It's a normal day in a school somewhere near you. The usual hubbub is still there but something has changed from the schooldays you might remember. Kids who had been sitting in rows working silently and alone at a creative writing task are now engaged in an animated discussion about mise en scene, character arcs and what sound level is required for the next shot. This is not some vision of a way off future it is what is happening daily in classrooms all over Australia.
As politicians and media groups squabble over rewriting the rules controlling the mass media, new technological developments have resulted in many young people opting out of the debate as they go about creating their own media, taking full advantage of the digital revolution.
This media deregulation is happening more rapidly than many imagine and will change the way media looks not in ten years but in two. The advent of Youtube and Al Gore's brainchild Current TV removes the last major barrier to getting your work out there: the distribution monopoly.
No longer are filmmakers and other media creators with talent stopped from getting their work out because they are born in the wrong place or aren't related to the right people. These media sites will provide training support and help anyone with even basic equipment to get their vision out there. Now that is real deregulation.
In our recent book Real players: drama, technology and education my co-authors and I explored whether young people are passively accepting the media they are presented or are instead making their own media. Far from being a generation of "couch potatoes", digital technology and screen-based culture has produced a generation of young people hungry for interactive experiences that can support their unique vision.
A generation born into a world of connected, mobile, media-rich technology is less inclined to passively consume whatever is served up to them in traditional forms. This change has come about because this generation of young people has easy access to the tools of creation. All that you need now to create your own media empire is creativity, nous, and the tools of production such as cameras, the web, a computers and a phone. While video and other media were accessible a decade ago they were clunky and difficult to control. These days all that's required is a relatively cheap consumer-level technology.
Perhaps more tellingly, where young people were once restricted to creative writing in schools (or if they were lucky music or visual arts), they now have the chance to creatively explore all kinds of arts and media. Film, video and other media are now taught widely and NSW students can produce a short film as part of their Higher School Certificate examination in Design and Technology, Advanced English, Visual Art and Drama. Each of these areas has seen strong growth in the numbers of students creating their own short films and the level of skill involved in them. The best of these films in drama (shot on no budget) rivals high budget professional quality film.
This will not be news to many teachers. Drama teachers have for a decade been supporting students creating their own work with their own vision. Every year in February the hottest ticket in town is to OnStage at the Seymour Theatre Centre where young people who have created their own performances and projects for the HSC present them to consistently sold out houses.
These performances are created for them and often they carry messages that mainstream media ignores; that young people are interested, active and skilled members of our community, not indolent couch potatoes waiting for the next reality television program to mindlessly consume. These pieces are critical, political, funny and tragic and regularly provide better more interesting theatre than we see on our professional main stages.
Young people are not only actively creating in schools: the advent of mobile phones with video cameras, while currently low quality, will bring this opportunity to almost everyone. These phones now allow filming, editing and distribution with several young people already shooting feature films on them.
In the space of a few years almost all phones will have this capacity allowing anyone who owns a phone to shoot a feature length film and send it to all their friends all over the world. As author Kate Crawford argues "Everyone is making something, collaborating on something or distributing something". This is borne out by our research as well.
First year students in Education and Media at The University of Sydney and Charles Sturt University were both surveyed about their use of technology. The survey sampled 210 first year communication students and 280 education students (pre-service teachers) - at the University of Sydney in 2005. The study found that not only did students use technology constantly; many of them own digital devices. Not surprisingly mobile telephones have achieved almost complete penetration.
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