Henry Jenkins, PhD, Communications Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts, a joint professorship at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Before this position, he was the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities and Co-Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program. He sees four forms of participatory culture: affiliations, expressions, collaborative problem-solving, and circulations.
This book is about three concepts and their interrelations: media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence. Jenkins’ goal: to share with the public convergence’s impact on the media and to show policymakers and industry executives consumer viewpoints. Jenkins does not “put forward popular culture or fan communities as a panacea for what ails American democracy” (250), but he does argue that convergence bespeaks a cultural shift as now consumers seek out what they want, making discrete connections among the scattered media. The implications aren’t just technological — interpersonal, social relationships change, as do the processes by which media are produced and consumed. Convergence is a process of change.
The HOPEFUL: Convergence is top-down and bottom-up. People are no longer passive media spectators but participate at three levels: production, selection, and distribution. Their participatory culture is a wholly new communication framework that harnesses collective intelligence (Lévy, 1997) and underscores their roles as empowered consumers. The Internet’s cultural economy provides a meeting ground for a diverse set of grassroots communities and a media archive for “amateur creators” (275). They have agency:
“Extension, synergy, and franchising are pushing media industries to embrace convergence” (19).
The PROBLEMATIC: For one, the digital divide is real. Jenkins admits that not everyone has access to the digital technologies (or the related skills) he’s describing, and recognizes the early adopters weren’t marginalized, but “disproportionately white, male, middle class, and college educated” (23). His concern with the digital divide is less about access and more about the “participation gap” (23), and “as soon as we being to talk about participation, the emphasis shifts [from technologies] to cultural protocols and practices” (ibid). For another, not all content is socially progressive. Jenkins notes that many political parodies on YouTube uphold traditional gender, race, and class hierarchies, and assume late capitalism-backed American hegemony is the only and best possible world order. “For better and for worse, this is what digital democracy looks like in the era of convergence culture” (293).
The NECESSARY: Media literacy programs are essential.
“We need to rethinking the goals of media education so that young people can come to think of themselves as cultural producers and to achieve this goal, we also need media education for adults” (270).