Yeah, not so much anymore.

Convergence, as posited by Henry Jenkins in “Convergence Culture,” is less about the actual coming together of various forms of media, but about a digital translation of shared experience — a new kind of Third Place.

While Jenkins said “All sides are assuming greater participation by citizens and consumers, yet they do not yet agree on the terms of that participation,” that way of thinking about civic engagement is not necessarily true (though yes, the devil is still in the details). People have always engaged in mass culture in the public sphere, from water-cooler conversations about television, books, movies to political discussions in bars. The venue has changed, but essential features of the engagement have not:

“Neutral ground provides the place, and leveling sets the stage for the cardinal and sustaining activity of third places everywhere. That activity is conversation.” (Oldenburg, 26)

The decline of concrete third places that fostered discussion did not coincide with the rise of the Internet. The long process of suburbanization, as Oldenburg pointed out, encouraged social disconnect over the long term (and increased socialization, I would argue, within workplaces, where again a shared experience, work, encouraged social connections) and led to the decline of physical Third Places.

Putnam posits an ongoing decline of social interconnectedness and a great deal of unused social capital; similarly, Benkler posits vast quantities of unused creative impulses (and computer cycles).

The rise of the Internet gave outlet both to this dissatisfaction with self-imposed social isolation and unused creativity. Today, there are many virtual third places of many kinds, some commercial, some not, all organized around interest (perhaps like … a bowling league?)

(That’s a joke. There is no online multiplayer mode for Wii Sports. But there should be, NINTENDO.)

Go back a little further than that, way way back, near the beginning of the Internet, to message boards, which still flourish today. Many of the most popular are organized by and for fan communities, virtual Third Places that allow fan culture to flourish: “Fan cultures will be understood here as a revitalization of the old folk culture process in response to the content of mass culture.” (Jenkins 21)

The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer has spawned a massive youth fandom (filled with fanfiction, though not necessarily the Rule 34 variety), and of course, a creative reaction to that fandom.

(Transformational creative work as a reaction to a specific culture, a form of engagement and social commentary.)

To take an example from that fandom (and there are many, even within that particular subculture), it’s interesting to not that that particular forum, like most if not all, has a section for non-subject-related content. The section for discussion of what’s going on in members’ lives has the second most responses of any of the subforums. People post problems, interact, receive advice and support, all from people they trust understand them because of a shared interest. On many forums, there is a place for political discussion as well — all features of a traditional Third Place.

In this way, Third Places have gone digital.

While Jenkins argues “Citizens were better served by popular culture than they were by news or political discourse; popular culture took on new responsibilities for educating the public …”   I would argue that’s a misunderstanding of how convergence is enacted in the public sphere. While some content owners and producers encourage convergence in a media sense, convergence is not about cross-platform media availability, it’s about people interacting with other people regarding things — online, offline, both — they find interesting.

Oldenburg describes the rise of coffeehouses thus:

“The breadth of its invitation, the inclusiveness of its ranks, and its unequivocal acceptance of all men, lent an aura of excitement to the early coffeehouses. The joy of discovering people whom tradition had suspended in their respective places was endemic to the new coffee establishments and soon became epidemic within them. The coffee-house was democracy at birth, equality incarnate; it was a heady and hearty involvement that prompted one observer to liken it to Noah’s ark in which ‘every kind of creature’ may be found.” (186)

Sounds a lot like the Internet, no?

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7 Responses to “Basement dweller. Geek. Internet Tough Guy.”

  1. Torgonator424 says:

    But what’s the sound of an Internet clapping?

  2. admin says:

    I’m not sure where you’re going with that, conceptually, but here.

  3. Torgonator424 says:

    Brenda needs Koan :

  4. admin says:

    Oh, I got it, but I don’t know if you did … ;-)

  5. [...] final note: So remember how a few weeks ago I was all, “blah blah Roy Oldenburg, blah blah Third Places blah [...]

  6. [...] it comes up a few weeks later in the readings and I’ll wish I saved it for then. See: Oldenburg. Then, [...]

  7. [...] from those around them. In essence, if we think of work-of-mouth as important social communication (here’s Oldenburg again) then we, in some ways, select our sounding boards to reflect [...]