Saturday, March 8, 2008

Opening Remarks with Henry Jenkins and Stephen Johnson

There was so much of interest to me in the opening remarks with Henry Jenkins and Stephen Johnson that I couldn't possibly speak to it all. It was both validation of things I'd pondered, back in the 1990's and new questions and issues to think about. I'm looking forward to when this one is available as a podcast so I can go back and listen again.

I ended up in one of the overflow rooms during the discussion, but that didn't stop me from approaching Dr. Jenkins afterwards and asking him a bit about the Comparative Media Studies program he co-chairs at MIT.

Some random bits from the discussion:

Testing for collaborative skills
Jenkins pointed out that we tend to teach and test in school for individual expertise on all information, rather than the ability to know only some information on a subject and contribute to and collaborate with others in order to build a complete whole.

Jenkins has written about fans and fandom before. I loved his comments on fans, and how quick we are to pathologize the effort put into fandom by fans. Jenkins would rather ask why it is that this is the only creative outlet for these people, who tend to be extremely intelligent. He's observed that often these folks tend to be working in the pink collar workplace - industries that require a great deal of ecucation, but tend to use only a small subset of what these folks are capable of intellectually. In other words, why is the workplace not better engaging these folks fully and using this creative and intellectual energy. Follow up question: What would we be able to do if our bosses assumed we were smart, creative, capable and empowered us to create etc.

We versus I messages in politics
Here Obama was used as an example. Obama has tapped into the "we" idea with his message, the "yes we can" slogan and the way he positions himself, talkign about "what we can do" rather than "what I can do" if elected. This reflects his previous background as a social organizer in Chicago and speaks to this convergence culture and youth. Jenkins points out that Obama is building a movement versus conducting a campaign. Win or lose, he's has brought together something lasting - voters connected to each other, rather than just connected to the campaign and the candidate. Jenkins noted that some of this began with Howard Dean and his ability to embrace the Internet in his 2004 campaign.

Social connections
Jenkins is emphatic that we are not investing less in social connections because of the time we spend online and with our technologies. Instead, he suggests we are simply carrying them with us. (Like a tortoise carries his home with him wherever he goes?) The implications are really for our local communities.

This led to some discussion of a geolocation/geographic web. I have to admit that, as a woman and an ethnic minority, the sort of stuff that "On My Radar" does, tying Facebook status to geographical locations scares the hell out of me. I so do not want some of the guys I end up having to engage with (whether I like it or not) online to know anything about my physical location. Period. In fact, every one of my close female friends online - who were on the bleeding edge of the Internet in the 1990s - went out and got mailboxes at post offices or Mailboxes Etc. in order to obfuscate their physical location. Because of what they spoke about so freely online, what they so freely created online and the freedom with with you can engage frequently made them targets for verbal harassment and scary threats. (All of us have recieved serious threats online.) In my opinion, the Kathy Sierra situation shows that this kind of innovation is still not thought about deeply enough or, perhaps, shows the consequences of the lack of female and minority input into new media innovation. I fear that we'll need a high profile tradegdy for us to consider this well enough. I hope I'm wrong.

By-the-way, as a society, we do tend to talk about this sort of thing with regards to children. Cyberbullying, predators online, etc. are a part of our ongoing discussions and something we think about seriously when developing new technologies. But we don't tend to extrapolate this to adult women's experience and the violence that can ensue.

I've read this before, but I'm glad that Jenkins pointed it out - cyberaddiction as a problem is really just an expression or symptom of another problem - depression. We should also be wary of citing China when it comes to cases of cyberaddiction, since some of this is indicative of the government's efforts towards controlling Internet use and behavior on the Internet for political reasons.

One last thing: while the conversation was going on between Jenkins and Johnson, artist Sunni Brown was creating a visual representation of the discussion:

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