the final National Museum of Australia Talkback Classroom on 25 June 2008. The theme of the event was Youth and the Media.

I sat on a panel with Walkley Award winning journalist and presenter, Steve Cannane from the ABC and Jenny Buckland, CEO of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation as we were questioned by a very smart bunch of university and senior high school students on our knowledge and opinion of their engagement with various forms of media.

Just a couple of months ago, NYU professor, Clay Shirky made what I think is a very incisive observation.

He said that this… without this… is broken. He’s right. Humans are less emotionally invested in an experience without the ability to interact with it. And even more importantly, cognitively much less engaged.

His statement was made in the context of the perception of kids and their engagement with media. Of course, it’s not just kids that think like this. I proudly count myself amongst those who think this way.

But what Clay was really talking about is the dramatic change in the way that media consumption today is shifting. In fact, consumption is no longer an adequate term for describing the way we, and especially our youth – those under 30 for want of a better marker – are interacting with media.

I’m not a fan of the term “youth”. I think it’s remarkably condescending and implicitly infers that the group tarred with it, youth, are somehow lesser members of society. Which is rubbish. I count among my friends, real friends, people aged from 19 all the way to their late 60s. By no means is any of them less than another. They are all fascinating, compelling people.

Unlike the latter half of the 20th Century, where it was expected that we would passively sit, slouched on our couches watching Gilligan’s Island, Baywatch, or more recently, Desperate Housewives, readily taking in the processed cheese of mass-market television and ready to receive the messages of advertisers beamed directly to our cerebral cortexes, there is now a quantum change taking place.

For my colleagues on the panel, Steve and Jenny, and their industries – radio and TV – this means a huge shift in the way that their media is produced, packaged and marketed.

In our always-on, engaged world, we all have the ability to be an empowered audience of one – seeking out and using media as and when we see fit. Sometimes we’ll just watch. At other times, we’ll want to be the creator and broadcaster or we might want to time shift or remix into something new and creative of our own.

There’s good data to show that we’ve disengaged from passive consumption. Our weekly hours of TV watching, of radio listening and of reading long-form material have shrunk dramatically in recent years. Instead, we’re actively participating in things that interest us and with people, real people, that share those interests. And largely, we’re doing it online. Or at the very least, expecting online to be a component of the experience so that we can actively engage.

Now, that broad-brush “online” doesn’t just mean sitting in front of the computer. We’re using many channels and many devices in our quest for engagement and desire for, as sociologist Ray Oldenburg puts it, a Third Place – somewhere not home and not work, but somewhere we feel anchored to and can participate in “community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction”.[1]

That device can be, and often is, the computer in the family room. But equally often, the device is a mobile phone. The common thread though, is the glue holding these interactions together. That glue is the Internet.

Contrary to the assertions of some that would argue that the Internet is bringing us undone, I would argue the diametric opposite. The Internet, far from bringing us down, provides us with a tool, perhaps more powerful than ever before to find a Third Place in a more socially disconnected world. We have the ability today to engage more often, with more people in a more real way.

We have the ability to be a hyperconnected creator, muse, consumer, audience and critic. And so we should.

My message to today’s youth, from my 10 year old daughter to the Gen Yers now a rich part of the business world is “Go forth and engage with media everywhere. Wake them up to your world. Refuse passive consumption. Make an amazing difference.”


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