I recently presented a paper at CHLA 2011 entitled “Digital Natives, the Mushroom Kingdom and the Global Village: Re-imagining Virtual Citizenship in Cory Doctorow’s For the Win.”
The rising generation is often referred to as digital natives and granted status for their relationship with technology: “Unlike older generations, which grew up relying on a small cluster of networks, newspapers, and film studios, Digital Natives presuppose their role as shapers of culture. The fact that so many people can participate in the online cultural commons and make contributions to it has lead to a culture that is far more diverse than it was even a few decades ago” (Palfrey 126). And yet the role of “Digital Native” comes with an inherent contradiction: while “various technologies allow her a nearly infinite array of possibilities for recreating herself in a wide range of virtual platforms, it has bound her ever more tightly to a unitary identity in the real world” (Palfrey 22). Due in part to this conflict and the role of online communities such as Facebook in reinforcing existing identity, the status of digital native does not innately entail global citizenship. However, the literature aimed at this generation can harness the potential of these virtual spaces towards presenting new models for global consciousness as a necessary part of a digital coming of age.
Cory Doctorow’s recent young adult novel, For the Win, imagines a near future world where the economies of virtual worlds have a real-world impact, particularly on the fates of laborers. His story of a group of teenagers from China, India and the United States considers the consequences of virtual worlds as spaces for global encounters even as cyberspace remains fragmented and segregated by issues of language and accessibility. His work can be understood as continuing the debate over technology’s social impact into a post-cyberpunk text and consequently an argument for the potential of “digital natives” in overhauling global social injustice, and in this attempt Doctorow leverages influences from the worlds of both literature and video games. Within Doctorow’s world, a massive multiplayer game like the Mushroom Kingdom can become the next McLuhan-esque global village: a simultaneous happening that creates globally shared experience. The space thus acts as sphere for leaning in accord with the principles set out by James Paul Gee in his seminal text on the potential impact of video games on players: “Good video games have a powerful way of making players consciously aware of some of their previously assumed cultural models” (162).
The Mushroom Kingdom has people of all nationalities and social backgrounds playing—and working—side by side. The connections that arise can hold the key to a meaningful virtual citizenship that demands global responsibility and the rethinking of allegiances and class segregation. Doctorow’s vision is inextricably tied to the realization of McLuhan’s global village in the hands of the so-called digital natives: a village where “our central nervous system is technologically extended to involve in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us, [and] we necessarily participate… in the consequences of our every action” (McLuhan 4).
Selected Works Cited
Bennett, Sue; Maton, Karl and Lisa Kervin. “The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence.” British Journal of Educational Technology. February 5 2008.
Briggs, Elizabeth L. Pandoflo. “Welcome to the Game: Cyberspace in Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Children’s literature and the fin de siècle. Ed. Roderick McGillis. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003.
Dodge, Tyler; Barab, Sasha; Bronwyn Stuckey; Warren, Scott; Heiselt, Conan and Richard Stein. “Children’s Sense of Self: Learning and Meaning in the Digital Age. Journal of Interactive Learning Research (2008) 19(2) 225-249. <http://inkido.indiana.edu/research/onlinemanu/papers/meaning_digital.pdf>
Gee, James Paul. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York: Palgrave, 2003.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, 1964.
Palfrey, John and Urs Gasser. Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. Basic Civatas Books: New York, 2008.
Zipes, Jack David. Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. Routledge: New York, 2002.