SxSW: A Conversation with Henry Jenkins

by Luke Wroblewski March 12, 2007

Danah Boyd interviewed Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture, at South by Southwest 2007. Henry has been studying social mediums for years and discussed his insights in that area.

  • To understand the history of peer production, we can look at fan fiction, remix culture, and new forms of media production
  • Fans not held in high esteem by academics. Thought to be overly influenced by mainstream media. Fans were hidden from view of popular culture: rouge readers
  • Internet allowed more people to find their way into fandom and sped up participation: can now get discussions going right after a TV show.
  • Web 2.0 is fan culture without the stigma. Social communities share knowledge, pool resources, re-appropriate & remix content
  • Participatory culture is now widespread. Fan culture is in a moment where it is central to politics, economic, religion
  • Fan culture leads to world of collective intelligence. Twin Peaks developed fandom (one of first TV shows to do so). People watching together as a group demanded more complexity.
  • Schools are dumbing down while media is getting more complex.
  • Community activities are now visible. So the audience can become a central part of how media operates.
  • Media producers have already lost control. Fans can do what they want. Big companies cannot stop that. They need to recognize control is lost and look for opportunities: situations where fans increase economic value of content.
  • Move from prohibition to enfranchisement. Use the audience as a vanguard of marketing support. Allow them to enrich properties in unique ways.
  • Control over intellectual property will determine whether or not we build a participatory culture. Fan culture is caught in between the vices of Hollywood & government copyright.
  • Compare the amount of money spent protecting Bit Torrent & Napster. Instead of fighting for technology platforms that enable people to steal, defend people that enhance culture: fan fiction. We should be finding ways to protect people who enrich content and move properties forward.
  • 57% of teenagers online are media producers (PEW). Shift from culture of consumers to producers.
  • DOPA (a proposed government bill): would strip schools from providing access to blogs & social networks. Fought for years to get kids access to the Web. Now we are taking it away.
  • This creates a Participation Gap: inability for some to upload content or create media.
  • Even if we believe that MySpace is bad, this legislation tells kids to deal with it outside of school instead of getting help understanding it from teachers and schools
  • Participatory culture is threatened by Hollywood & their enemies (government access control, cease and desist orders).
  • We are building wealth in Web 2.0 economics but at the same time our right to participate is under siege.
  • Bill coming down that social sites need age verification systems & parental permission if under 18.
  • Fear sells. Democrats & Republican agree that kids should be muzzled. Afraid of our sons and fear for our daughters.
  • Until we as a society, should be tired of being lead by fear and chose to be lead by knowledge.
  • Participatory culture & participatory democracy is blending. The language of politics is changing.
  • We need democracy to be lifestyle. Something we live with day in and day out.
  • Photoshop for democracy: using media creation tools to respond to headlines. These are the people’s editorial cartoons. Crystallizes debates of the time. Creates powerful images. The downside is we see vicious use of images.
  • Democracy does not necessarily look pretty because it is participatory.
  • The more power flows to us, the more responsibility we have. Participation is powerful but we need to figure out our ethics and morals.
  • Are we looking at knowledge as process or as product? Wikipedia is knowledge as a process. Look at struggles and debates in the system: what is disputed & what is not. Collective intelligence lets people provide information but we need way of working through disagreements.
  • History differs globally. National differences exist in history books. The English version of Wikipedia forced all these debates to coexist. Despite some facts being wrong, there is a lot right (debate).
  • In the 19th century, “humbug” presented to the public with uncertainty built in. PT Barnum displayed things and asked people to debate whether it was real or not.
  • YouTube is a mixed media environment: trying to sort through the status of objects as people sort through what is real or fake. Grass roots literacy is needed to sort things out.
  • Media literacy: what are skills we need to teach young people to discern and understand media.
  • Second Life is a new center of participatory culture. What kinds of political & cultural transformation can take place in a separate world? It could be a place for social experimentation to reflect/make change in the real world.
  • Have an environment to experiment, learn things, and bring them back to the real world.
  • Who is hurt by politics of fear? Hollywood & New Media – but they are still making money.
  • YouTube teaches us that some media is sharable. Political media needs to be something we can send along to average people.
  • The scale and degree of openness of participatory is unique but it has a history. LOL was used by teens in 1850 in printing presses.
  • Personalized media is not what a networked culture is about. It is about connections to each other.
  • Participatory culture got overridden by mass media but it is now remerging. Deeply shaped by mass media but we are at a point of transition. For the foreseeable future, the currency of the Web will be mass media content.