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What do you see as one way to handle this?
What has worked best is where we've created some shared spaces where young people and adults interact with each other in a different way than what occurs in schools or public institutions, where they can feel free to learn from each other. That kind of informal learning culture is what I think is most interesting about online worlds of fan gaming, blogging, Wikipedia and so forth. These are spaces where young people and adults face each other as equals, based on what they can contribute and based on what they know, rather than based on some fixed hierarchy defined by age or generation.
Can you describe one of those environments?
Jenkins: The world of Harry Potter fan fiction is a good example of that. J.K. Rowling's book inspired people young and old, not just to read deeply, but to rewrite and to retell those stories in rich ways. So we've now seen hundreds of thousands of pieces of original fiction based in the world of Hogwarts finding their way onto the Web, and the community itself is taking on responsibility for helping each other grow as writers.
For our readers, can you further explain the "participation gap" here and why it's important?
Jenkins: For a long time we talked about the digital divide, or access to the technologies of network computing. We made a lot of dramatic progress on that, but as we've done so, it has been clear that there still are some fundamental differences between those kids who have 24/7 broadband mobile access to every new media appliance and those kids who might have 10 minutes of access a day if they're lucky in a school or public library.
The research suggests that kids who live online understand the process by which knowledge is produced and shared in an online environment, whereas those kids who come in within 10 minutes, they're trying to get the answer and get off. So they're not as critical of a corporate Web site, for example. That's just one example of some fundamental inequalities in access to social skills and culture competencies between the information-haves and have-nots.
Really this becomes the basis for the new hidden curriculum. We now must say those kids who are raised in an environment where they have regular access to the online world????have a different way of learning that prepares them for school--to do better in school and in life--than those kids who were being left out.
So what's the answer?
Jenkins: It's going to require intervention in every level. It really does require schools to work closely to bring those kids who were cut out of the online world and it involves more than just putting computers in the classroom. It requires thinking across the curriculum about these skills and competencies. This is a problem that's big enough I think that every sector of society has something to contribute, which is why we're trying to work across industry, education, the policy arena, to try to get people to think creatively about what they each can contribute.
You've written about permissive childrearing doctrines before and so I wonder how dangerous do you think the Internet is in terms of pornography, spyware and advertising, and whether those pitfalls are outweighed by all the learning opportunities?
Jenkins: We have to take a realistic perspective. We need to be governed by knowledge and not ruled by fear. So, yeah, there are bad things out there in the Internet, but there is so much good stuff going on that it would be a shame to lock it up and shut down social networks or shut down access to gaming technologies because of concern for the negatives. It's the same way that the telephone is a tool that can be used negatively.
Turning your home into a surveillance culture where you don't trust your kids is dangerous because you're going to make it harder to communicate with your child. So part of what I've argued is that the kids don't need someone looking over their shoulders, they need someone watching their backs.
So you hear stories about the child predators on MySpace and they frequently don't give you any basis for judging whether this kid is more at risk on MySpace or at a church picnic or a Boy Scout outing. MySpace may be less of a risk for half a dozen good reasons.
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