Centre for Internet & Society
Digital AlterNatives with a Cause?

Digital AlterNatives with a Cause?

Hivos and the Centre for Internet and Society have consolidated their three year knowledge inquiry into the field of youth, technology and change in a four book collective “Digital AlterNatives with a cause?”. This collaboratively produced collective, edited by Nishant Shah and Fieke Jansen, asks critical and pertinent questions about theory and practice around 'digital revolutions' in a post MENA (Middle East - North Africa) world. It works with multiple vocabularies and frameworks and produces dialogues and conversations between digital natives, academic and research scholars, practitioners, development agencies and corporate structures to examine the nature and practice of digital natives in emerging contexts from the Global South.

Introduction

In the 21st Century, we have witnessed the simultaneous growth of internet and digital technologies on the one hand, and political protests and mobilisation on the other. Processes of interpersonal relationships, social communication, economic expansion, political protocols and governmental mediation are undergoing a significant transition, across in the world, in developed and emerging Information and Knowledge societies.

The young are often seen as forerunners of these changes because of the pervasive and persistent presence of digital and online technologies in their lives. The “ Digital Natives with a Cause?” is a research inquiry that uncovers the ways in which young people in emerging ICT contexts make strategic use of technologies to bring about change in their immediate environments. Ranging from personal stories of transformation to efforts at collective change, it aims to identify knowledge gaps that existing scholarship, practice and popular discourse around an increasing usage, adoption and integration of digital technologies in processes of social and political change.

Methodology

In 2010-11, three workshops in Taiwan, South Africa and Chile, brought together around 80 people who identified themselves as Digital Natives from Asia, Africa and Latin America, to explore certain key questions that could provide new insight into Digital Natives research, policy and practice. The workshops were accompanied by a ‘Thinkathon’ – a multi-stakeholder summit that initiated conversations between Digital Natives, academic researchers, scholars, practitioners, educators, policy makers and corporate representatives to share learnings on new questions: Is one born digital or does one become a Digital Native? How do we understand our relationship with the idea of a Digital Native? How do Digital Natives redefine ‘change’ and how do they see themselves implementing it? What is the role that technologies play in defining civic action and social movements?  What are the relationships that these technology based identities and practices have with existing social movements and political legacies? How do we build new frameworks of sustainable citizen action outside of institutionalisation?

Rationale

One of the knowledge gaps that this book tries to address is the lack of digital natives’ voices in the discourse around them. In the occasions that they are a part of the discourse, they are generally represented by other actors who define the frameworks and decide the issues which are important. Hence, more often than not, most books around digital natives concentrate on similar sounding areas and topics, which might not always resonate with the concerns that digital natives and other stake-holders might be engaged with in their material and discursive practice. The methodology of the workshops was designed keeping this in mind. Instead of asking the digital natives to give their opinion or recount a story about what we felt was important, we began by listening to their articulations about what was at stake for them as e-agents of change. As a result, the usual topics like piracy, privacy, cyber-bullying, sexting etc. which automatically map digital natives discourse, are conspicuously absent from this book. Their absence is not deliberate, but more symptomatic of how these themes that we presumed as important were not of immediate concerns to most of the participants in the workshop who are contributing to the book.

Structure

The conversations, research inquiries, reflections, discussions, interviews, and art practices are consolidated in this four part book which deviates from the mainstream imagination of the young people involved in processes of change. The alternative positions, defined by geo-politics, gender, sexuality, class, education, language, etc. find articulations from people who have been engaged in the practice and discourse of technology mediated change. Each part concentrates on one particular theme that helps bring coherence to a wide spectrum of style and content.

Book 1: To Be: Digital AlterNatives with a Cause? Download here

The first part, To Be, looks at the questions of digital native identities. Are digital natives the same everywhere? What does it mean to call a certain population ‘Digital Natives”? Can we also look at people who are on the fringes – Digital Outcasts, for example? Is it possible to imagine technology-change relationships not only through questions of access and usage but also through personal investments and transformations? The contributions help chart the history, explain the contemporary and give ideas about what the future of technology mediated identities is going to be.

Book 2: To Think: Digital AlterNatives with a Cause? Download here

In the second section, To Think, the contributors engage with new frameworks of understanding the processes, logistics, politics and mechanics of digital natives and causes. Giving fresh perspectives which draw from digital aesthetics, digital natives’ everyday practices, and their own research into the design and mechanics of technology mediated change, the contributors help us re-think the concepts, processes and structures that we have taken for granted. They also nuance the ways in which new frameworks to think about youth, technology and change can be evolved and how they provide new ways of sustaining digital natives and their causes.

Book 3: To Act: Digital AlterNatives with a Cause? Download here

To Act is the third part that concentrates on stories from the ground. While it is important to conceptually engage with digital natives, it is also, necessary to connect it with the real life practices that are reshaping the world. Case-studies, reflections and experiences of people engaged in processes of change, provide a rich empirical data set which is further analysed to look at what it means to be a digital native in emerging information and technology contexts.

Book 4: To Connect : Digital AlterNatives with a Cause? Download here

The last section, To Connect, recognises the fact that digital natives do not operate in vacuum. It might be valuable to maintain the distinction between digital natives and immigrants, but this distinction does not mean that there are no relationships between them as actors of change. The section focuses on the digital native ecosystem to look at the complex assemblage of relationships that support and are amplified by these new processes of technologised change.

We see this book as entering into a dialogue with the growing discourse and practice in the field of youth, technology and change. The ambition is to look at the digital (alter)natives as located in the Global South and the potentials for social change and political participation that is embedded in their interactions through and with digital and internet technologies. We hope that the book furthers the idea of a context-based digital native identity and practice, which challenges the otherwise universalist understanding that seems to be the popular operative right now. We see this as the beginning of a knowledge inquiry, rather than an end, and hope that the contributions in the book will incite new discussions, invoke cross-sectorial and disciplinary debates, and consolidate knowledges about digital (alter)natives and how they work in the present to change our futures.

Click here to order your copy. We invite readers to contribute reviews of an essay they found particularly interesting. Contact us: nishant@cis-india.org and fjansen@hivos.nl if you want more information, resources, or dialogues

Nishant Shah

Fieke Jansen

For media coverage and book reviews, read here.

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