Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide

By Tony Ricks

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At home, my children are learning to blog on a private, password-protected website and with parental supervision. They are doing things I never did. They are composing with words, images, even video: it’s easy once you learn the basic blogging tools available. And I wonder: how will these experiences impact their educational or lifelong goals? I really have no idea. But the fact that they are composing blogs and using tools that didn’t exist when I was a child are perhaps omens of what the future holds in regards to new media and its possibilities.

As a doctoral graduate student at Florida State, a few years ago, I was fairly familiar with the academic grind–buying textbooks, reading syllabi, attempting to read hefty reading loads, and writing ad infinitum. But one course I had not expected, as an English major, was “The Digital Revolution and Convergence Culture” by Dr. Kathleen Yancey.  This course introduced me to works like Jenkins’ Convergence Culture, among others, and theories about the ways media might impact writing and its very meaning in the years to come. And, of course, I still find some of these theories to be pretty interesting and compelling.

This is why I am leading a book discussion on Convergence Culture here at Athens State University on Tuesday, November 19th, from 12:15-1:15 in the Chapel of Founders Hall. For those interested in attending, I have included a brief explanation of the book below.

Convergence Culture examines the idea of collective intelligence. Collective intelligence, as I understand it, is the power of groups of people–even if they have never met in person–to form alliances or communities and to collaborate towards certain shared goals. Jenkins examines collective intelligence primarily through “fandom,” or in other words by looking at the way fans interact around their favorite media, like TV shows and films–two kinds of “old media” that have been significantly impacted by the “new media” like the internet and mobile technologies. In particular, this media convergence has altered the way we consume media and ultimately alters even the methods of media production.

As we all know from the way “comments” play into online news sites and even broadcast news, individual media consumers now seem to be given much more attention than they were given in the past when it comes to the discussion surrounding one news topic or another. And as I learned last year when I visited the Athens News Courier, Twitter is increasingly common as a first stop for news consumption and for its dissemination.

Jenkins believes collective intelligence and online knowledge-sharing have the potential to make us more democratic as a society. Although many of his examples deal with fandom, his broader interests lie in the role that collective intelligence and media literacy can and will play in society as grassroots ideas continue to collide with corporate ideas and agendas–creating a dialectic between consumers and producers of media content. And this leads him, in the end, to ruminate on education and the role of media within it. As he writes in his conclusion, “We need to rethink the goals of media education so that young people can come to think of themselves as cultural producers and participants and not simply as consumers, critical or otherwise” (270).

I agree with Jenkins that we need to encourage young people, as I think education has often done over the centuries, to be cultural producers: speakers, writers, artists, teachers, business leaders, and so forth. The larger question now is what role new media technologies will play in our efforts to prepare students for lifelong learning and meaningful cultural participation as citizens who communicate both face-to-face and through digital devices and networks.

I don’t know where technology will take us in the coming decades, or whether what we are quick to call “new” will turn out to be the more common “new packaging, same old content” as is more likely. Either way, for now I’m content learning how to blog alongside my own children.

What role do you think new technologies, like the internet and mobile phones, will play within our society, businesses, education, and even religion and politics in the future?

Please add your contribution to this conversation in the comments below.