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.”

  1. http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​h​i​r​d​_​P​l​ace