Henry Jenkins Keynote w/Steven Johnson

Loose notes from SXSW 2008 keynote conversation with Henry Jenkins (Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program), interviewed by Steven Johnson (I loved his book “Everything Bad is Good For You”).

This talk was super fast-paced, information-dense, and inspiring.


Henry Jenkins Co-Dir of CMS, MIT . Author of “Convergence culture”
Steven Johnson CEO, outside.in

Collective intelligence in pop culture – Lost fans micro-analyzing 2-second screen grab of a map, building their own maps, putting in hundreds of hours.

Pink collar workers – require a lot of specialized education to get into. Yet most of their intellectually rewarding experience takes place outside of work. Why are their skills so underutilized in the workplace?

Kids are learning to read through Harry Potter – 700 page books. 13 and 14 yr olds are writing full length novels, distributing and getting feedback over the internet. Also learning to become political through HP. The legal action against HP fans is drawing young people in to defend fair use. The Harry Potter Alliance is getting involved in Darfur issues, rights at Wal-Mart… organizing young people to change the world.

In a hunting society, kids play with bows and arrows. In an information society, kids play with information.

We talk about kids being under attack by their media, that they’re the dumbest generation, but it’s more complex than that. This is the least violent, most entrepreneurial, most politically involved generation we’ve seen in decades.

HJ on the Obama phenom: Young people online use the language of “we” while politicians use the language of “I.” Win, lose, or draw, Obama has drawn people together, sparked a movement of participation and involvement. Waiting in line in 20 degree weather, aides encouraged people in line to use their cell phones to reach out and influence others. That’s transformative.

In the 1950s bowling leagues functioned as a way to bring people together, to organize. That kind of small group with that function is more rare today. Some blame it on media. Kids playing WoW all night because their league needs them … similar to bowling leagues, but with a sense of civic identity and engagement.

SJ: outside.in is building an infrastructure for the geographic web. We thought the internet would make us all want to move out of cities, but the opposite has happened – it’s increased urban living. People care passionately about their towns and want to get involved. Yet traditional media misses that hyperlocal zone completely. “On my radar” is SJ’s new launch – a geotagged version of the myspace news feed. “I’m standing on this corner. Show me all the conversations nearby. All the crimes, all the activity. Now let me zoom out to larger radius.” If a local pothole is filled, it’s genuine news for the people on that street, but not news for anyone else. Same for local high school sports scores.

How do we harness the community?
How many kids are learning to write on LiveJournal, while school newspapers are closing down for lack of money.

Who’s got time to get involved? Young people have time. The same people making maps of “Lost.” We need to harness that energy for civic involvement.

Audience: I make sure my kids keep an eye on the ratio between what they’re consuming and what they’re creating. Making sure they’re creating something. New media is changing this ratio. % of young people producing media is astronomical compared to previous generations. But 40% of kids are not creating media. Don’t have access to online world, or aren’t inspired to participate. How to address that? How to foment sense of empowerment? Unfortunately the adults around them don’t know what they’re doing, don’t know how to help or to address the problems that come up.

Lumping it all together as “screen time” is a big mistake. Parents shouldn’t lump lean-forward and lean-back time together.

Two theories of hive mind / collective wisdom: 1) an averaging model – the outcomes are banal and flat. 2) an aggregate model – best of each rises to the top (wikipedia?) . How are YouTube and WikiPedia different? The top 100 vids on YouTube are white middle class males. There is no mechanism on the site to support diversity. How do we foster individual mastery and incorporate it into a vast knowledge system?

Analysts say they see very few actual examples of internet or game addiction. What they see are examples of depression, which manifest as computer game time.

We need to be careful about the participatory tools – facebook, myspace, twitter, livejournal…. all are corporate entities, and we put a lot in their hands. There are implications for privacy, copyright, sponsorship, ownership, etc.

The institutions that govern us start with the premise that we’re idiots.

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