Catcher in the Blogosphere


Readers of this blog (and the slightly more relevant weekly magazine) will have no doubt by now heard of Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities, Henry Jenkins. We tend to write about him a lot since he seems to be one of the few really smart guys who not only “gets” games, but also appreciates their place in the overall cultural landscape.

He can also write about this in a language understood by people who don’t “get” it, which makes him nothing short of a hero in my book.

In his book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Jenkins explores the relationships between technology and media and how the ways we use both are quite literally changing the way we view our world and ourselves. It’s an exciting read, and I believe that anyone with a computer or television set will find it relevant.

But what’s most remarkable about Henry Jenkins, as I’ve said before, is not what he’s just written, but what he’s writing right now. Jenkins is easily one of the most prolific writers on the web, and judging from how often his name appears in blogs, book, on TV and in articles crossing my desk for publication in The Escapist, his message is starting to sink in. He’s like our very own catcher in the blogosphere, corralling us to safety as we crazily dance too close to the edge, and when the bombs fall, I’m going to attempt to get him canonized. A Canticle for Jenkins? Not a far stretch.

imageJenkins recently assisted in preparing a white paper for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Spotlight project, the goal of which is to “provide a central focal point for “what’s important” in the emerging field of digital media and learning.” The Spotlight is a fascinating site in and of itself, but the white paper is a must-read for anyone involved in media and content creation. Jenkins has published the entire paper, in installments, on his blog.

“My hope,” writes Jenkins, “is that this white paper will spark conversations among educators at all levels — in schools and in after school programs, in public institutions, and in churches and other community centers — about how we need to change our practices to reflect the new ways that young people are engaging with the world around them.”

He has also published a background treatise on the subject (a sort of executive summary), which highlights a number of key points, and paints a compelling picture all on its own of where New Media may be taking us, and what we’ll have to do to avoid missing the bus.

Highlights include:

“The one sender-many receiver model which dominated print culture and modern mass media is giving way to a many-to-many model in which any given participant can easily circulate their work to a larger community. … Our family rooms have become home entertainment centers. Our family hearths are now electronic. Media technologies are fully integrated into our everyday social interactions.”

As we read news of Microsoft’s impending entry into digital distribution of mass market entertainment (and Sony’s spiteful reply), it becomes clearer and clearer that this is in fact the case. Before long, watching media “broadcast” into your home at a pre-set time and date will seem as archaic as listening to plays on the radio. Which may or may not be a good thing.

I’ve also noticed that the longer some of these new technologies are around, the more the older generations of my family make use of them. A recent explosion of family drama, for example, painfully enacted and dissected via email brought the extent of this evolution into painful relief for me. Whereas only a few years ago my achingly Southern family would have aired out our trials and tribulations over the telephone, in my grandmother’s kitchen or in high-volume, beer-fueled shouting matches out on the lawn, today it’s all done digitally, over the internet, with photos attached. Again, the jury is out on the costs vs. benefits of this phenomenon, but its presence is undeniable.

“Recent research suggests that young people and adults live in fundamentally different media environments, using communications technologies in different ways and forming contradictory interpretations of their experiences. Adults know less than they think about what young people are doing on line and young people know less than they think about the values and assumptions that shape adult’s relationship to media.”


The whole summary is good stuff, and sure to impress smart chicks at comic cons.

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