[ASC-media] Media release: How children are shaping society's future

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Mon Jan 23 23:13:19 CET 2012

:: ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation
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How children are shaping society's future

January 24,  2012 – for immediate release

As they play with their digital devices and online games, children may unknowingly be making up the kind of democracy we will have tomorrow.

That’s one of the challenging perspectives on how the digital age is changing society put forward by John Hartley, of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) at the Queensland University of technology (QUT) in his new book “Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies”.

While most Australians would assume that adult citizens who vote and pay taxes do most of the shaping of a modern democracy, Prof. Hartley contends that children, as they engage with one another and the wider society online, are exerting a largely unseen, but growing influence.

“In today’s society, children are, by definition, not citizens ... and yet they must become citizens if the reproduction of the system is to continue,” he says. “Thus, the actual process of citizenship-formation is ‘carried’ by children who – individually, collectively and differentially – produce citizenship in their actions, forms of association, and thence identities.
“So children are, at one and the same time, the least important component of institutionalised citizenship – since they remain non-citizens – and its most important subjects, since they necessarily and continuously constitute the practice of citizenship formation.”

With the growth in digital media and communication, children are in fact becoming prime agents of change for citizenship, in that their unconsidered actions, preferences and unselfconscious associations may create the models for new modes of do-it-yourself (DIY) citizenship, Prof. Hartley explains. 

“This DIY-citizenship is arguably more democratic – because it is more participatory – than the old versions, and will become even more so as traditional media become less popular.”

The extension into the space and time of childhood of ‘new media,’ including computer-based social networks, mobile devices and globally-dispersed entertainment formats, has given children’s actions and choices far more significance and influence than in previous eras, he says.

“For example, children’s online actions are already being closely tracked by business to determine their preferences in order to satisfy their demands for various products – and thus influence the course of industry. But these preferences extend more widely than commerce, to the kind of society and associations children prefer, which governments and others are starting to pick up on.

In the light of this Prof Hartley says it is of some concern that some ‘latter-day child savers’ were trying to restrict and exclude children’s access to and participation in the online world.

“The future is the invention of those who are going to live in it,” he says. “There’s nothing new about this. For instance, the Australian accent – and with it Australian identity – must have been invented by children playing and talking together, while their parents retained their English, Irish and Cockney accents and habits. What’s new is that so much of this informal social learning from peers is now conducted online, and is therefore open to investigation.”

Prof. Hartley’s book “Digital Futures for Cultural and Media Studies” explores a wide range of issues associated with the growth and pervasiveness of digital media, such as:
•	The challenge of digital media and social networks to established disciplinary knowledge. 
•	How online journalism is reverting to an older model of multiple voices in dialogue, after a century or more of one-way, ‘mass’ communication, controlled by media corporations with monopolistic tendencies. 
•	How the public sphere has evolved in the global digital era, and where we can now look for the most competitive contributions to ‘public thought’. 
•	What happens when TV opens out, from ‘representative’ broadcasting to ‘productive’ digital affordances and ordinary people’s choices. 
•	How ‘the agents formerly known as the audience’ (especially those not counted as citizens, i.e. children) may be making up new forms of civic engagement even as they play with the digital media. 
•	How digital media – specifically YouTube – are changing the very nature of archiving. 
•	Chapter 8 argues Homo sapiens should be reclassified as H. sapiens nuntius: ‘the messaging human’: we are constituted in the activity of messaging, and reason (‘sapiens’) emerges from that interactive process. 

The book is published January 2012 by Wiley-Blackwell (USA and UK), available from Wiley Australia at AUD $49.95.
See: http://au.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470671017.html   

The ARC Centre for Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) is helping to build a creative Australia through cutting edge research spanning the creative industries, media and communications, arts, cultural studies, law, information technology, education and business. It is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC).

More information:
Distinguished Professor John Hartley, CCI and QUT, ph 0410 589 451 
j.hartley at qut.edu.au 
Todd Bennet, Manager CCI, ph +61 7 3138 3889
Stephanie Harington, QUT media, 07 3138 1150
Julian Cribb, CII media, 0418 639 245

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