Some of you may know that I’m working on a pretty ambitious project that involves blogging, filmmaking, teaching ESL, and producing a Hasidic children’s show (well, the last one is still up in the air). The goal of the project is to put into action what I laid out in my brilliant, influential essay Social Software for Social Change. Essentially, I want to prove that open source software and technologies like blogging and tagging can be used to help — excuse the over-used expression — bridge the digital divide.
In the spirit of the ideas I’m trying to prove, I want this process to be open and collaborative, both with my subjects and with you, my future audience, so I’m asking you to read and think about what I’m aiming to do and to offer your fair and crucial advice and bug me with important questions and critique.
Onto the project. I’m starting work on a pretty unconventional documentary about the self-actualization of immigrants through the use of blogging and possibly other software. I’m planning to work with the subjects on camera and to shoot the entire process of me working with the class and their progress as they become bloggers.
The subjects are adult students in an ESL immersion class at Bronx Community College. On camera, I’ll be asking them how they communicate with friends and family in their home countries and how they could communicate better. I will then find the appropriate software to match these wishes (probably blogging) and work with them to produce work that will both communicate to their friends and family and give them a sense of agency and of their place in the world (a la Paulo Freire).
The idea is that, by teaching elementary users of the web that the Internet is not about passively receiving information but about interaction and, as Richard MacManus likes to say, about reading and writing to the web, users will become authors independent of the mainstream media. And because the subjects are new immigrants with only a basic command of English, these tools will hopefully help them become active members of civic society.
Eventually I’d like to get down to their home countries and work with their families to get them online too, and to show them using the same software.
I’m searching for reading associated with this project, and for other projects that have done similar things. The possibilities are vast, and I’m trying to keep things both open and restrained — forgive the comparison, but like free jazz, it will take a little bit of structure for me to improvise. The most exciting part of this project is that I’ll be putting something into motion and filming the effects, totally unaware of the outcome.
This semester’s work will be preparation for the larger, real project. I’ll use the footage to apply for money for the real thing, which means that I need to at least consider and explore every idea that comes my way.
There it is. I appreciate your feedback.