Henry Jenkins is a media scholar who coined the term “convergence culture”. He is the Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts, and Education at the University of Southern California. He arrived at USC in Fall 2009 after spending more than a decade as the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. Jenkins is the author and editor of seventeen books on various aspects of media and popular culture. He has written for Technology Review, Computer Games, Salon, and The Huffington Post. Convergence Culture is a term coined by Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2006).
We all see a movement to a world where every story, every sound, every image, every relationship plays itself out across the maximum number of media channels. Then the information system is converged it is integrated. We carry pieces of media with us all through the system. And that’s being shaped top-down by decisions made in corporate boardrooms and bottom-up by decisions made in teenagers’ bedrooms.
In other words, it is shaped by the integration of the media industries so that the same company may own interest in all media platforms. And it shaped by teenagers wanting the media they want, where they want it, or how they want it. Their willingness to take it places illegally if it’s not available to them legally. And those two pressures are working together to create a much more integrated media sector than we’ve seen before.
We’re in a moment a time where there’s been rapid technological change. And even more rapid social and cultural change. Then my argument is that the social and cultural change generally precedes races ahead of the technological change. That is if you want to figure where technology’s going, see what people are doing now when it’s hard when they’re struggling to achieve it, and then make it easier for them to achieve.
If we could really look at what consumers have been doing with media and understanding how they’re doing it over enormous difficulties, then we can predict much more precisely the technical needs that are going to go on. As the early adopters proceeded, they are the “lead users”, to use Eric von Hippel‘s turms. They’re adapting technology to their own needs. Then as the technology becomes easier to use, it becomes more widespread across the population. So in a sense, culture precedes technology, but technology amplifies the trends of the culture and makes them available to a much larger segment of the population.
Everyone is potentially a producer of media, as well as a consumer of media. A world where sharing with each other what we create is mutually rewarding and has enormous emotional satisfaction. We can go back through the last 200 years of human history and see people have always struggled with the limits of the technology, to figure out a way to share their ideas with each other and to communicate effectively across Geographic distances.
Middle of the 19th-century teenagers were taking toy printing presses where they had to set the type letter by letter and printing out scenes in the amateur press Association, which goes back to the Civil War era. These things were circulating on the national scale in the middle of 19th century.
That’s the same impulse that leads kids today to put content up on their Facebook page. Or to just put something out on YouTube, to make their own song videos. That desire to create and share which you create with others is really really powerful. Right now we’re seeing that notion of participatory culture spill over politically.
I would say the success of the Obama campaign was based on the value of participatory culture. McCain people tried to make Obama look like a mass celebrity. Whereas in fact what we’ve seen, is that people wanted to own Obama. They wanted to do things in the name of Obama. They wanted to connect with each other around and through Obama. That this was about what the people did, that Obama was simply a name attached to the bottom-up energies of participatory culture, as large numbers of young people move for the first time into the political process.
The idea of collective intelligence comes out of the work of Pierre Lévy. What he tells us, is that in a networked society nobody knows everything. Forget the idea of the Renaissance man, it’s impossible to know everything we all know that. We can’t read everything in our inbox. That everybody knows something if there’s an enormous array of different kinds of expertise and knowledge out there that we rely on to make sense of the world around us. The more we broaden our access to those other kinds of expertise the stronger position we’re in ourselves.