Publicly Sited

Media, Technology and Culture 08 (2nd Edition): Participatory Technologies

November 23, 2021

One of the more celebrated aspects of contemporary media is that it seems so much more participatory. In principle, at least, anyone can for example establish a Twitter or a YouTube account, and share their experiences or views with minimal censorious intervention. Some have explained this apparently more participatory media culture with reference to the capacities of technologies. After all, people can participate more easily when so many media functions are collapsed into an internet-enabled device like a smartphone. And yet, for others, this technological explanation is flawed, underplaying longer-term cultural shifts, which these new technologies might more properly be seen as crystallizing.  In this episode, we begin with work by thinkers such as Henry Jenkins, who have notably opposed technological explanations for a participatory media culture. For Jenkins, ordinary people’s participation in media creation is about more than gadgets, devices or platforms. Rather, it is a momentous cultural shift, towards new and potentially democratising forms of 'collective intelligence' that blur the old distinction between media ‘producers’ and ‘audiences’. Jenkins’ work has been widely discussed. For some, his model of ‘a convergence culture’ overemphasises the individual agency of media participants. Sure, they may be technically freer and more enabled than in the past, but when someone creates or shares a meme, for example, they also partially reproduce or conform to cultural norms. We might also ask: does insisting on ‘culture’ bring us back to the same unsustainable technology/culture dichotomy we have challenged in earlier episodes?  It is probably difficult to conceive, for example, of the cultural conditions for a so-called post-truth politics without some account of the technical affordances of social media platforms.

Thinkers Discussed: Tim Dwyer (Media Convergence); Lev Manovich (Software Takes Command); Ithiel de Sola Pool (Technologies of Freedom: On Free Speech in an Electronic Age); Thomas Friedman (Thank you for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations); Henry Jenkins (Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide); Axel Bruns (Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage); Pierre Lévy (Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace); Bernard Stiegler (The Economy of Contribution); Jose Van Dijck (Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content); Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene); Limor Shifman (Memes in Digital Culture); Noam Gal, Limor Shifman and Zohar Kamph (‘It Gets Better’: Internet Memes and the Construction of Collective Identity); danah boyd (Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications); Jason Hannan (Trolling Ourselves to Death? Social Media and Post-Truth Politics); Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business).

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