Productive Workplace: The New Media Literate Space

When I started work, just to show how much of a dinosaur I am, I would produce work by hand writing a document with a pen. I would then walk it to the typing pool where a not-so-friendly lady would skilfully bash keys to produce a document. If the document needed a diagram I drew it. These documents contained a tiny amount of data (not that my hands felt that way about them) they were just text after all. Very few diagrams because my drawing isn’t that good, definitely no animations, sound or video.

Things have changed, although it’s hard to be specific about how much data we now produce, no one would argue that we are creating a huge amount of data, exabytes (thousands of petabytes (thousands of terrabytes)) of it every single day. Most of that data isn’t text, the majority of data in transit is video. Over half of all downstream traffic is taken up with just two site – Netflix and YouTube.

We now live in a world of new media, but not just new types of media, unprecedented amounts of it.

That’s where new media literacy comes in:

New media literacy: ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication

Today I received an email that looked like this:

HMRC Spam Email

I knew straight away that it was SPAM; for starters outlook.com had stuck it into the junk mail, but even if it hadn’t, there is no way that the UK Government would be sending me an email with a zip file attached. The email didn’t have my name in it and didn’t have any verification information on it to suggest to me that it was from them. Also, the email address used isn’t the one that I give to the UK Government. I haven’t opened the zip file to see what kind of information the supposed official form asks for because zip files can contain all sorts of nasties and I don’t need that kind of hassle. I’m also immediately suspicious of any email that looks like it’s giving me free money. I know these things because that’s the arena I work in and the age I live in, but I’m not sure my mum would have been so new media literate.

The other day my daughter told me that she’d heard that Subway were stopping selling ham so that they could serve only Halal meat, something that’s becoming a newsworthy issue in the UK. She’d also seen something on Facebook about it which apparently added to its credence. The irony was that she was telling me this as I was watching a Subway advert for breakfast bacon sandwiches which made me somewhat sceptical. It didn’t take long to understand that the truth was somewhere in between.

Howard Rheingold said this:

“Increasingly I think the digital divide is less about access to technology and more about the difference between those who know how and those who don’t know how.”

Howard talks about five digital literacies which map quite closely onto the new media literacies we are talking about here:

  • Attention – What am I going to give my attention to? How do we get someone’s attention?
  • Participation – How do I decide what I am going to participate in? How do I curate what I’ve found so that I can find it again?
  • Collaboration – Who am I going to collaborate with? How do I know that they are trustworthy?
  • Critical consumption of information (or “crap detection”) – How do I filter the HAM from the SPAM?
  • Network smarts – What communities am I going to participate in?

Dan Gillmor has also produced 5 principles of new media literacy (pdf) focussed primarily on the issue of trust and critical consumption:

  1. Be sceptical of absolutely everything.
  2. Although scepticism is essential, don’t be equally sceptical of everything.
  3. Go outside your personal comfort zone.
  4. Ask more questions.
  5. Understand and learn media techniques.

The Fishing Boat

The river of new media is wide and dangerous, but it’s also full of goodness and riches. The primary flow of the river is outside any single organisation.  What organisations need is people who know how to navigate to different parts of the river and to bring back the goodness; becoming known as outside-in.

These outside-in workers need to work in places that allow them full access to the river. For a long time the primary security question for most organisations has been how they protect their clean corporate network from the big bad world outside. That approach invariably leads to frustration for the outside-in workers who will always want more access and more bandwidth. It’s understandable when these people decide that it’s just easier to work in the coffee shop or at home. Organisation still need to protect themselves, though, from the outside-in worker who brings back something dangerous; that’s not the only challenge that organisations face in this outside-on world.

The Office Video Studio

As we’ve already seen, new media covers a broad set of capabilities including lots of audio and video. If an organisation is going to get people’s attention and foster participation it’s no longer good enough to create a document or to send an email.

The workplace needs to enable creation and collaboration in all the new media types including audio and video. Video used to be an expensive thing to do but now everyone is a producer with 100 hours of video uploaded on YouTube every minute. People already need places that are  compatible with the creation of that audio, video and other media types. Even person-to-person video conferencing is difficult in the modern open-plan office because of the practical issues of noise and visual distraction.

Most people produce at home because that’s the only place where they can get the space they need. It’s not a great way to be professional in production though unless you have some specialist capabilities at home. Production quality is important because it’s one of the things that will mark out your video as worth watching among the other 100 hours uploaded in the last minute, as an example. Professional video studios have specific characteristics to enable high quality production, they aren’t required all the time, but people do need access to them. Other studio types may also be required if their characteristics are sufficiently specialist.

Although the place is important for some of the functions of new media literacy my view is that the primary issue is network connectivity. Outside-in workers will gravitate to the place where they can get the best connectivity to the river and for many that’s at home.

Some videos to give you a wider perspective:

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