Communicative Internet space and youth: from clip consciousness to volunteer communities

Connect-universum 2012
Authors: Bychkova M.N., Okushova G.A., Ryabov D.Y..

Annotation:

The nature of social interactions has dramatically changed in the information and communication society. They have become nonlinear, multi-vector, and dependent on the awareness degree of the social subject, his communicative competence and computer skills. To a greater extent it relates to the communicative practices of young people as a social group, due to their being the most involved in the World Wide Web.
Establishment of the civic culture of Russian youth is paralleled with the rapid development of Internet technologies. There is no doubt that the environment of media freedom and personal creativity has had a profound influence on the formation of an active, goal-oriented person, capable of self-determination and realization of his interests.
The communicative space of the Internet attracts young people by a chance to demonstrate the completeness and the whole palette of everyday life, which are represented by «desire», «style», interest, values, and activities of a growing person. Freedom of individuality — the constitutive principle of civil society — appears here in full. First, it should be noted that young people, who use Internet as a means of communication, actively create «virtual communities», uniting with those who have similar interests. Second, an important factor for the active participation of young people in solving social problems is that modern society lives in the situation of an uncertain picture of the world, when a steady stream of events provokes everyday setting new goals and objectives. In these circumstances project activities become a universal practice. Social activities on the Internet, based on the projects that use a variety of electronic communication platforms, reflect the whole range of youth interests and appear as a result of their self-organization.



Topic of report: Communicative Internet space and youth: from clip consciousness to volunteer communities

The Internet, being created as a means of free communication, during just a few decades has become a key technology that reflects the diversity of social life organization forms. Moreover, we are not talking only about the virtual communities activities in cyberspace, but also about the impact of the Internet on civic engagement in the social reality. A social subject’s access to the information disseminated by electronic sources, increased interactions dynamics, the ability to comment and quickly find like-minded people – all of these contribute to activation of the public activities of this social subject. The nature of social interactions has dramatically changed in the information and communication society. They have turned nonlinear, multi-vector, and dependent on the awareness degree of the social subject, his communicative competence and computer skills. To a greater extent it relates to the communicative practices of youth, for whom the Internet is becoming the main habitat.

Internet services for young people are in fact one of the most effective ways of self-expression and “extensions of the sense organs” (M. McLuhan) in the process of electronic communication. Providing young people with the tools to find information and establish communication on the individual, group and mass levels, the Internet has become both a condition and an environment for realization of a variety of community initiatives. Today we have as much information, forms and means of its delivery as never before. All of them enable active interaction of people. None of the previous generations were in a situation like this. It is no surprise youth of today are called “digital natives” (M. Prensky).

The scale of Internet «invasion» in social practice can be shown in numbers. Thus, according to the Ministry of Communications and Mass Communications of Russian Federation the number of Internet users in Russia in 2011 increased by 5,4% during the year and equals 70 million people. Today 55 million Russians actively use the web, which is the highest quantity in Europe. In 2013, the number of Internet users in Russia (according to the predications of most experts in the sphere of electronic communications) will reach 90 million [4].

In the context of such rapid development of Internet technologies the civic culture of the Russian youth is being established. Undoubtedly, the environment of media freedom and personal creativity seriously influences the formation of an active, goal-oriented person, capable of self-determination and the realization of his interests. However, we cannot talk about the civil maturity of youth, due to its age and not well-established ideological world view. But this involvement of young people in social activities and initiation of significant social and political projects ensure the formation of civic experience and maturity, which are responsibility for their choices and actions.

Complex differentiation of modern society, its diversity (with private interests, life projects, opinions, etc.), interweaving of the functional relations of its various elements, — all of these indicate that our society is not a single system with standardized components and linear connections. It’s a decentralized entity that allows thinking of the possible civil society structure as a «rhizome» (from Fr. Rhizome — a rhizome, a term coined by G. Deleuze and F. Guattari). As a structural model, «rhizome» adequately reflects the socio-cultural nature of the civil society. It gives a chance to see a person's ability to private initiative («formation of cultural innovations»), to critical approach to understanding current events, to choice of their own forms of expressing their citizenship. This is especially true for the youth community — the most active social subject of public life.

The communicative space of the Internet attracts young people by a chance to demonstrate the completeness and the whole palette of everyday life, which are represented by «desire», «style», interest, values, and activities of a growing person. Freedom of individuality — the constitutive principle of civil society — appears here in full. It’s realized in a variety of communicative practices in different forms and types of civic activities, which are a result of self-organization. Thus, activities of online virtual communities, voluntary associations, and community organizations, represented on the Internet, contribute to the activation of citizens' initiatives and to the involvement of people in new social actions, revealing their potential and encouraging social creativity.

Self-governing on the basis of personal choice, network communication is a developing form of social interaction. According to Castells, «the openness of the Internet architecture was the basis of its main advantage — the ability to self-development, since users were becoming the developers of technologies and creators of the Internet as a whole» [2].

According to researchers, the technological characteristics of the Internet and cyberspace also suit the «rhizome» model in describing electronic communication. The Internet, as well as the rhizome, is an open structure with a decentered and non-hierarchical organization (due to lack of a central unit, which would control information flows). The Internet is a fundamentally incomplete and dynamic system with a branched structure [1]. This is the exact basis for defining the Internet as an auspicious environment for implementation of youth initiatives in the public spheres of politics, culture, education and leisure. The youth’s usage of the Internet opportunities to achieve a variety of purposes has its own peculiarities.

First, it should be noted that using the Internet as a means of communication, young people actively create «virtual communities», uniting with those who have similar interests. This term was introduced in 1993 by H. Rheingold (a researcher of social relations on the Internet and one of the founders of the WELL community) in his book “Virtual Community” [5]. In this book H. Rheingold discusses various kinds of communication among members of social groups based on such technologies as mailing lists, news lists, multi-user community, IRC. Examples of virtual communities are wikis, thematic portals, social networks, multiplayer online games, etc. Like a usual community, an online one is also always created with a definite purpose.

Second, an important factor for the active participation of young people in solving social problems is that modern society lives in the situation of an uncertain picture of the world, when a steady stream of events provokes everyday setting new goals and objectives. In these circumstances project activities become a universal practice. They allow finding unique solutions to actual problems within specific time and resource confines. Improving computer technologies and telecommunications as an effective way to transmit information by electronic means contributes to the development of project activities in the Internet environment. The Internet is actively being developed as a space for the realization of various telecommunication projects: educational, political, business, social etc. ones.

As for the examples of the realized social initiatives we can refer to such actively promoted Internet projects as Internet representative offices of social organizations that popularize the practice of volunteering among young people. Thus, Google search engine shows 58 thousand results for the query «volunteer movement». There are a number of volunteer associations’ web-sites among them: the official site of the voluntary movement «Danilovtsy» (http://danilovcy.ru), an independent advocacy site „Volunteerism in the Ural» (http://ddu.ucoz. ru), the official website of the regional youth social organization of the Tatarstan Republic “The Volunteer” (http://www.volonter16.ru), etc. The main goal of such web-sites is informing public about their activities and forming the interest of Internet users to volunteering.

Social media are especially effective in promoting the ideas of volunteerism. Their distinctive feature is that their content is generated by regular users, not by a group of professionals. Thanks to Web2.0 technologies, Internet users are now able to actively interact with each other through electronic social networks, blogs, chats, wiki services, etc. Their strong position and constant growth on the Internet arena demonstrate the importance of social networks in the development of volunteering. For example, the query “volunteer» in the social network «VK.com» displays more than 3,500 communities. Thus, one can find like-minded people here, share experiences, implement some web-based voluntary projects.

Volunteering is also being popularized on other communication platform, such as the JABA.RU Internet project (a youth second generation social network, designed for communication between people). Its creators note that special attention in their project is paid to volunteerism. JABA.RU gives a chance to take part in interesting activities of the volunteer projects and programs, such as Student Games and the Olympics, cultural and social actions organized in different parts of Russia.

As the creators of the JABA.RU Internet project say, their main objectives are to promote volunteering, to form communities of socially active young people, to technologically support the dissemination and keeping personal volunteer records, to stimulate positive personal growth of young people. The main element of the social network, on which the involvement techniques are based, is called JABA SOCIAL. The direction of their work can be classified as all-Russian federal information system of registering young volunteers, as well as the technological support in keeping personal volunteer records (so-called Personal books of a volunteer) [3].

Interest in volunteerism and understanding the importance of using Internet resources to promote volunteer initiatives contribute to the emergence of assistance proposals in creating web-projects. For example, the Internet Center for volunteering (http://center-id.ru/) focuses on creating technical conditions for the deployment of Internet projects on the Internet, as well as on the professional organization of a community of volunteers, who would provide such services for free and teach the representatives of NGO and initiative groups the technical basics of creating, support and promotion of Internet projects.

As an example illustrating the thematic focus of youth initiatives, we can consider implementing Internet activities on promotion healthy lifestyles undertaken by students of Tomsk State University. The research of Russian scientists dedicated to the health of young people (including students), shows that most of the new generation does not have a clear picture of a healthy lifestyle, often associating it exclusively with physical health indicators and parameters. The youth of today are not ready to be the subject of health-saving behavior, who uses health as a valuable resource in achieving a success in life. Given that young people are active subjects of electronic communications, the students decided to make maximum use of multimedia network resources for broadcasting the healthy lifestyle ideas.

Forming the culture of a healthy lifestyle among college students is impossible without the use of such a powerful communication tool as social networks. One of the youth initiatives realized through a “VK.com” page (http://vk.com/kashanasha) is contest project «Porridge is our heritage!». According to the rules of the competition, the participants were supposed to post a porridge recipe and the pictures of its cooking process on the contest page. The winner was chosen by the number of Likes one’s recipe gets. The competition page has been active during 5 days, while the daily’s number of page visitors was over 100. The winner herself collected likes of 98 people! What’s more, there were over 50 participants and fans on the offline award ceremony. This short-term project proved that the social networks users have very impressive opportunities today. The winner collected the necessary number of votes within a few hours, having sent a link to the vote page to her friends. Obviously, the Internet, as a «communication medium» (M. Castells), allows a person to make any information public to thousands of people within just several hours or even minutes.

Besides the social network, the students decided to try such an instrument of electronic communication as blogging. As a part of an Internet project, they launched a blog with virtual lectures for promoting the “Seven Steps to Health” educational program among students that are active Internet users (http://shkola-zdorovya.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html). The promotion of this project in the blogosphere was supposed to be done through the blogs on the similar topics, while in social networks it was working with similar communities. Twitter was also supposed to be used. Within a month the number of the page views exceeded 2,000, which means that the blog has actually become a communication platform for students, teachers and different professionals interested in implementing the healthy lifestyle ideas among young people.

Realization of youth initiatives on the Internet is a major factor of their success, because that is a place with no coercion and surveillance, which are so irksome to young people. Moreover, so-called “clip consciousness” is typical for young people, since it allows them to easily navigate the information-saturated communicative space. Young people perceive broadcasted images extremely quickly, allowing them to immediately process information. It is no accident D. Rushkoff notes that «the formation of the modern boy or girl is increasingly dependent on the growing influence of the Internet. Online users roam the global virtual space, collecting and sharing information without any dependence on the institutional power” [6].

Thus, the World Wide Web, as a dynamic communicative space, allows realizing a variety of initiatives, contributing to forming the civil culture of the young people. Ability to create new online communities with a single information base and common value-normative basis for the interaction attracts socially active young people. Social activities on the Internet, based on the projects that use a variety of electronic communication platforms, reflect the whole range of youth interests and appear as a result of their self-organization.

References:

1. Емелин В.А. Глобальная сеть и киберкультура. Ризома и Интернет emeline.narod.ru/rhizome.htm
2. Кастельс М. Галактика Интернет: размышления об Интернете, бизнесе и обществе. Екатеринбург: У-Фактория, 2004. – С. 43.
3. О проекте. JABA.RU. Практика разумного эгоизма. www.jaba.ru
4. Число пользователей интернета в России достигло 70 млн. www.bbc.co.uk/russian/rolling_news/2011/12/111226_rn_russia_internet_users.shtml
5. Rheingold H. The Virtual Community. www.rheingold.com/vc/book/intro.html
6. Rushkoff, D. Children of Chaos: Surviving the end of the world as we know it. London: Flamingo, 1997. – P. 175

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