1.3 Henry Jenkins: convergence culture, participatory culture, and collective Intelligence

Convergence Culture

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In 2006, the same year that Wealth of Networks was published, media scholar Henry Jenkins published two texts theorizing the cultural and social effects of emerging networked technologies that are very much in line with Benkler’s thought. The first, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, explores the potential of an emerging cultural form that has been nourished by the increased availability of networked digital technologies. Borrowing language used at a media industry conference, Jenkins calls this new cultural form “convergence culture,” and describes it as “where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways” (2). In addition to the merge between older corporate models of media production and its more recent, grassroots analogues, convergence also refers to the myriad of ways content, users, communication, and collaboration flow across media platforms, industries, and devices (2-3). Much like Benkler’s networked information economy, convergence culture is an emerging paradigm that enables every individual with internet access to collaborate and take a more active role in producing the culture they consume. Importantly, Benkler asserts that convergence culture is just as much as cultural shift as a technological one. He argues:

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Convergence does not occur through media appliances, however sophisticated they may become. Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers and through their social interactions with others. Each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow and transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives. Because there is more information on any given topic than anyone can store in their head, there is an added incentive for us to talk among ourselves about the media we consume. (3-4)

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Jenkins calls the late MIT political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool as the “prophet of media convergence,” citing his 1983 Technologies of Freedom as the “first book to lay out the concept of convergence as a force of change within the media industries”:

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 A process called the “convergence of modes” is blurring the lines between media, even between point-to-point communications, such as the post, telephone and telegraph, and mass communications, such as the press, radio, and television. A single physical means—be it wires, cables or airwaves—may carry services that in the past were provided in separate ways. Conversely, a service that was provided in the past by any one medium—be it broadcasting, the press, or telephony—can now be provided in several different physical ways. So the one-to-one relationship that used to exist between a medium and its use is eroding. (10)

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 While Pool believed that social effects of technologies were driven primarily by political choices and habits, he did assert that some communication systems were more supportive of democratic interaction than others. “Freedom is fostered when the means of communication are dispersed, decentralized, and easily available, as are printing presses or microcomputers. Central control is more likely when the means of communication are concentrated, monopolized, and scarce, as are great networks” (11).

Collective Intelligence and Participatory Culture

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Jenkins argues that convergence encourages “collective intelligence,” an “alternative source of media power” that we are still learning to use:

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Consumption has become a collective process—and that’s what this book means by collective intelligence, a term coined by French cybertheorist Pierre Lévy. None of us can know everything; each of us knows something; and we can put the pieces together if we pool our resources and combine our skills. (11)

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Convergence culture also encourages the emergence of participatory culture, which he contrasts with “older notions of passive media spectatorship” (4) In participatory culture, the roles of media producers and consumers is no longer so clear cut, as both are entailed in the production of media products.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Jenkins’ interests in these topics comes from two decades of studying the way convergence culture changed fandom, or the way in which everyday fans consume and participate in media culture. Thus, his text is significantly focused on the effects of networked technology on entertainment culture. However, like Benkler, he believes that these changes ultimately have strong political implications and possibilities.  “Right now,” he writes, “we are mostly using this collective power through our recreational life, but soon we will be deploying those skills for more “serious” purposes” (11). He points to what he sees as the “democratic potential” of these contemporary cultural trends and the barriers standing in the way of their development as a means for working towards a “better, more just society” (247). However, “there is nothing inevitable about the outcome” of these technologies (247) and so it is important to take advantage of this window of opportunity and fight to sustain and further develop these modes of participation. He describes this approach as “critical utopianism” and distinguished it from “critical pessimism,” which emphasizes a self defeating “politics of victimization” in the face of big media:

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Critical pessimists, such as media critics Mark Crispin Miller, Noam Chomsky, and Robert McChesney, focus primarily on the obstacles to achieving a more democratic society. In the process, they often exaggerate the power of big media in order to frighten readers into taking action. I don’t disagree with their concern about media concentration, but the ways they frame the debate is self-defeating insofar as it disempowers consumers even as it seeks to mobilize them. Far too much media reform rhetoric rests on melodramatic discourse about victimization and vulnerability, seduction and manipulation, “propaganda machines” and “weapons of mass deception. (247)

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Critical pessimists are primarily concerned with media concentration, which, in the convergence of both new and old forms of media production, continues to persist in convergence culture. Jenkins acknowledges that concentration can be bad in that it “stifles competition and places media industries above the demands of their consumers,” “lowers diversity” of content,”lowers incentives for companies to negotiate with their consumers,” and “raises the barriers to (consumer) participation” (248). However, he still views commercial, “top-down,” media as playing an important role in convergence culture:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Convergence culture is highly generative: some ideas spread top down, starting with commercial media and being adopted and appropriated by a range of different publics as they spread outward across the culture. Others emerge bottom up from various sites of participatory culture and getting pulled into the mainstream if the media industries see some way of profiting from it. The power of the grassroots media is that it diversifies; the power of broadcast media is that it amplifies. That’s why we should be concerned with the flow between the two: expanding the potentials for participation represents the greatest opportunity for cultural diversity. Throw away the powers of broadcasting and one has only cultural fragmentation. The power of participation comes not from destroying commercial culture but from writing over it, modding it, amending it, expanding it, adding greater diversity of perspective, and then recirculating it, feeding it back into the mainstream media. (257)

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Thus, instead of expending all efforts on media concentration, Jenkins argues that we need to focus on other issues that might help nourish the positive aspects of convergence culture:

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Put all of our efforts into battling the conglomerates and this window of opportunity will have passed. That is why it is so important to fight against the corporate copyright regime, to argue against censorship and moral panic that would pathologize these emerging forms of participation, to publicize the best practices of these online communities, to expand access and participation to groups that are otherwise being left behind, and to promote forms of media literacy education that help all children to develop the skills needed to become full participants in their culture. (248)

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Benkler argues that these efforts are critical for supporting forms of collective intelligence and participation that are ultimately necessary for sustaining and further cultivating democracy in a world in which there is simply too much information for any single individual to master on their own. He describes the new kind of democratic participant as a “monitorial citizen” whose abilities include:

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Not simply being able to read and write, but being able to participate in the deliberations over what issues matter, what knowledge counts, and what ways of knowing command authority and respect. The ideal of the informed citizen is breaking down because there is simply too much for any individual to know. The ideal of monitorial citizenship depends on developing new skills in collaboration and a new ethic of knowledge sharing that will allow us to deliberate together. (258)

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Benkler expands upon these ideas in a white paper he published the same year, “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” The document further develops the argument that new practices of networked collaboration and and participation are essential for contemporary life. Shifting his focus slightly from Convergence Culture, Jenkins describes these practices as part of “participatory culture.”

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created). (3)

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Concretely, participatory practices involves the use of “new media technologies (to) archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways” (8). Written for educators and policymakers, the white paper makes a case as to why education should pay more attention to popular forms of networked participatory engagement and incorporate some of these practices into its curriculum.  Given that youth are already engaging in these practices, schools have the responsibility to help students develop more critical, ethical, and effective forms of engagement. “Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape.” This new media literacy will be vital as a means of training students to deal with the lack of transparency and conflicting interests at play in our media environment:

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 We do not know how much these commercial interests influence what we see and what we don’t see. Commercial interests even shape the order of listings on search engines in ways that are often invisible to those who use them. Increasingly, opportunities to participate online are branded such that even when young people produce and share their own media, they do so under terms set by commercial interests. (16)

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Thus:

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Students also must acquire a basic understanding of the ways media representations structure our perceptions of the world; the economic and cultural contexts within which mass media is produced and circulated; the motives and goals that shape the media they consume; and alternative practices that operate outside the commercial mainstream. (20)

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0  

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Education should also incorporate participatory practices as they contain “opportunities for learning, creative expression, civic engagement, political empowerment, and economic advancement” (8). For example, participatory culture can provide informal learning environments that the sociolinguist James Paul Gee calls “affinity spaces”:

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Gee (2004) calls such informal learning cultures “affinity spaces,” asking why people learn more, participate more actively, engage more deeply with popular culture than they do with the contents of their textbooks. Affinity spaces offer powerful opportunities for learning, Gee argues, because they are sustained by common endeavors that bridge differences in age, class, race, gender, and educational level, and because people can participate in various ways according to their skills and interests, because they depend on peer-to-peer teaching with each participant constantly motivated to acquire new knowledge or refine their existing skills, and because they allow each participant to feel like an expert while tapping the expertise of others. (9)

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Participatory culture can also help stimulate political interest and activity in youth. “The new participatory culture offers many opportunities for youth to engage in civic debates, to participate in community life, to become political leaders, even if sometimes only through the “second lives” offered by massively multiplayer games or online fan communities” (10). It also has economic value, as it trains participants in adopting new important modes of communication and collaboration:

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 We suspect that young people who spend more time playing within these new media environments will feel greater comfort interacting with one another via electronic channels, will have greater fluidity in navigating information landscapes, will be better able to multitask and make rapid decisions about the quality of information they are receiving, and will be able to collaborate better with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. (10)

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