Participatory Culture

Without my iPhone I feel bare and socially vulnerable. I know it sounds dramatic, but I would rather forget my wallet at home than forget my iPhone. If I forget my wallet at home I could use my iPhone to find the nearest branch of my bank on Google Maps, get walking/subway/car directions to the branch, and withdraw money. I could text message my next appointment that I’m running late, or even skype with the meeting participants from the bank’s lobby. With the iPhone I’m an active participant of communities and social networks, where I could creatively handle many situations, consume and produce information in various media formats.  My name is Pazit Levitan and I’m a participatory culture junkie – I have become depended on Web 2.0 in living my everyday life.

In his interesting video lecture (Jenkins, 2007), and Technology Today column, “Convergence? I diverge” (2001), Henry Jenkins refers to convergence and relates it to participatory culture – people conversing, blogging, creating communities, participating and producing the media, as opposed to merely consuming media.

Not only does personal communication change as a result of the new storytelling format, but the business landscape at large adapts to participatory culture.  In the video presentation Jenkins refers to Yochai Benkler’s book “The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom” (2006), where Benkler refers to the mix of amateur culture, commercial culture, government culture and the non-profit culture interplay, and how it all comes together as today’s grassroots media production (i.e. facebook media production and celeb<ration> of the self), mixed in with corporate agenda (i.e. facebook customized advertising – see inserted image).  This creates a new type of ever-complex ecology of the media, afforded by the web-based social networks and their dynamics.  We are participants in such dynamics – as producers of the media we shape and ask for particular forms and content (according to Johnson – our brain reacts more to form than content).  Nevertheless, are we fully-sighted?

I agree that today’s convergence culture is different than communications culture of previous generations (i.e. teenagers have the TV on mute, while listening to their iPod and texting).  On the other hand, Steven Johnson’s assertion that today’s media makes you smarter (“Everything Bad is Good for You”, 2007) has not been proven true.  People get more acquainted and trained to ‘better fit’ the Web 2.0 generation.  Does that mean that they (we) become smarter?

As a mother for two young boys (6 and 4 years of age) I observe my kids play video games (on my iPhone!), master participatory culture and even introduce me to new types of intuitive participation with media (i.e. playing a “Labyrinth” game by raising the phone up and down quickly for another type of movement that I didn’t know existed as game controls, having been raised with linear media…).  Despite my academic and professional training my kids seem to be born as organic citizens of today’s media culture.  However, does it really make them smarter?

My view is that being media savvy in today’s participatory culture is more for social, economical and political survival, and less for the ‘the smarts’ (well, we already know that IQ does not necessarily relate to a high social, economical or political power).  Without my iPhone I would have not been ‘less smart’; In fact, I might have improved some of my problem-solving skills in a non-technological, ‘smart’ learning manner, a skill that would probably have been more useful in the jungle than in New York City.  Having said that, I would have probably been less socially, economically and politically competent; hence, my initial feeling of social vulnerability when going out without my iPhone – my armor – out of the house and into the street of survival.  Is it all a Capitalist conspiracy?

October 2, 2010. Columbia University Doctorate. 1 comment.