Via Lost at E Minor
The future’s here and all that kinda stuff.
This week’s Comté-themed decorative window, brought to you by Lauren Nuttall. Lovely, even if it doesn’t have any arms.
On Tuesday evening a selection of MBA’s finest (I’m not biased, just accurate) attended a talk by James Devon’s hero, Henry Jenkins. The USC professor was in town to discuss his upcoming book If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead and to talk more generally about the changing media landscape and communication in the digital age.
The evening was jam-packed with information, advice and interesting examples, but we’ve collaboratively collected our thoughts into some key points which stuck out most.
1. Spreading > Viral
The crux of Jenkins’ talk was the importance and practise of things travelling across the internet, allowing content to circulate quicker and further than ever before. However, rather than relying on the overused buzzword “viral” to describe those pieces of content that boom in popularity, he prefers the word ’spreading’. And that’s because spreading is about active participation rather than audiences simply being infected by content. After all, the most important part of this new ability to share is that people are able to put their own personal viewpoint on the content. Furthermore, spreading can be a crucial stepping stone to societal changes, sparking politically-charged commitments such as the incredible success of Invisible Children’s KONY 2012.
2. Think like a dandelion
Yes, you heard right. Citing the influential Cory Doctorow’s theory that, much like a dandelion, we should be exploiting every single opportunity for reproduction when trying to spread content, Jenkins pressed the importance of actively trying to spread our content to as many places and people as possible. After all, you’re much more likely to risk obscurity than piracy.
3. Content changes depending on its context
And it’s incredibly important that we understand how societal structures change the way that people deconstruct content. Through the act of circulation, people will find different meaning – and the most “spreadable” content is that which can transcend the context, and which lets communities apply their own meaning.
4. Social networks aren’t new
Quite the opposite, in fact. If you think about it, social networks significantly pre-date digital (communities have been forming around media for a long time – amateur radio and underground papers, as obvious examples). The online world changes the nature of these networks somewhat but, at the core, the behaviour within them remains fundamentally rooted in human nature.
5. The Participation Gap
There’s a preconception that the new media revolution will create a democracy that we have all been striving for. Instead, as referenced by the ideas of John Fiske, this new freedom is creating new struggles as we try to negotiate and understand this new media landscape. While there are 10 million active Twitter users in the UK (more than are buying newspapers, in fact) there is still a participation gap; some people don’t have access to it, and some are still not using it meaningfully. It’s about making things more participatory, not just participatory per se, and also about distinguishing between people who don’t because they can’t and those who have something to say, but simply haven’t yet.
6. Everyone knows when the grass is fake
That’s right. If you try to falsely create bottom-up, grassroots power, people will know. Jenkins’ dinkily deemed it Astroturf media: social faked for financial gain. He also posed an important question about the role of our relationship with it, suggesting that perhaps we should we be thinking about developing ways to call out this fake media.
7. Open up the online space
Jenkins closed on a thought about education and how this “spreadable” content should be able to be accessed – especially within the education system. He expressed concerns that schools (particularly citing the US) are wiring themselves up for the digital age, but then blocking access to content. He suggested that, rather than shielding children from the dangerous world that the internet can be, schools should open it up and help guide them through it.
Jenkins’ talk covered a whole plethora of subjects that this summary has missed out, but luckily for you he’s an active blogger and – though you’ll have to wait until January to read about all of the interesting content here in depth – he’s published a number of thought-provoking books already.