Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins gives an in-depth and critical look at how the World Wide Web has transformed traditional media to be more amalgamate, multi-level, and less isolated, allowing for a more participatory culture, and illustrating the power of collective intelligence. As the Internet blurs the lines that once separated specific mediums Jenkins writes, "Convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content" (p.3). By focusing on a few major examples of how the media is shifting from isolated experiences into transmedia storytelling, Jenkins explains the relationship between convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence, illustrating how the "new media" is "impacting relationships between media audiences, producers and content" (p.12). He explains that because aspects of our everyday lives pass through various media, convergence has created a new type of media consumer who communicates on several platforms. To reach the new consumer, traditional media must also be present on different forums.
Jenkins explains most of these "discussions" throughout Convergence Culture within the context of specific pop-culture and political examples. The first of which begins in his first chapter, Spoiling Survivor, where he outlines the impact of a communal reception of the TV show "Survivor." By looking at one of the most democratic uses of the Internet (message boards), Jenkins analyzes Survivor fans' interactions with "spoilers" of the show, calling it "collective intelligence in practice" (p.28). Here, he explains the idea that while not one person knows everything, everyone knows something and can bring some small bit of relevance to the discussion to, in this case, find a solution. In addition, Jenkins evaluates how this type of "bottom-up" collaboration can be both helpful and detrimental to brands and franchises.
Jenkins explores the grassroots culture of the Internet more in his second chapter where he discusses American Idol, a TV show made for audience participation. He begins the chapter by explaining the power of marketing brands via multiple "transactions," instead of using traditionally isolated mediums. He writes, "The experience should not be contained within a single media platform, but should extend across as many media as possible" (p.69). This method allows for advertisers, like Coca Cola, to be more than intellectual property; they are emotional capital. And in such a participant-oriented show that allows viewers to text in their votes, fans become more involved with the brand and may even become "brand advocates" (p.73). Jenkins explains, "Participation within such communities does not simply reaffirm their brand affiliation but also empowers these groups to assert their own demands on the company" (p.80).
In his third chapter, Jenkins looks at how the Matrix franchise uses several platforms to reach its multifaceted fan base, and considers it "entertainment for the age of media convergence, integrating multiple texts to create a narrative so large that it cannot be contained within a single medium" (p.96). As he explains how the transmedia story flows across different media forums, he illustrates how each medium brings a "distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole" (p.98). This way, the story may stretch far beyond the original plot, and the user creates it, and Jenkins explains that the convergence of media has allowed for such occurrences. However, Jenkins says that when creators have their hands in developing the other mediums, like video games, interactive Web creations and such, the stories are more likely to gain a following and develop further. His key point in the chapter was that while not all users will choose to "go deep" with the material, creators must allow the option.
Jenkins then explains the success of the Star Wars franchise and how users have become co-creators, or participants, in the stories via the Web and the onset of the digital age. Here, he explains the difference between participation and interactivity. Jenkins writes, "Interactivity refers to the ways that new technologies have been designed to be more responsive to consumer feedback...Participation, on the other hand, is shaped by the cultural and social protocols" (p.137). So, while the creators decide interactivity, and users may interact with what is given, participation allows users to become creators of the story. However, this blurring of creation on the Web has caused both problems and new directions. Jenkins explores two schools of thought on this issue: prohibitionists, who are usually characterized by traditional media, that try to limit all creation outside the originators, and collaborationists, who are usually led by "new media" and digital groups, that allow grassroots intermediaries to help promote the franchised. Jenkins likens this dichotomy with the battle between folk culture (grassroots campaigns) and mass culture (commercialism), as he cites several examples of how specific Star Wars spoofs and recreations have faired with George Lucas and the commercial media in terms of copyright infringement.
Moving beyond the television and silver screen, Jenkins then discusses the Harry Potter franchise in light of new media. Besides explaining some of the campaigns and movements against its content by conservative groups, Jenkins explores whether schools are doing a well enough job in educating students in media, and whether or not they are using media to teach. Using one young girl who created her own website around the Harry Potter series as an example of the power of the online forum, Jenkins analyzes the power of collaboration in teaching and using the Web to allow for a fuller experience from which one can learn. Jenkins writes, "In a participatory culture, the entire community takes on some responsibility for helping newbies find their way," in contrast to a classroom where only a teacher is the guide. He then explores the traditional idea of fair use, and wonders if the notion should be revisited in the digital age.
In his final example of media convergence, Jenkins visits the political realm and focuses on the "changes in communications systems and cultural norms" of the media and the democratization of the Web (p.219) in relation to the 2004 presidential election. In his discussion, Jenkins cites Howard Dean's (and later, John Kerry's) use of the Web to raise funds, and that his early Internet success was a "tipping point" for how we view media. Instead of the television (a broad, "top-down" medium) reigning, the Internet (a niche-oriented, "bottom-up" medium) finally had become the dominant forum. Jenkins says that using tools like Photoshop, fans and activists are more able to manipulate images to make a political statement, most evident in the aftermath of the Florida recount. He also mentions the fact that young people were being informed more by entertainment media like the Daily Show than traditional news organizations, showing an unprecedented convergence in media.
In his conclusion, Jenkins again highlights the fact that society is still trying to decide the exact ethical codes and social contracts to follow in these trial-and-error times. He states the problems and prevalence of media concentration and cites Chris Anderson's idea of the Long Tail as a viable route to many of the conglomerate and economic problems we see today on the "free" web. Jenkins closes the book by restating, "The power of the grassroots media is that it diversifies; the power of the broadcast media is that it amplifies. That's why we should be concerned with the flow between the two (p.268). Jenkins encourages his readers to rethink the goals of media education, as he explains the power within convergence culture, as full participants.
While Jenkins realizes that convergence cannot be fully understood at this point (or at least in 2006 when the book was written), his desire in writing the book was to inform the public on "discussions that are taking place" so they might have some input "into decisions that will dramatically change their relationship to media" (p.13). This allows even those who are not directly involved in many of the digital issues to participate on some level, as it affects everyone who uses media. Jenkins does a good job explaining many of the complicated jargon that might be foreign to those who have not used certain mediums or are not involved with the example literature he uses. Jenkins wrote Convergence Culture in a way that allows readers to walk away with a good understanding of his topics, no matter what their digital literacy. Jenkins also succeeds in sticking to his points, while not deviating far from the original intent, often repeating examples of converging media, participatory culture, and collective intelligence within each chapter. Throughout the text, Jenkins makes countless allusions to these central points, allowing the reader to deeply relate and care about the effect media is having on our culture.
Jenkins brings up several great points about how our culture currently views the media. One of my favorite quotes regards media literacy, which states, "Just as we would not traditionally assume that someone is literate if they can read but not write, we should not assume that someone possesses media literacy if they can consume but not express themselves" (p.176). This is one point that illustrates the vast misunderstanding and divide conglomerate media has with the grassroots campaigns the web endorses. By allowing users to consume but not create is a robbery of users' freedom in some ways. As Jenkins also mentioned on p. 142, "Marketers have turned our children into walking, talking billboards who wear logos on their T-shirts, sew patches on their backpacks, plaster stickers on their lockers, hang posters on their walls, but they must not, under penalty of law, post them on their home pages. Somehow, once consumers choose when and where to display those images, their active participation in the circulation of brands suddenly becomes a moral outrage and a threat to the industry's economic well-being." Kudos to Jenkins for highlighting the importance of these issues. As this new media system develops, we are equal collaborators with conglomerates and the voice of many can change how our culture sees the media.
One very small area I wished Jenkins would have mentioned more is an overview of what other media companies are doing that are innovative and experimental. While his focus on only a few major examples of convergence culture was well planned and effective, it would have been interesting to see what companies are taking chances on, that are working well. Beyond the traditional forms such as television, gaming, or literature, I was also interested to see what interactive companies are doing that may not fit in those categories, like virtual reality or web applications that find trends in the social collective, getting away form simple message boards or surveys. I'm not sure why, but the only medium he seems to have missed was any discussion about radio. All in all, Jenkin's Convergence Culture is absolutely worth the read. While I found it to be choppy at parts due to my disinterest in the specific topic, I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested at all in how our media is changing due to the onset of the Internet. It was a little slow-going in the beginning, but it picked up as the discussions heated up, and it was very educational on the world of internet marketing and trends. I give it 5 stars out of 5!