Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where old and new Media Collide, 2006, New York University Press
Welcome to convergence culture, 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. (p2)
Convergence Culture explores the relationship between media convergence, participatory culture and collective intelligence. Much like Baym, Jenkins argues that convergence is not caused solely by technological innovation and should not be understood as such. Rather it is the product of a cultural shift that encourages technology users to seek information and resources among multiple platforms and dispersed content. Jenkins says, “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.” This harks back to Jones’ writings on cyberpunk culture, and the individual construction of meaning from ‘hypertext’ or information abstracted from context.
Jenkins also notes that paradigm shifts within the media industry is nothing new, and that during 1990s the prediction of a digital revolution was met with the assumption that old media would be pushed aside and the Internet would replace traditional broadcasting. He quotes George Gilder as saying “The computer industry is converging with the television industry in the same sense that the automobile converged with the horse, the TV converged with the nickelodeon, the word-processing program converged with the typewriter, the CAD program converged with the drafting board, and digital desktop publishing converged with the linotype machine and the letterpress.” (George Gilder, Of Life after Television: The coming transformation of Media and American Life, 1994 ed. New York: W.W. Norton p189. ) The dot com bust however, made it evident that this was not (at least immediately) going to be the case, and for many years the Internet, Television, and other media have co-existed and served as ancillary platforms for each other. This idea of convergence that Jenkins details as existing in the 1990s seems to be getting a renewal of late with multifunctional devices selling well at the moment, although it remain to be seen whether they will truly displace any other broadcast systems. However this merging of technologies may be more reflective of the type of content convergence that Jenkins quotes the Cheskin Report 2002 on. This is reflected most easily in the rise in popularity of cloud computing in recent year.
The old idea of convergence was that all devices would converge into one central device that did everything for you (a la the universal remote). What we are now seeing is the hardware diverging while the content converges. (Cheskin Research, Designing Digital Experiences for Youth, Market Insights Series, Fall 2002, pp8-9)
Jenkins talks about how history tells us that old media never truly dies as it is always evolving, rather it is the delivery technologies that become obsolete and get replaced. A shift in the content, audience or social status of a medium may well occur but any medium which has been long established is unlikely to simply die out. He says: “When people take media into their own hands, the results can be wonderfully creative; they can also be bad news for all involved.”(p17)
In chapter 6 Jenkins deals with the 2004 Howard Dean Election Campaign (the same one that Jones’ Political Activism in the Digital Age deals with). He quotes Garret LoPorto, a senior creative consultant for True Majority (a website with the aim to increase to increase voter participation and rally support behind a progressive agenda) which aims to make politics more playful, developing games and video to engage people politically in what they term ‘serious fun’. “Locating people who share your beliefs is easy, LoPorto says, because we tend to seek out like-minded communities on the Web.” (p218)
Jenkins says that it was in these elections that we began to see people applying the convergence skills they had learned as consumers to political activism. He notes the difference between the Internet as a ‘pull’ medium and television as a ‘push’ medium. This is important to election campaigns because, while the Internet is the ideal medium for hard core followers, or those with an active interest who seek out information but is unlikely to engage those without any prior interest. Television has more opportunity to reach and engage with the undecided and uninterested.
When John Kerry announced running mate Jon Edwards, the Republican Party immediately responded by releasing a series of criticisms of Edwards to serve as talking points to their supporters. Jenkins says, “In publishing their talking points about Edwards on the Web, the [Republican Party) was not so much trying to spin the story as to give the public a toolkit that they could use to spin it themselves in their conversations with friends and neighbours.” In a way, this provides the supporters with a false sense of receiving the ‘hypertext’ (spin or context-free information) of the cyberpunk ethos discussed in Steve Jones’ Hyperpunk. This is reminecent of on of the main plot points of the film Inception (2011), which is that a person will only believe that something is their own idea if they can trace the genesis of the thought. What Schudson calls the ‘Monitorial Citizen’ also contributes to this, as he believes that many citizens are vigilant, rather than proactive, but that when an issue is raised to them they will often make an effort to learn more about it. It may be worth exploring whether this is a potential entry point to becoming politically, socially or ideologically active.
Monitorial citizens tend to be defensive rather than proactive…. The monitorial citizen engages in environmental surveillance more than information gathering. Picture parents watching small children at the community pool. They are not gathering information; they are keeping an eye on the scene. They look inactive but they are poised for action if action is required. The monitorial citizen is not an absentee citizen but watchful, even while he or she is doing something else. (Michael Schudson, Click Here for Democracy: A History and Critique of an Information-based Model of Citizenship, MIT Communication Forum)
This book is strongly influenced by the work of Pierre Levy. Jenkins embraces Levy’s idea that participation gives the everyday users, audience and citizens power.
For Levy, at his most utopian, this emerging power to participate serves as a strong corrective to those traditional sources of power, though they will also seek means to turn it to their own ends. We are just learning how to exercise that power – individually and collectively – and we are still fighting to determine the terms under which we will be allowed to participate. Many fear this power; others embrace it. There are no guarantees that we will use our new power any more responsibly than nation-states or corporations have exercised theirs. We are trying to hammer out the ethical codes and social contracts that will determine how we will relate to one another just as we are trying to determine how this power will insert itself into the entertainment system or into the political process. (p256)
Jenkin’s deals briefly with the concept of ‘smart mobs’ but it may be worthwhile looking further into smart mobs, as many of the groups that I will be looking at may be the natural descendants of the smart mobs, or even fall into this category themselves.
Smart mobs consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don’t know each other. The people who make up smart mobs cooperate in ways never before possible because they carry devices that possess both communication and computing capabilities . … Groups of people using these tools will gain new forms of social power. (Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs: The net Social Revolution, 2003. New York: Basic Books pxii)