Digital Media & Culture: Collaborative Essay Collection 2018/Convergence/Research Question 3:/RandomLabGroup
Henry Jenkins believes that Convergence allows for audiences to more actively participate with the media industry than ever before. Drawing from studies on participatory audiences, and relevant examples, to what extent does this argument hold?
If we take a moment to stop and look around at any given time, we would almost always be surrounded by numerous devices collecting data and emissions (Stakutis & Webster, 2005). This phenomenon is a result of technological advancements like never before. The term convergence can be defined as new technologies, increasingly being able to perform more tasks at a more efficient rate. One of the most commonly used examples of convergence in technology is the mobile phone. At its time of invention in 1973, the singular task that it could perform was the call function. If we then fast forward to the present day, we are now seeing mobile phones that can perform thousands of tasks every minute. This growth is unlike anything witnessed before in history, and there have been no signs that technological convergence is going to slow down. One of the main theorists on the subject of convergence is Henry Jenkins. Jenkins is the author of the popular book "Convergence Culture" in which he analyses and discusses the effects of convergence on society. One of the main notions of this novel is the idea that convergence has opened up new ways in which audiences can participate in the media industry. This essay will discuss this notion, whilst looking at information from studies on participatory audiences, as well as analysing and critiquing other popular theorists to determine the relevancy and the validity of Jenkins argument.
Media convergence is a complex concept that many scholars have been trying to explain. The discussion around the term convergence is often seen as not very precise (Ytreberg, 2011). After analysing several different definitions Ytreberg (2011) draws the conclusion that scholars do not come to an agreement. Nevertheless there is one very popular definition that makes its way into many works: Henry Jenkins’ notion of convergence culture. Jenkins (2006a) describes convergence as “the flow of content across multiple media platforms” (p.3). Convergence culture is the coming together of new media technology and content; it results in the interaction between media producer/industries and the consumer (Jenkins, 2006a; Fish, 2013).   Jenkins characterises this interaction as the notion of convergence culture being shaped top-down by corporations through productions and bottom-up through participatory culture (ibid.).  For many scholars the term convergence encompasses “technological, industrial, cultural and [/or] social changes” (ibid., p.4). Many scholars take different standpoints on this. Jenkins (2006a) acknowledges advancements in technology by saying that convergence is “where old and new media collide” (p.259). For him new media does not displace the old but together they build new forms that allow for engagement with media content. Furthermore other scholars (like Fuchs) argue more in terms of industrial changes. That means corporations influence media content more than consumers through for example commercialising. However Jenkins takes the view that convergence is not mainly a technological process or primarily based on commerce but that convergence has more to do with culture and that corporations are at the mercy of the participating people (such as amateur video creators (Jenkins, 2006c).  This is what Jenkins defines as participatory culture. He challenges the traditional notion of passive consumers and argues consumers actively participate in the convergence culture (Navarro, 2010). Participants actively shape the flow of media content through sharing and creating content. Jenkins points out that participatory culture “cannot sustain itself […] without an expanding notion of fair use and a reduction on the capacity of corporate media to exert a monopoly control over our culture” (Navarro, 2010, p.9). By this he means that participatory culture depends on active participation in order for media content to circulate. Therefore, Henry Jenkins hopes that consumers recognise their power within convergence culture and execute this power as active participants (Jenkins, 2006a). Nevertheless, Jenkins criticises that internet user tend to interact with people they know rather than use social networks in order to broaden their engagement and knowledge. This action results in dulling the potential participatory culture can offer (Navarro, 2010).  That is also why Jenkins encourages participants to use their power to its full potential. Moreover Jenkins points out that there is a ‘participation gap’ (Navarro, 2010; Jenkins, 2006a). This ‘participation gap’ occurs due to unequal opportunities for participation. By this Jenkins means that cultural factors such as race, class, language differences and age influence the access participants have to digital media. Jenkins offers an example in educational institutions where the skills of teachers and students differ and while new media is usually discouraged in these institutions it is something that the learning outcomes of the students would benefit from (Navarro, 2010). For Jenkins fan culture explains participatory culture very well. Fan culture and fandom is something that he shows great interest in as a fan himself and has written a lot about in the last view years after Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (Jenkins, 2006b). He argues that fan culture is incited by fascination and frustration at the same time (Jenkins, 2006a). On the one hand fans engage with media content that is offered to them and shape the flow of content through participating within their fandom. On the other hand fans reject the idea of a finished product. Thus, frustration and dissatisfaction about the offered content brings them to create their own content (e.g. fanfiction). Through their power they are influencing the production and distribution of new media content and the productions by corporations (Jenkins, 2004).  Fan culture is just one example for taking an active part in the convergence culture through participation.
In putting forward his argument, Henry Jenkins believes the best way to examine how media convergence has allowed for a better participation culture, he suggests that a case study would work best if it did not focus on one particular technology, 'Rather than dealing with each technology in isolation, we would do better to take an ecological approach, thinking about the interrelationship among different communication technologies, the cultural communities that grow up around them, and the activities they support.' (Jenkins, 2009) Jenkins criticises papers on new media for discussing the tools of a computer and its abilities but Jenkins notes how a computer cannot do any of these things without the control of a user. Jenkins choice of approach is logical as majority of media technology, in this contemporary era, is built around having communication technologies. 'Media systems consist of communication technologies and the social, cultural, legal, political, and economic institutions, practices, and protocols that shape and surround them. The same task can be performed with a range of different technologies, and the same technology can be deployed toward a variety of different ends.' (Jenkins, 2009) Jenkins overall view is that media convergence has allowed for new communication abilities but most technologies have the capability of delivering the same task, not undermining the power of access that convergence has given to users but Jenkins seems to value the actual users more so than the devices and how the users may participate. He particularly wants to explore younger generational users who have been born into this participatory media culture. Jenkins explain this further,'The importance of culture’s complex relationships with technologies is why we focus in this paper on the concept of participatory cultures rather than on interactive technologies. Interactivity is a property of the technology, while participation is a property of culture. Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. A focus on expanding access to new technologies carries us only so far if we do not also foster the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to deploy those tools toward our own ends.' (Jenkins, 2009) As Klaus Jensen mentions, 'New media have historically given rise to utopian as well as dystopian perspectives on the role of communication in society – from Plato’s concern that writing would promote forgetfulness rather than memory and wisdom, via recurring debates about print and broadcast media as instruments of either enlightenment and education or entertainment and escapism, to recent accounts of the internet and other digital media as resources for enhanced public participation in politics, economy, and culture. The very idea of communication has been informed over time by the available media, and by the hopes and fears associated with them.' (Jensen, 2010) Jensen supports Jenkins views here that the convergence from old media to new media has developed the ability of participation culture, suggesting participation has never been as valued and accessible as it has been now. Sophiestirlinguni (discuss • contribs) 10:03, 5 April 2018 (UTC)
One of the leading theorists and rivals of Henry Jenkins in the realms of media theory is Christian Fuchs, who places a firm emphasis on the importance of class divisions and social aspects when examining the effects of the convergence revolution. The main difference in opinion between these two figures is whether a democracy needs only to be participatory, with audiences enables to hold opinions, or whether the democracy needs to be fully integrated into the economy – thus giving the audience power. Henry Jenkins argues now, as he did in 2004, that media convergence benefits all classes and demographics, as phones, computers and a multitude of handheld devices with the power to communicate messages and spread information are in the pockets of men and women from all demographics in the west and in the east. Fuchs refutes this entirely by stating that having the power to consume and send information on devices born in the convergence revolution is not enough for users to be empowered and to be considered an “active” audiencehttp://fuchs.uti.at/tag/spreadable-media/. the spread of knowledge and opinion from consumers is less of a power determinate than corporatism is there must be participation from consumers at every level of companies such as Apple and Facebook in order for consumers to truly have power. Fuchs uses this power struggle dynamic when studying media and technology’s relationship with the current political climate and uses the surge in neo-liberalism coinciding with the technological revolution as grounds for the coming of Marxism and capitalism’s decay. As extreme and removed from Jenkins’ worldview as this seems, Fuchs brings forward some firm evidence for it. Using a study from June 2014 into academic pieces of writing in America in which the words “Marx, Marxist, or Marxism” appear he demonstrates that studies referencing Marx declined from 1978 to 2007 but rose significantly from 2007 to 2013.http://fuchs.uti.at/wp-content/uploads/Fuchs_Mosco_01.pdf. This can be put down to a few factors. From 1978 to the early 21st century there was a great rise in individualism, post-modernism, capitalism and anti-socialism within mainstream Western politics spearheaded by Thatcher and Raegan. Following and relating to this, from the mid-1990s onwards there was a technological revolution that pushed the production of academic journals, but also prompted the culture of consumerism in the west. This is where Fuchs argues that media convergence in fact lead to Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and other such corporations becoming able to make culture into commodity, with apathetic users willing to share, download and consume information without the need for participation. It is clear that Jenkins believes, unlike Fuchs, that it merely takes an effect on the public’s psyche to explain why convergence leads to an active audience. Jenkins argues that media theorists focus a lot on the exploitation and structure sides of the convergence debate and largely overlook the idea of “pleasure and agency”. By this he means that audiences gaining something from the products created for their convenience is pivotal in the shaping of the new media world. The way that convergence has led to massive companies coming under criticism for certain things but ultimately being forgiven by consumers definitely gives this theory weight. BBC studies, as well as fly-on-the-wall documentaries by people who have infiltrated Apple’s factories in China, have uncovered that in 2010 over 20 people attempted to commit suicide due to the brand’s horrendous working conditions and following this incident the company failed to act, with workers still being exposed to dangerous chemicals and unfairly long hours. The fact remains that stories such as this still seep into the public’s imagination, and yet the public still crave the machine of pleasure and convenience; leading to them, in Jenkins’ view, having a great power over the direction of media convergence. This newfound power in Jenkins’ view is conceived through the shift to a society where groups of people sharing ideas has become pivotal to political and media power shifts. Indeed, it would be difficult to argue that the constant spread of information, made possible through apps on multiple devices did not play a role in modern elections and it is plain to see that politicians are increasingly attempting to utilise this power to their advantage. Citing French cyber theorist Pierre Levy, Jenkins states that the rise in freedom of speech and circulating opinions on the internet has led to a rise in bloggers and independent journalists voicing their own previously marginalised views to their likeminded piers. This could even possibly account for the rise in Marxist essays in the age of convergence, as opposed the near contrived explanation given by Fuchs. In other words, correlation does not equal causation. However, despite the rise in media content thanks to convergence being an unescapable factor, Fuchs argues against Jenkins’ notion of this truly empowering audiences into taking an active role through some simple statistics. In actuality the media outlets with the most money and brand recognition are the ones that are displayed more commonly on people’s walls due to Facebook’s algorithms. Furthermore, the majority of internet users in general do not contribute to creating content, and in Sweden only 6% of the population own their own blog, only 8% of internet users blog occasionally, and only 16% of all internet users upload video clips to YouTube (Findahl 2010). This directly opposes Jenkins’ theory of media convergence creating a participatory sphere, as it is clear that the audience is not as active as the theorist would like to think. Such oversights point out the crucial holes in Jenkins’ argument and undermine the notion that convergence leads to audience participation, thus proving Fuchs’ theory that Marxism and social studies need to come into play to truly decipher how audiences are manipulated or propelled by media convergence. RossTheSnake (discuss • contribs) 23:02, 4 April 2018 (UTC)
<nowiki>When looking at the question of whether or not convergence allows for audiences to more actively participate with the media industry than ever before one of the most influential thinker’s theories to analyse is that of Klaus Bruhn Jensen. When analysing his arguments it is clear that he is undoubtedly up there with Henry Jenkins in terms of prowess in this subject area. Klaus Bruhn Jensen defines media convergence as, “as a historically open-ended migration of communicative practices across diverse material technologies and social institutions.” (Jensen, 2010). This quote is taken from Jensen’s work on the field of media convergence titled, ‘Media Convergence: The Three Degrees of Network, Mass and Interpersonal Communication. Throughout his work on convergence Jensen is keen to try and minimise a lot of the complexity surrounding communication and intertextuality. He does this to highlight the fact that in the digital age, for better or for worse, communication has taken on a new title, ‘meta-communication’, this can be defined in it’s simplest form as communication about communication. In relation to the question this shows that Jenkins and Jensen agree on the idea of increased audience participation as Jensen continues to then add, “meta-communication…presents a number of choices for individuals, institutions and societies to deliberate upon.” This shows again that Jensen has placed great emphasis on the idea of the idea that there is an increased sense of audience participation. Furthermore, Jensen’s work on convergence can also be related to other academics and not just Jenkins. For example, Jensen believes that, “In order to assess whether, and in which sense, convergence is taking place, it is useful to engage in theoretical and methodological convergence”. Here, Jensen wishes for the theories and methodology behind academics work to similarly converge. This has similarities to works of Staiger and Hake, who both also take the convergence concept and apply it to the original approach of the academic to research more widely and generally. It could be argued that using the concept, and indeed simply the term, ‘convergence’ as to define the academics works assimilating together is indeed another point to bolster Henry Jenkins assumption that convergence allows for more active participation as it is opening up the ways in which and individual can participate. Feeding into the idea that Klaus Bruhn Jensen seemingly ‘opens up’ the definition of convergence and applies it in new and interesting ways, it is evidenced here that he does indeed use convergence in a rather general sense, “he uses ‘convergence’ to describe a very general phenomenon in communication – the way practices in one domain feed into other domains.” (Ytreberg, 2011). This quote shows the Klaus Bruhn Jensen is keen to emphasise the general nature of the convergence phenomenon. Although this doesn’t directly challenge or attempt to run parallel with Henry Jenkin’s work on media convergence it can undoubtedly be said that this agrees, to some extent, with the idea that convergence allows more active user participation in the media industry as a whole. This is due to the fact that the term convergence here is applied in such broad terms in reference to its use through the prism of the media industry, leading to more opportunities for active audience participation as opposed to a more narrow and niche definition of convergence. Ultimately it can be seen here that the working of Klaus Bruhn Jensen on media convergence agrees to some extent with that of Henry Jenkins as they both have somewhat similar ideas and theories in terms of increased audience participation in the media industry due to convergence.
In conclusion, it is hard to deny Jenkins claim that audiences can more actively participate in the media industry than ever before, as a result of convergence. This statement is definitely valid to some extent, as we have seen in recent years an increasing number of amateur creators attempting to get a foot in the industry. There are many ways in which we see participating people attempt this, such as posting their work on popular video sharing websites and also collaborating with as many other hungry creators in the industry as possible. This process has also been made easier to do with the effects of convergence, there are more ways for these participating people to share their ideas and get their voices heard than ever before. We can definitely see this participating culture in the industry today, however, we cannot ignore the arguments brought forward by other scholars, and in particular Christian Fuchs. Fuchs ideology is that although society benefits greatly from convergence and the constantly growing ways in which we can share our creations, the large corporations of the world still benefit the most from convergence. This again is hard to ignore, as there are numerous examples where this is the case. These large corporations take advantage of the participating culture that exists today, as they receive the bulk of the monetary profit and ultimately control the industry, resulting in these hungry creators becoming slaves to the industry. Although both points of view hold validity to them, after examining the current state of the industry, we can take great confidence in looking forward to a society that contains all the exciting new prospects that come with this convergence, without the demeaning effects of large corporations bullying there way to success.
Findahl, Olle. 2010. Swedes and the Internet, Stockholm: .SE
Christian Fuchs (2011), Against Henry Jenkins: Remarks on Jenkins' ICA Talk "Spreadable Media", Blog Post on Fuchs' Website
Christian Fuchs and Vincent Mosco (2006), Marx and the Political Economy of Media, Boston: Brill Publishers
Jenkins, H (2004), The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence, London: Sage Publications
Jensen, K. (2010). Media convergence: the three degrees of network, mass and interpersonal communication (9780415482042) (1st ed.). Routledge.
Ytreberg, E. (2011). Review article: Convergence: Essentially confused?. New Media & Society, 13(3), 502-508. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1461444810397651 Jxck33 (discuss • contribs) 10:12, 5 April 2018 (UTC)
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- Jenkins, H. (2006b). Fans, bloggers, and gamers: Exploring participatory culture. NY/London: New York University Press.
- Jenkins, H. (2004). The cultural logic of media convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 33-43.