Convergence Culture and Art21

A selection from the Burning Life Flickr group by Cherry 108.

A selection from the Burning Life Flickr group by Cherry 108.

Somehow, Henry Jenkins manages to make an unlikely pair of punk DIY culture and traditional quilting bees in his book, Convergence Culture. So what do these two have in common? They both have to do with cultures that foster “broad participation, grassroots creativity, and a bartering or gift economy”. Through varying levels of involvement, members of the convergence culture can interact and participate with media and each other.

In the beginning, many businesses tried to harness the power of convergence culture under the ill-conceived idea that internet and television culture would converge to form new media. Later, many realized that old and new media are not converging, but that new media overcomes old media, the same way the computer overcame the typewriter. With this new media, convergence comes in difference forms. The power of collective intelligence is recognized, but not always understood, and many businesses now realize that participatory culture is of use to them.

Of course, there is a difference between interaction and participation in convergence culture. Interaction describes the ways in which media is created to allow users to respond, no matter how small or subtle their method of response. Participation, however, contrasts with “passive media spectatorship”. In participatory culture, producers and consumers do not assume separate roles in the spectrum of media creation. To participate, we put the pieces of our knowledge together to create better, more complex media. In effect, participation is generative whereas interactivity is like a mouse pushing a lever to receive a parcel of food. Participation, by definition, is a “relation to the larger whole“.

The Art21 Blog post on Burning Life brings to mind the very definition of collective intelligence by bringing “together people with different knowledge and skills”. In this instance, the collective sphere is exhibited in the form of virtual worlds. The main idea behind the project is to maintain audience involvement with the artists through Second Life. Author Nettrice Gaskins hits on a few pertinent points when she mentions that the collaborators share a “common goal”, and that the work is “transcendent” and “greater than the sum of its parts”, distinctly describing this little niche of participatory culture.

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