Convergence Culture 

Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins

Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins

I could probably write a novel to describe this book, but I’ll limit myself to three new (to me) terms that hit me as particularly pertinent to our discussions.

Media Convergence
Jenkins’ simple def:  “flow of content across multiple media platforms”

Jenkins describes our society as historically having many media outlets that were all separate and distinct.  But now, through the powers of digitization and corporate conglomerates, our media is much more interconnected.  Jenkins describes this phenomenon as being more of a cultural shift than a technological one.  The most attention grabbing part of this conversation to me, was the idea that media convergence is a long-term transition period, that will have old and new technologies and ideas living side by side for a long time.  And, even more shocking than that, many of the old media we know (radio, tv, etc) probably won’t ever disappear.  Rather its purpose, use, audience, function will change.   This was a comforting thought to an old fuddy-duddy like me.  While convergence is a big thing, it does not necessarily make current systems obsolete.

What is it?  According to Jenkins: 

  1. communication form
  2. series of protocols around the form (i.e. saying “hello” on the telephone, buying a ticket for a movie, and other social, political, economic and material relationships)

This definition, when taken in context with changing media, implies a larger ripples in our cultural fabric than just a change in how we communicate with one another.  

Affinity Spaces
Jenkins borrows this concept from educational theorist James Paul Gee, and I think it could have great implications for our application of social media in museums.  This theory is basically about informal learning spaces.  As Jenkins notes, people seem to “learn more from pop culture than they do from text books.”  He says at Gee’s theory of creating an “affinity space” for informal learning improves the learning experience because (and this is loosely paraphrased/quoted from my notes, see pg 177):

  1. “learning is driven by common endeavor which overcomes differences in age, class, race, gender and education that governs learning in classroom settings.”  (i.e. anonymity provides an equal playing field for cooperative learning)
  2. allows participation of various skill levels/interests
  3. “relies on peer-to-peer teaching that motivates participants to continually learn”
  4. “allows participants to feel like experts”  (i.e. rewards particiaption with empowerment).

I look at these through the lens of museum education, and think how awesome would it be to see museum goers participate like this in their informal learning experiences.  What if instead of Harry Potter fanfic (which Jenkins applies this theory to), our audiences were helping eachother learn about biodiversity or civil rights.  The potential is awesome!

This book is amazing and available online for free through the UW libraries (here).  Just use the off campus log-in option with net id to get it full text and searchable.  Which means no waiting and no library fines!  Hooray!