MS Podcast#54


The 54th MediaSnackers podcast speaks to MIT professor and youth media guru, Henry Jenkins.

(WORLD) The MediaSnackers podcast focusses on individuals, organisations or companies who are simply impressing us and which are crying out for more discussion.

Henry Jenkins is the founder of the Comparative Media Studies at MIT and the author of Convergence Culture.

0.00—0.10 Intro
0.11—0.49 Henry tells us about his role at MIT
0.50—3.33 the current youth media climate
3.34—2.30 growing divide between young people and educators/youth professionals
5.13—7.08 media literacy vs digital literacy
7.09—8.59 the expectations of the ‘convergence culture’ with young people
9.00—11.06 the future of media
11.07—11.22 Thanks and outro

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DK: Ok, I’m here and a pleasure to be introducing Henry Jenkins from the MIT. If you could introduce yourself to Henry and tell us a bit about what you do over there and who you do it for.

Henry Jenkins: Sure, I’m the co-director and founder of what’s called the Comparative Media Studies Program in MIT. We’re based in school of Humanities Arts and Traditional Sciences and we’re very interested in understanding the changing media of landscape and preparing our students for leadership positions in industry, policy, journalism, arts, education. Within which we are doing more and more work looking at young people and their relationship to new media.

DK: And you’ve written many books, when I was reading up on you fella, and anything from Participatory Culture right through to the computer games and obviously you’re a big advocate for this movement. What’s your take on the current youth media climate then? In terms of the young people, which are growing up in – what’s exciting? What is scaring you about it all?

Henry Jenkins: Well, I think, I’ve recently issued a white paper for the MacArthur foundation, which really tries to lay out the changes that are going on. It starts from the premise that young people are in fact increasingly media producers. In the American context some studies have shown as many as 57% of teens online have produced some form of media. And most of those who have shared it with people beyond their immediate friends and family. That presents some interesting questions.

One set of questions is about the 57%. What’s their relationship to media? And what kinds of ethical advice are they getting as they enter into a space of making media? All kinds of issues from use of it intellectual property to the social relations and the consequences of what they do or don’t say in their podcast, their blogs and so forth.

The other sets of concerns though is for the 43% that are no yet making media. This is what we call the participation gap. That’s the invisible part of this generation in a way. But these are kids who, you know, for much of the last decade we’ve wanted to get kids connected and right now most of the American kids have access to the internet by schools or public libraries if not at home.

But there’s a huge difference between what you can do in a public library where you’ve got ten minutes of access time, people looking over your shoulders, no ability to store anything, no ability to upload anything. In the American context mandatory filters, soon America will have mandatory restrictions on public library access to MySpace and other social network technologies. The gap between that and the kid who’s got 24/7 Broadband access, mobile technologies is huge.

And so we’re very concerned how do we help those kids who are not participating enter into these participatory cultures? Right now, schools are facing two problems. The school kids who are most connected are being de-skilled, de-tooled as they enter school, because their best way of learning are not allowed inside American educational institutions.

On the other hand, those kids who have no exposure except through school are not being given the full range of experiences, social and cultural, that kids who’ve grow up with ready access to this media enjoy. So that’s the problem that we identified and we’ve tried to sort of help schools think about a range of social skills and cultural competencies that young people might be acquiring through their own informal participation in media space. That we need to think about consciously building them into the educational process for those reasons.

DK: Wow, Yeah. You had so many points to pick on there. One of the obviously one is the forthcoming, like you say the DOPA bill that’s being, trying to be pushed through. Which obviously for people who don’t know yet, will legislate against access to social networking sites and contact creation sites.

I just want to ask you a question because you picked up on education right there and this kind of – I don’t know you never said it, but digital divide in a sense of access to these technologies. People can access them but there is a growing divide and I’m seeing it as well in terms of the young people, but also in terms of youth professionals and their understanding of it.

Henry Jenkins: Sure.

DK: Is there a gap as well growing? A vacuum, in a sense, between what young people know and what the educators or the trainers actually know?

Henry Jenkins: A huge, huge gap. I mean if we want to talk about media literacy education really most of it needs to be directed at teacher training, parent training, helping policy makers understand the world that the young people live in.

I don’t think you’d have bills like DOPA out there if the members of the US House and Senate really understood how social networking worked. Why it’s valuable for young people’s development and for the professional lives that they’re going to be prepared for, the role that it plays in their political and cultural lives. You wouldn’t be regulating it if you actually understood what you were talking about. America’s being led by fear, not by information, and part of what MacArthur is trying to do with it’s commitment right now is really to the systematically research this stuff and produce materials aimed at a variety of audiences, especially adults, especially parents and teachers and policy makers who need to understand this world young people are living in better.

DK: I’m also noticing as well, through my current practices and training, there is a slight difference between what we understand as media literacy and also there’s hardly anything out there around discourse, on general discussion around digital literacy as well. Around, you know, we all know the kind of jokes around, you know, I’ll get my kids to program the video because I haven’t got a clue because they’re so technological. But, I’m seeing the growth in that. I don’t know through your studies are you seeing also the separation of not just media literacy but like I say digital literacy as well?

Henry Jenkins: Sure. I mean, you know, I think in as far as digital literacy’s have made their way into schools, it’s generally by creating a computer lab where kids are taught to program. But from where I’m sitting that’s like confusing composition with penmanship. Because what we need goes so far beyond simply being able to use a Word processing program or being able to code html.

It’s really how to think in a digital environment. How to work with simulations and how to deal with social networks and you know, how to navigate across the diverse communities people encounter on the web. How to pool knowledge and what we call a collective intelligence community as you participate in a discussion list online and so forth.

These are, I say deeper than a literacy and purely technical sense. These are social skills and cultural capacities, competences that you really need to be a functioning adult in our society, but none of which are imbedded in our school. The Internet, the participatory cultures of the web are deeply collaborative as are most of the professional contacts we find ourselves in. But schools are still focused on autonomous learners and most forms of collaboration inside the classroom are regarded as cheating.

There’s a huge gap between the way we’re taught to think through schools and the way we function cognitively in the new medial landscapes that we’re participating within the rest of our lives.

DK: And what about that kind of mash up of cultures that conversions culture as you call it, where old and new media do collide and the expectations of which, which young people and, I know I discuss it on my blog and stuff where young people are growing up in a very immersive and also digitalized world where they’re expected interaction. It’s a two way thing, it’s a push and pull process. How do you see that impacting on young peoples expectations beyond school?

Henry Jenkins: Well, I think we have an expectation. We have the right to participate. We even have an obligation to participate. And so all institutions in our society are becoming more participatory at a deep level. This is what people are calling Web 2.0. It’s a world where social and cultural desire to participate is reshaping core economic institutions in our society.

In the new book, Convergence Culture, I talk about education in these terms. I talk even about religion and the military as institutions that are beginning to embrace a more participatory model of the culture. Media industries are starting to understand that they’ve got to create, not a property we consume but a space we participate in. And they’ve got to tolerate our user generated content and appropriation of their materials in order to generate the commitment from their consumer that will keep them engaged with that property in the long term.

So everyone sees their culture as moving in a more participatory direction. The conflicts are going to be over the terms of the participation. I think people have very different ideas about what that means. But a world where anyone can publish their blog is a world where people have a very different relationship to information, to authorship, to intellectual property. The stuff that might have once seemed the realm of experts but is now part of the everyday life processes, of massive numbers of people around the world.

DK: Well yeah, the barriers to entry of self publishing, as you say, is so low and also the actual amount of platforms out there where anybody, not just young people, can throw up their stuff whether it be video on YouTube, whether it be like you say blogging, so that’s textual based or even just sound through podcasting and stuff like that.

I want to ask you one final question in terms of how you see the future then. You talked about Web 2.0. A lot of people are still catching up with that concept, but there is discussion on the web that I found recently and I cited it in my blog about Web 3.0. Which is more immersive, which is multi-games, multi-level games, etc. Which is second life and how do see, kind of, the development of these platforms and participatory culture, etc. around media?

Henry Jenkins: Well, I think we’re definitely moving in a direction where immersive worlds be part of the ways we social interact online and part of how we manage information. You know, getting back to the MacArthur foundation the other week they had their announcement of a $50,000,000 commitment to youth and digital learning over the next five years. They had the announcement in the Museum of Natural History in New York and simultaneously in second life. So we were being asked questions from the director of the New York Public Library and by somebody who had feathers growing out of the top of their head, simultaneously. And, MacArthur and the scholars and everyone in the room were taking both of those spaces very seriously and responding respectfully to the questions generating in both directions.

DK: Wow.

Henry Jenkins: I think we’re seeing these virtual worlds are very useful ways of bringing people together face to face who never would exist in the same geographic space; of creating opportunities to reinvent core institutions and to try new practices and new ways of connecting information to the public. And I think what’s happening in second life is enormously exciting. It’s just a place where almost every sector of our society is beginning to experiment with new ways of connecting with people, using the multi-verse sort of interface and I think we’re going to see more and more of that, not less and less.

DK: Wow. Well, thank you for your time Henry. I really appreciate it. I know you’re a busy guy and I just to thank you for speaking to MediaSnackers.

Henry Jenkins: Well, Thank you very much for having me.

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