Wednesday, 6 February 2008
Long Live Literacy: Lilley's Last Lecture
Those of us who attended all four of Anthony Lilley's lectures felt a certain camaraderie as last night's seminar drew to a close. For four weeks we few, we happy few, we band of brothers (and sisters) had been together as one as Lilley explained why he shouldn't be called the News International visiting professor of broadcast media but the News International visiting professor of networked media.
Okay, he didn't say that in so many words, but if the Oxford mediaocracy takes anything from his sojourn here, it should be that broadcast is dead. (I described his earlier lectures here, here and here.)
Lilley billed this as a user-generated lecture, taking inspiration from comments on his university blog, but, frankly, visitors to his blog didn't really pick up the gauntlet he had thrown down. I include myself in that, even if Lilley did reference a quote I posted on his blog. It's from a fellow named Benedict Anderson. When reading a daily newspaper, Anderson wrote, "each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion. Furthermore, this ceremony is incessantly repeated at daily or half-daily intervals throught the calendar. ... At the same time, the newspaper reader, observing exact replicas of his own paper being consumed by his subway, barbershop or residential neighbors, is continually reassured that the imagined world is visibly rooted in every day."
I confess I get a bittersweet and melancholy feeling when I read that, for it describes a world that's on its way out, if it isn't gone already. But there's no use crying. As Lilley said, he didn't approach his subject--the future of media--from the standpoint of "how do we preserve newspapers?"
The market still offers simultaneous experiences--witness the 107 million people who watched the Super Bowl "together"--and some media experiences will go forth and multiply, living beyond the moment of their creation: The Beatles' White Album, for example, which people can enjoy without any temporal association to the Fab Four. Sticky ideas will spread virally, borne along by communities that can coalesce with ease.
Lilley touched on the proposed takeover of Yahoo by Microsoft. It's plain to him that it shows a strong desire to capture more of the lucrative online advertising market and could presage a shift of ads from TV to the Web. He cautioned that anything that threatens to restrict choice should be weighed closely.
In a previous lecture Lilley outlined what a public service broadcaster should accomplish: inform, stimulate, etc. Wasn't that also what an educational institution should do? Should we replace schools with online interactive learning centers? Lilley wouldn't go that far, but he criticized Oxford for refusing to join the 21st century. Why not put lectures online, he asked, a low-cost way of using the power of the network to energize the university's core values?
The digital revolution brings with it an explosion of choice and an erosion of control. With that, said Lilley, comes the Moral Panic, as parents turn to government to protect their children from inappropriate content and internet predators. The answer, Lilley suggested, isn't more regulation (we already have laws to protect children) but education: Parents and children need to be more media literate.
And that was his final message: Whether we like it or not, it's a big, messy, open-source world out there. We all need to learn how to navigate it.
There was an interesting question from a student about whether media literacy required a certain amount of cynicism. I was wondering the same thing myself: Do we tell our children not to believe anything they see on the Web? Or would that deny them the good things they can find there? Perhaps it's good for them to learn as early as possible that the world is full of all sorts of people peddling all sorts of information--and disinformation.