A call for more “YouthLED” sessions at MozFest

“I know more than most adults about tech — why am I not valued for what’s in my head and trusted that I know my own mind?”

“Why does society pigeonhole me and holds me back just because of my age?”

“Why do I have to wait until I am 18 to be a citizen?”

“We are always told the adults know better. It’s a lie — they don’t!”

These are the kind of thoughts I regularly get from young people. They don’t use words like “Citizens”, “Valued”, “Society” and “Pigeonhole” that’s a language we use and while they express their frustrations differently it amounts to the same, within each of them lies a need to be trusted as one of us; to be defined by what they can do, and what they know, instead of being held back because of age. They know when they are being fobbed off and given platitudes, but they also let you know when you get it right. “Thank you for not just treating me like a 13 year old and nothing more.” this from a young man and his friends who were invited to come be part of the first MozFest retreat last year in Scotland to help us design MozFest with you the audience our peers in mind.

We watch a lot of YouTube in our household. As reality TV goes you cannot get any better — YouTube at its best is honest content, in-the-moment and informative. On YouTube, what you have to say, and how you share your story is a lot more important than who you are. And that is a view we share at MozFest. One of the most popular YouTube channels in my house is that of New York based filmmaker Casey Neistat. Casey’s recent videos discussing the state of Snapchat and Instagram prompted me to reflect on youth culture. Because, in the way that YouTube content so often does, Casey’s contemplations summed up contemporary youth culture in a nutshell. Let me explain.

When young people have Snapchat conversations, the messages are here today, gone 24 hours later, and this is why they like Snapchat, it’s not permanent. Young people are not yet in that “Permanence” head space of leaving a permanent mark, but technology most certainly is. And inch by inch it is crowbarring them into the adult world where permanence matters — often much more than it should.

Wanting to be a part of a bigger whole, i.e that Citizen is not just about the desire to share domain knowledge, or even the motivation to actually do something about it (which can mean instantaneous implementation, thanks to apps like Snapchat). It also requires the ability to successfully function and navigate within not just your own peer group, but society at large. And this is the real challenge — not just for youths, but for many adults too. The model perpetuates itself with the same questions being asked, born from the frustrations of each new generation; a slow isolating rite of passage, as these experiences accumulate to form the identity of the young as ‘outsiders’.

I do not want my daughter to identify herself as ‘an outsider’, nor through social norms get pigeonholed to fast because she fails to conform to those norms. This in part was what prompted me to start the Youth Zone at MozFest in 2014. I was confident that if I could use open source methods to give one child a voice and a chance to grow and speak her mind, here at MozFest there was a good chance that I could do the same for other young people who might be persuaded to come join the festival. The result would be a new benchmark for young and old(er) enthusiasts collaborating together as a network of peers.

One of the many reasons MozFest is so awesome is that it is a ‘moment in time’ deal. Of course months and years of hard work goes into planning it, but the result is a Snapchat-esque ‘day-in-the-life’ story — here today, gone tomorrow. A place where what matters is what is in your head, and where your peers could as easily be a child, a teen or a professor, teacher, librarian, engineer, or artist. A place where you might even discover that your parents are not just parents, but your peers too.

The MozFest Youth Zone is built around the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, not just the 4 walls in which they live. For a child to flourish they require a wide variety of input — not just from a home group or school circles or a club, these as silo’d exemplars we get to experience by default; the world is so much bigger than that. Our kids will not stay at home forever. Let’s facilitate their exploration while they are still with us, while there is still an opportunity to guide them in finding a solution of their own making.

So let me ask you — do you know a young person who is an expert in making stuff or passionate about a topic like we see on change.org? Whether they are happiest in the art room, designing models in a technology class, building castles online or advocating for a social change — we would love to have them join us at MozFest. We want you to help them share their passion with us!

This year we have accepted 28 youth sessions, help us reach our target of making MozFest 2017, 10% “Youth led”

Next steps? Let’s talk! Email me at dorine.flies@mozilla.org.uk