Tomorrow I begin teaching my first video production class to a group of about 40 future web and new media designers. I have another 40 to teach on Monday. I’m pretty excited about it. We’re going to have a ton of fun, learning to write, shoot, and edit video and discovering the power of video as a Web medium. 

At the same time, I’m thinking about some serious things too. It occurs to me that this particular group of students, at this particular time, are squarely centered on the sharp, bleeding edge of the Internet. Social media is a burgeoning industry, and every day new and innovative ways to interact online are revealed (Chrome and Ubiquity are two that I’m pretty fired up about right now). Computers are smaller, faster, and more connected than ever before. And that’s only going to continue to grow and evolve at lightning speed.

As information disperses more and more widely, there is a real danger that the line between content and creator will become blurred. This is risky business. It’s so easy now to just mash it up, plop it on YouTube, and walk away. Peer to peer sharing is widespread, without a second thought to the source of the content. In our copy-and-paste world, plagiarism is at epidemic levels in our secondary and post-secondary schools. 

I know that the whole issue of copyright and ownership has been beat to death out here in the Blogosphere. But it is critical that the content creators of tomorrow understand the gravity of the situation. Nearly all of the knowledge in the world is now available at the click of a button; this is a dramatic shift from even 5 years ago. And more content is coming online every day. According to this article, Technorati alone tracks more than 110 million blogs. 

Today’s students are the people who are going to be creating the Web of the future. At some point we must begin to consider the continued integrity of the content on this future Web. I believe that those of us who have been in the Web industry since its inception about 10 or so years ago and in other forms of “traditional” media before that, have a responsibility to these up and coming creatives. We must ensure that they understand how to create good content. But we absolutely must pass on the utter importance of creating content that is real and true and unique, for this is the underlying motivation that will generate that good content. 

It’s up to all of us to maintain the integrity of the Web, by upholding copyright and plagiarism laws and by not tolerating content that is racist, hateful or harmful to others. Now that the Internet, social media and new media are becoming more common on the curricula of our schools, we must instill more than just a knowledge about what is hot and new. We must instill a sense that we are all ultimately responsible for what the Web becomes.