Fifteen years ago, Anthony Riddle, BRIC's Senior Vice President for Community Media wrote an essay on the connection between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's dream and media literacy. His words are as powerful and relevant today as they were then.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
—The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We find these words to be self evident. None but a few of us in the Alliance do this work to become rich. We engage in this struggle because we believe in its transformative power on the communities in which we live. Believe the idea that we struggle to bring people together, to encourage the mastery of technology, to create a process of democratic communications, to help people understand themselves and their relationship to the world of technology they create for themselves.
The world of technology that they create for themselves.
Let this be well understood: That it is we who create technology. That we create the technology for our own purposes. That we must make those purposes clear. And that the technology we create must serve those purposes—never the other way around.
In the sense of the words of Dr. King above, there is nothing automatic about the direction of technology or “progress”, there is nothing inevitable about the form of invention, there is nothing innately beautiful about innovation that is not directly related to the values we hold as a people.
The focus on media literacy by the Alliance and other practitioners in the community media field is precisely a response to the helplessness so many people feel before the onslaught of high budget movie extravaganzas, 24-hour cable news, mass emailing, endless web-surfing, the rise of blogs, the consolidation of commercial television and radio. Everyday, new media is thrown our way. Its messages come at us faster, sometimes, than we are able to decode them. We are filled with messages which contradict what we know from our “real” lives.
Quoting Jerry Manders from his book, Ten Arguments for the Elimination of Television, “Americans have not grasped the fact that many technologies determine their own use, their own effects, and even the kind of people who control them. We have not yet learned to think of technology as having ideology built into its very form.”
If our communities are to stand and play a role in determining the direction any new technology takes, then they first have to understand, on a very conscious level, how media is developed, how it is ingested, who controls it and what its purposes are.
Media literacy is not a hobby for elite scholars. Media literacy is as fundamental to our citizenship as the right to vote. What good is freedom of choice without access to information? What good is information without understanding?
If we are to mobilize communities to take control of their own communications destiny, we must begin by entrusting them with the ability to understand fully the relationships between subject, camera, eye, mind, and power.
It is not enough to embrace change. We must confront change. We must deconstruct change. We must engage our community in that deconstruction. Then, we must rebuild change in the image of that process of community. This can only be accomplished by a people who are media literate.