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Participatory Culture in Action

Sometimes life is very strange. . . I've debated about writing on this, but it's something I've been thinking about and felt a need to process. . .

Yesterday, I was reading The Rise of the Participation Culture, which documents the networked lifestyle of Generation Y, when my cell phone rang. It was my 14-year old daughter calling to tell me that there'd been a shooting at her high school and that a boy had committed suicide. She had seen the first shots fired, dove into a classroom where she stayed for 30 minutes, listening to the commotion in the hallway,  and was now on her way to the middle school next door. All I could think was "Thank God she's safe," and then "But someone else's child isn't."

Within minutes, my ex-husband, who is also the principal of my daughter's school, called from his cell to tell me what had happened and that he and my daughter were OK. As I was hanging up with him, my older daughter, who's at college in New York (we live in Philadelphia) called to ask what had happened because she'd received a text message already from one of her friends who was still at the high school. Within the next hour, I received calls and e-mails from friends in Allentown and upstate New York--they'd seen the news on the Internet.

As the day went on, I monitored the horribly sad story as it unfolded online. The school website was posting updates every 15 minutes, keeping parents informed of what was going on and when they could get their kids. Four hours after the shooting, a local website had a link to the MySpace page of the boy who had killed himself. Already students were posting things like "RIP, we're going to miss you." By the end of the day, my younger daughter reported that a candlelight vigil had been arranged for that evening, in large part through cell phones and IM. And both my daughters were now members of a FaceBook group that had been formed in memory of the boy and already included over 500 members, many from other schools and parts of the country.

What struck me about all this was not only how quickly news spread through the use of technology, but also how the kids and families were able to use this media to begin connecting, processing, discussing and mourning what had happened. I thought about how as a parent, if it had been my child, I would have been so grateful to go to a site and see this outpouring of love and connection coming from other people, people who didn't even know my child. As the mother of a child who saw what happened, I'm also grateful that she has the ability to process her own trauma and grief by connecting to so many people. It's astonishing to me to see what technology can accomplish in creating human bonds.

I read a lot of stories about how people are worried that online community interferes with "real" community. That may be true in some cases. But this is one time when I believe that technology may actually help in healing "real life."



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Wow, that must have been scarry.

check out Henry Jenkins work too - from MIT -participatory media scholar.

Yes, it was incredibly scary, especially after more details emerged about what happened and I realized that if Shane had been angry, wanting to hurt others, my ex-husband would probably be dead right now. The whole thing is horribly sad, but I have to say that right now, I'm feeling very lucky that no one else was hurt.

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