How do we create meaning with technology?
Leba Rubinoff of Mobile Movement, one of our 2008 Digital Media & Learning winners, asked that question in a blog post months ago, which struck me as one of the fundamental questions for the 21st century. We have the technology, we know the potential, we are flooded in a sea of information. How, then, can technology be used to create meaning?
Leba wrote, "I am always thinking about how to create intimacy and meaning with technology. It's hard to do. Really hard. Can we move people through technology? Can we inspire young people in Kenya and the US and make connections between people who have never met? Can we promote global citizenry one-to-one? And can we share those stories so others want to join the movement? I think we can."
I thought about Leba's questions during my conversation with Sapna Shahani and Angana Jhaveri of Women Aloud Videoblogging for Empowerment (WAVE), Digital Media & Learning winners from 2009. Both women are in India at the moment, so we used Skype to communicate, losing our connection five times during the one and a half hours we spoke. They were calling from a rural part of India, but despite the technological interruptions, it felt as though we were sitting in the same room. Their passion for the project was so palpable and their stories so vivid that it was easy to experience that familiar tug of participation, wanting to travel to India and see their project in action.
A few months ago, Sapna and Angana gathered 50 women from 28 states (and Delhi) for training, to show them how to use video and social media tools to capture the stories of the people and areas where they live. "Every state in India has a different language, and each region is so culturally different," Sapna told me. According to India's Constitution, there are 22 recognized languages, although the Indian Census estimates hundreds more different dialects and roughly 2,000 spoken languages.
When I asked Sapna and Angana what it was like to gather everyone together for the training, they both commented on the moment when each of the 50 women went around the room introducing themselves, saying their names and where they came from. "Some parts of India are completely foreign, so to get everyone together at once, it was the first time all of us met someone from each part of the country. We all felt how amazing it was to be together."
Each of the 50 women have returned to their homes to begin documenting stories, using their recently acquired video and editing skills. Eventually, the videos will become videoblogs on a new Women Aloud Videoblogging for Empowerment site, something we plan to announce on HASTAC.org when the stories are up and ready to share.
I asked if the women would reconvene for a reunion at some point, perhaps when the site launched. Sapna's response says much about the women involved and what they can, and will, accomplish. "We did not budget for a second gathering, but the women decided that they will raise funds themselves and find a way to make it happen." As our world becomes more technological and connected, that kind of intention really stands out.
When we began to wrap up our call, Angana asked a question that others may be able to help answer. What is the best way to prepare for the launch of a website? When we spend so much time preparing for an exciting moment, often one that involves real people in real life, how do we translate a kind of stage moment to a networked, distributed environment? Analytics are fun to track, but what else can be done to make an online event meaningful? If you were working on Sapna and Angana's project, what would you do?