DFM3 Orientation Explores the Purpose of Media and Technology

Detroit Future Media launched it’s third round of community media trainings (DFM3), with an orientation for new students on January 15th and 16th. The DFM3 class of 55 Detroiters represent a variety of communities, experiences, neighborhoods and identities throughout the city.

Each student brings essential perspective on the problems we face as a city and possibilities for solutions. For the next 16 weeks, they will build skills and relationships that prepare them to use media and technology for community-transformation.

Since its inception in 2011 the goals of DFM have evolved from cultivating a media-based economy in Detroit, to incubating media-based community organizing through education, entrepreneurship, art and technology production.

Media-based community organizing is a process of speaking and listening as a community in order to investigate the problems that shape our realities, imagine other realities and work together to make them real. When we use media in this way, we build new relationships internally, interpersonally and within our communities. We transform ourselves from consumers of information to producers, from objects within narratives of exploitation and violence to active subjects in the transformation of our world.

At the DFM3 Orientation, Jenny Lee (AMP Co-Director) led a workshop introducing AMP’s approach to media-based organizing. The workshop was called, "City As Ecosystem." Introducing the workshop, Jenny distinguished AMP’s approach to media and technology, and two other prevailing frameworks: closing the digital divide and building digital industries.

Approaches to closing the digital divide too often prioritize access to technology as the primary goal (think One Laptop Per Child) without concern for what people actually do with that technology, how technology itself may need to change in order for "adoption" to be relevant, or the long-term harm that is caused to the planet by the proliferation of digital technology and the resultant e-waste. The idea of building digital industries in post-industrial economies like Detroit’s often prioritize job creation as the primary goal, but this often requires the arrival of new creative class workforces, a trickle-down process of development that, at best, will eventually provide low-wage jobs for existing residents servicing the new class.

In contrast, the purpose of media and technology within Detroit Future Media is to build new relationships that will facilitate community organizing, transform education, and grow the economic self-determination of existing residents.

Through DFM, students gain marketable skills in digital media technologies such as video and audio production, graphic design and web design. They also learn skills in facilitative leadership—how to begin by listening, investigate the roots of problems, and design holistic solutions that synthesize diverse and divergent perspectives.

Through small group conversations and the revolutionary technology of multi-colored post-it notes, Jenny led DFM students in constructing their view of the "City As Ecosystem."

DFM orientation

In this ecosystem there are 5 major components:

  • the economy
  • the education system
  • governance structures
  • communications infrastructure, and
  • "the story that is being told about Detroit."

Within each of these components participants identified "the problems that shape our reality." Pulling one problem from each component of the ecosystem, they created "problem trees" that revealed the interconnectedness of seemingly separate problems, and identified their common roots. These combined created a forest of "problem trees" displayed at the front of the room.

Problem Trees

Some of the branches:

  • eurocentric curriculum
  • manipulative media messages
  • negative narratives that become self-fulfilling prophecies
  • privatization as the only solution to improving city services
  • lack of transparency and accountability in government
  • overpopulated classrooms

And some of the roots:

  • monoculture
  • lack of awareness of history
  • structural inequality/oppression
  • oversimplification of complex problems leading to superficial solutions
  • consumer culture
  • conditioned powerlessness

The next step was to look even deeper than the roots of our problems, to understand the soil beneath. Jenny asked participants to consider:

If the humans that make up our city are the soil of this problem tree forest, and our relationships are the nutrients that feed the ecosystem of our city, then our relationships are currently toxic, laced with distrust, exploitation, arrogance and fear. What new kinds of of relationships would we need to foster a healthy city ecosystem, one that was rooted in justice, creativity and collaboration?

Participants brainstormed qualities of healthy relationships that we need to foster through our work—not only between individuals, but between individuals and our city’s power structures, and within individuals themselves.

Some of the qualities of healthy relationship that students identified:

  • symbiotic
  • inter-generational
  • healing
  • transparent
  • trustworthy
  • participatory
  • patient
  • authentic
  • fearless

Finally, students broke off into their pre-selected focus areas for the 16 weeks of DFM3. The four focus areas are Education, Entrepreneurship, Transformative Art Practices, and Digital Stewards (teaching IT and wireless networking).

Within each group, student discussed what the qualities of healthy relationships would look like manifested in the context of the focus area. For example, what would "relationships of mutual transformation" look like between teachers and students? What would "healing" relationships look like between business owners and customers?

From here, Jenny asked each focus area to create a vision statement and a hashtag for online communications. The vision statement was strictly limited to the length of three tweets. Some of the vision statements that came out of that process were...

"We will build the infrastructure for shared power #digistew #detroitfuture"
"The Internet brings the world together, it should bring the neighborhood together first #digistew #detroitfuture"
"Actualize the world we want to learn in so the universe can glow #edheads #detroitfuture"
"Manifest community healing #edheads #detroitfuture"
"Self transformation catalyzes egalitarian, playful exploration #edheads #detroitfuture"
"We are passion/compassion, authentic, and magnetic and we are #transformD #detroitfuture"
"We foster 'coopertition' - fusing the best aspects of cooperation and competition #futurepreneurs"

DFM vision tweets

The whole of the "City-As-Ecosystem" workshop modelled the media-based organizing process of investigating the roots of problems, seeing the interconnectedness of problems, and synthesizing holistic visions from a multiplicity of perspectives.

In a feedback survey following the orientation, one participant said that the workshop helped them see "how interconnected we are in the city, which gives us the power to create our own culture of consumption and production of goods, ideas and media."

Another said that the main point they took away was that "nourishing our relationships is critical to changing paradigms."

For the next four weeks students will continue exploring theories and practices of media-based community organizing within the four focus areas. Simultaneously, they will be solidifying their visions for a Major Media Project to be completed by the end of the program. Each project will investigate a problem or set of problems, explore holistic solutions and foster transformative relationships in the process.

Students will also take focused four-week media and technology workshops that will give them the technical skills they need to bring their Major Media Project to life. At the mid-project review in late March, students will have the chance to review each other’s progress and to give and receive critical support.

Check back for more updates as DFM3 progresses!

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