The democracy of convergence

I’m reading Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture (Amazon), a book I think I will use for my Writing in Cyberspace class (soon to be renamed Writing in the Digital Age) in the fall. So a couple of passages briefly on the meaning of convergence here:

convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content. This book is about the work–and play–spectators perform in the new media system. (3)

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. (3)

convergence represents a paradigm shift–a move from medium-specific content that flows across multiple media channels, toward the increased interdependence of communications systems, toward multiple ways of accessing media content and toward ever more complex relations between top-down corporate media and bottom-up participatory culture. (243)

And if I may, one more quote, this one specifically referencing Current TV but I think asking questions that are more generally relevant.

Was Current going to be democratic in its content (focusing on the kinds of information that a democratic society needs to function), its effects (mobilizing young people to participate more fully in the democratic process), its values (fostering rationale discourse and a stronger sense of social contract), or its process (expanding access to the means of media production and distribution)? (241)

So this notion of democratization is on my mind right now as the
students in my summer class (Writing Creative Non-Fiction) are reading
Dan Gilmor’s We the Media (Amazon).
Jenkins comes at this issue from his interest in fan culture, but
regardless of that, it’s clear that emerging media networks have
fostered new relations between the traditional consumers of media both
among themselves and with media corporations and authors, actors,
musicians, and so on. The issues surrounding copyright/IP are also
familiar, though ever-shifting. In short there are interesting tensions
in this marketplace between corporate interests, social good, and
individual and community interests. There are also competing
notions/values about what it means to democratize media. Does it mean
allowing amateurs onto the playing field? Does it mean furthering the
ends of our "democratic nation-state"? In this democratization (to pick
up on some of the language above), who gets to define "the democratic
process"? "rational discourse"? "social contract"? or the "kinds of
information a democratic society needs to function"?

In my view, all of these things come down to the last point about
democratizing the process. Arguably, higher education has long been
engaged in the project of offering (and defining by offering)

information necessary to democracy, of trying to get students to be
"engaged," and of teaching students democratic values. We can see the
kinds of effects these institutional practices have, good and bad.

While Jenkins wants to de-emphasize the technology, and I understand
his reason for doing so, it’s what the technology offers in
democratizing the process that makes the difference here.
That’s the thing that higher ed, for example, has never done well. At
the same time, he makes an important point in stressing the role of
brains and social interactions. To offer one final brief quote here,
"The question is whether the public is ready to push for greater
participation or willing to settle for the same old relations to mass
media" (243).

In short, it’s about individuals and communities making use of these
technologies to expand social discourses and developing a new
democratic discourse as an emergent phenomenon of this expansion. Of
course a lot of people will want to talk about what is good or bad
within this public sphere (if I may dare to use that term loosely
here).  And clearly it will not be ideal.

Clearly we should talk about content, effects, and values as we
consider the role convergence has on our democracy. These are all part
of the conversation about how we use the technology, but in some sense
the fact that we may have the conversation indicates that the processes
of convergence are working.

 

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