Online communities as sites for engagement: Rosianna Halse Rojas at TEDxBrighton

Translator: Capa Girl
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard Hello, everyone. Firstly, I’m going
to preface this by saying I worked at a bookshop for five years, which meant that I thought a lot about the way we use those spaces
and interact with those spaces. And saying that,
a little thought experiment to begin. Imagine yourself going into a bookshop, it doesn’t mean you have to be
a big reader, necessarily. You don’t have to love reading
and go in all the time, but you probably know what you’re looking for
when you’re going in, or you know that you like
the history section, for example, or that you like biographies
and you want to go to those sections, or if there is a review you read
in the newspaper, that you ask the person
working there and say: “Where is this book?
Someone says it’s amazing,” and they direct you to it. Now imagine you’re
a child in a bookshop. Everything is a little bit different. You’re about this high, the shelves stretch higher
than you can see. And you are looking for
something familiar. You’re looking for
that book you got at the library, or the one that your friend has. Something that’s comfortable to you,
because you can read it or because you’ve had it read to you, or because it’s particularly glittery, just some kind of point of contact
with that book. But the child reader isn’t allowed
to roam in the same way. They have an adult there, or someone there
to guide them through and to say, “That’s too girly” or
“that’s a boy book.” “That’s too young for you,
that’s too old for you.” It’s almost as though,
there is a linear trajectory almost. You start in one section of the bookshop, neatly categorized off as “picture books”, then you move to “beginner readers”, then you move to “younger readers”
and “junior readers” and “young adult vampire books” and then you end up in “adult.” And it’s all on that line,
and you are kind of pushed through it. So, in a way, there are many
restrictive things to the layout of a bookshop. Now, the thing about this is
it doesn’t only exist in bookshops, you see that also in the way
we teach people about reading and mostly in the way
we assess readers. Reading comprehension doesn’t mean “Do you understand
the themes of books?”, necessarily. It means “List them”, it means, “What hat was Jack wearing
on page 52?” and, “What were the specifics words
that Sally said to Jack the page before?” It becomes about repetition,
rather than necessarily conversation. So comprehension isn’t
the same thing as conversation. Now, I have to say, when I was younger,
I was a big reader, but I found myself
very frustrated with the adults that tried to push me
towards the next stage. It was always about the next stage. I felt as though they didn’t really understand what I was getting out of it, because they were very obsessed with me becoming the reader
that I had the potential to be. Reaching a certain “reading age,” a phrase that still mystifies me a little bit. Often in bookshops you get parents of children who are six or seven years old, saying, “Oh, my child has a reading age of 14,” or “I read my baby Proust”,
was one I heard once. You should probably be reading your child
something different, but you know,
to each their own. But when I was younger,
I was growing up with a book series that you’ve probably never heard of, that was about a boy wizard
who went to boarding school. And there were very large gaps
between the release of a book, and in that time I would just reread
the current installment of that series over and over and over
and over again, and my parents
would be pulling their hair out, and my teachers would be throwing
other books at me, which I just dismissed immediately. And then I found Youtube, which was at the time a new website, and online video was a very,
very new thing, people had just started to use webcams, they were something completely unexplored. And I would watch it kind of casually,
on the side, and not really connect it with
anything relevant to my life. They were just people on there
making funny skit videos or art students as well, who tended to be
the ones who had the digital cameras, putting together very well produced things I couldn’t even hope to create
in my own way. Now, there was once a video
that was uploaded by someone who’s now become
a friend of mine called “What impact has
Harry Potter had in your life.” I thought, “Oh, this is something I understand!
This is something I know.” And slowly,
through the video response, where other people can upload
a video to Youtube, I started watching all of these videos
of so many people, all age ranges. Most of them where my age group because that was the generation that had really come to read
the books at the same time and had all the other installments
come out at the same time. And this was just before
the final book was released. And I started watching
more and more of them and had to find some way to take part. I had to be part of this conversation. And I came to realize that
that’s what frustrated me the most, the lack of understanding
from people within my world about the enthusiasm
that I felt towards these books. That I wanted to talk about them
in a different way. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to read
anything else in my life ever, I just wanted to be able to talk about
the things I was reading, with other people
who were reading them. And strangely, YouTube became
a real outlet of that for me. And I started making the videos
when my parents were out the house, because I was 15 and thought
that they would completely disapprove of me saying my name online, which back then was
a very big bad thing to do. And I started joining in with
these conversations, and it quickly progressed
to becoming conversations about other books we enjoyed, and other things we enjoyed, and we would have group readings. The Nerdfighter thing
that was mentioned in my introduction isn’t about fighting nerds. It’s about promoting intellectualism, and deeper critical thinking when we kind of approach the world. So, the same way as Freedom Fighter. Nerdfighter, well that’s how
we like to think about it. So, from there it became
a larger supportive community, and I took that with me and tried
to make videos of my own that were educational,
but also just about my life experience. And the same communities
that had responded to me and responded to videos
of their own had said, “I read something,
it made me think something. Here is the manifestation of that.
Here is my response to it.” These were communities that supported me
at other stages of my life. Supported me throughout
the stress of GCSEs, and tearing my hair out in that situation. There’s a lot of tearing my hair out in this,
for some reason. And also, more recently,
when my father passed away, they were incredible,
incredible suppportive people, sharing their own experiences again. But it all rooted in wanting to respond
to literature, in wanting to talk about it in a way that
they didn’t feel was possible at the time when they started. And in feeling like their enthusiasm
hadn’t been shared by the people around them. Online, they found those supportive
communities that allowed for that. And now some of my favourite videos
are rooted in books. One by my friend is all about
how you should insult people using Shakespeare
as a good point of reference. About, you know, thinking a little more complexly
about your insults. And thinking more complexly
in every aspect of your life. We’ve heard so much,
especially over the past few years, about format, with the e-book. Everyone is very obsessed
with how we read the text, but I feel that people are missing out
on how that format can be used to make the book and its reading environments less restrictive. Even when you personally
don’t understand why someone wants to read
the same book over and over and over again, it doesn’t mean
that there can’t be an outlet for that and an outlet that creates more things, that creates creativity, that creates chains
of thought and ideas. It’s come to be the case now
that it seems to be Internet or reading. You either engage or you’re distracted. That seems to be a popular way of thinking about new media and social media, and is often one that is used to put down
younger generations as though we don’t want to be engaged. Now, I have seen that to be
completely false, at least within these massive communities of hundreds of thousands of people who want to talk about books, who want to talk about about the news, who want to talk about popular culture and who want to do so
in a thoughtful and creative way. Who want to respond to things
with illustrations on Microsoft Paint as much as amazing graphics on Photoshop that they later turn into t-shirts, that they later turn into businesses, that they later turn into small empires, and then larger empires. And that just become more responsive
and collaborative and supportive. So, I suppose what I would like you guys
to take away today is that it doesn’t have to be
the Internet or reading, or the Internet doesn’t mean distraction, it can mean creation,
collaboration and responses. Thank you. (Applause)


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