I am finally getting around to reading Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide because the person who loaned it to me, Liz Losh (brilliant colleague, neighbor, and muse), needs it back. It is not going down easily and were it not for Liz’s gentle insistence, in her writing and on our walks together, that this is a book I cannot ignore, and her pointers to deft reviews, I doubt I’d have the courage or appetite.
What could I possibly find so distasteful about this often sanguine exposition of pop media convergence? Prudence dictates I finish the book before attempting a comprehensive answer, but let me just indulge in another erotema or two to whet my whistle.
Say you’re at Taco Bell and you order a drink and they give you a cup that you’re expected to fill yourself; or say you’re flying home for the holidays and choose your seat and print your boarding pass online; should we think of these as participatory fast food, participatory aviation? Though neither of these scenarios involve the kind of cultural production and consumption with which Jenkins is primarily concerned, they seem to me to be pretty central to the phenomena currently bundled as convergence.
Besides, Jenkins doesn’t limit his purview to pop media fandom and “franchises” (Survivor, American Idol, The Matrix, Start Wars and Harry Potter), but consistently underscores the wider socio-political implications of his subject. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as convinced as anyone about the socially transformative powers of networked media, it’s just that Jenkins seems to have things a bit backwards (or, at least, a different understanding of the history and structural aspects of convergence) when he writes:
Right now, we are mostly using this collective power through our recreational life, but soon we will be deploying those skills for more “serious” purposes.
You don’t have to be Janet Abbate or Steven Levy to know that the serious and the recreational always coincide in new media; and that the development of many of the technologies, genres, forms, and practices Jenkins describes (message boards, emails, web pages), has been driven since elder days by powerful synergies of work and play.
As Fred Turner, who has just published From Counterculture to Cyberculture (2006), wryly observes in another paper, the technophilia powering the transformation of communications technologies was “common to both the acidheads of the Trips Festival and the managers of America’s nuclear arsenal” (“Where the Counterculture Met The New Economy”, available on Turner’s site, 495). From my own fieldwork, I can drawn several examples, such as the birth of Apache on hyperreal.org.