Reverse mentoring: teaching online journalism skills
After trying to avoid making the mistake of committing to a new years resolution, I found something which I do actually want to do, a resolution of a slightly different ilk to the usual diets exercise and self gratifying lifestyle changes. I’ve decided to help my parents become more digitally literate.
Despite their rudimentary knowledge of the internet and various bits of software, they both could do with a bit of an introduction to social media to provide them with a great way of keeping up with people. This time last year I probably would shudder at the idea of my mum being on facebook, and 5, 189 other facebookers have joined the group ‘for the love of god – don’t let parents join Facebook’. But I am now putting ‘Get Mum on Facebook’ as step one of my bid to make her less scared of technology so that she too can enjoy its benefits in life.
Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, is all in favour of young people being less scorned by society as a bunch of stupid ADHD lazy morons who don’t know how to socialise face-to-face. He did a global survey to actually find out what the digital generation are like and whether they reflect this stereotype. He believes young people should engage in ‘reverse mentoring’ with their parents and elders (he has three mentors, two of which are his sons) to teach them how they can use the internet in ways that will help them and bring about more pleasure in life. Listen to an interview with him here.
Tapscott’s ideas are future looking and positive – fighting the common prejudice that youngsters glued to their computers are on a slippery road to doomsville.
It may seem odd to think of young people teaching their elders skills which may help them get a better job, keep in better touch with their friends, and keep more up to date with what’s going on in the world, but this is intrinsic to the idea of a ‘digital native’. I consider myself part of the generation who understands technology and the internet easily – purely because from a young age I learnt how to play with software and surf the internet to see the many different things it could do for me. When a gadget is put in front of me, I rarely read the instruction manual and generally will be able to find my way around it very quickly. Skip one generation above me and you’ll find the response to gadgets and gismos very different – more timid and adamant on sticking to rules and instructions. Look at the generation below, and you find children who are learning technology just as they learn a language whilst they grow – and they can teach the older generation the ins and outs of the digital language as the language itself grows and develops.
This part of the digital revolution is translated into newsrooms. The younger journalists teaching those with a wealth of experience in traditional core journalism skills but little knowledge of the opportunities for journalism online.
Jeff Jarvis thinks some online tech-savvy journalists need to engage more with others to transfer their skills. He writes:
I’ve argued for a few years now that news organizations should be training everyone – absolutely everyone – in the simple tools and gizmos of new media, for that would show journalists the possibilities and demystify technology (I used to complain that old-media journalists acted like a priesthood but the sad truth is that new media folks became their own priesthood in newsrooms, holding onto their knowledge).
It is true that social networking and media sites like Twitter can seem a bit exclusive. You get the same top media and online journalists and bloggers talking exclusively about new technology and blogging about things only the online clique would understand. This is inevitable when a group of people who are passionate about a particular topic come together. But they, more than anyone, need to make sure they are teaching others about how to use the tools they are so passionate about. The digital divide is something that scares me for when my parents are very old. One friend even recently told me she is closer to one grandmother because they email each other – where as the other grandparent writes traditional letters.
Putting Mum on Facebook will be step one. She had the same Nokia phone for years, and when she recently upgraded to a camera phone she was delighted to start to share picture messages with her friends. This year should be about getting more and more people digitally literate, while continuing to explore the possibilities for the future of the web.