Power struggle

This is the first post in a new series. I'm going to present retrospective reviews of a dozen seminal books that I think should be on the reading list of anyone who wants to learn more about the social and cultural impact technology is having on learning and education. Here's the first, one for those who wish to understand how media and culture influence each other:

Henry Jenkins (2006) Convergence Culture. New York: New York University Press.

The strap line to Henry Jenkins' 2006 book Convergence Culture is 'where old and new media collide'. Collision may indeed be a most appropriate verb to apply, because as Jenkins reveals, there is enormous tension where old and new media intersect. It was clear even in 2006 that the old, closed and controlled media of radio, television, movie making, recording industry and the press were struggling to maintain their dominance against the new, open and democratic media found on the Internet. As we now know, that dominance has slipped, as billions swarm to participate in the new media, creating, remixing and sharing their content. The best that the old media can hope for is that there will still be a significant place for them alongside the new media that have pushed them to the sidelines. As Jenkins warned:

'Audiences, empowered by these new technologies, occupying a space at the intersection between old and new media, are demanding the right to participate within the culture. Producers who fail to make their peace with this new participatory culture will face a declining goodwill and diminishing revenues.' (p 24)

Jenkins takes the reader on a journey through popular culture and reveals the back stories behind some of the world's most successful blockbuster movies and TV shows, and how many have been defined through new technology. Jenkins also attempts to explain some of the complex issues of our time: the cultural shifts occurring where consumers and producers fight for control over a myriad disparate channels and platforms both in the mainstream media and online. He champions the democratisation of knowledge, and highlights the collective intelligence behind many of the dramatic rises in popular digital culture:

'What holds a collective intelligence together is not the possession of knowledge - which is relatively static, but the social process of acquiring knowledge - which is dynamic and participatory, continually testing and reaffirming the groups' social ties.' (p 54)

Inevitably, he argues, the people will win over the corporates. Power will pass from the corporate boardroom into the teenager's bedroom. We will see a decentralised media environment, free from network control. Control will pass to the communities who invest in knowledge building, and that knowledge will be defined by them. On Wikipedia he says: '...the process works. It works because more and more people are taking seriously their obligations as participants to the community as a whole... what once was taken for granted must now be articulated. What emerges might be called a moral economy of information: that is, a sense of mutual obligations and shared expectations about what constitutes good citizenship within a knowledge community.' (p 255)

This is a somewhat idealistic, but very well written book, presented in accessible language and flowing prose, but for me, the greatest aspect of this book is that it makes you think. It causes you to stand back and take a pause, to contemplate many of the phenomena we now take for granted, and that is often the attraction to revisiting some of the old, seminal texts that have defined our most recent history and cultural development.

Photo by Jonny Jelinek

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Power struggle by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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