28 Sep 2009

You got to know when to hold ‘em

September 28, 2009 501A, assignments 1 Comment

I play games all the time! I bought myself a Wii about a year ago, and I love it — I really need to buy Shaun White Snowboarding, because I’ve rented it too many times — and of course I play silly little games like Snood (on my computer) and Text Twist (phone), because they’re a good little brain break. I’ve wasted months of my life playing Tony Hawk on XBox; I went to a LAN party when Halo 2 came out (even though I hate first-person shooters, I’m terrible at them); I bought myself Neverwinter Nights last time I was unemployed to give myself something to be involved in. I’ve personally owned Atari, Sega, Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Game Boy (that’s not really an impressive list) and owned several games for XBox (though the console wasn’t mine).

I’m pretty lame in that I don’t really like multiplayer games — I’d rather play stuff by myself than against people. One of my favorite games ever is Settlers of Catan, which a friend introduced me to the online version, and then gave me a copy of the board game. I still like playing against the bots in the online version best. For me, gaming is an escape and a chance to lose myself in a story, which is why I’m more likely to play Tony Hawk in the story mode and gravitate towards games like Crash Bandicoot than the new Halo. It’s just a game, so why be serious? Unless we’re playing blackjack. Blackjack is Serious Business.


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?

20 Sep 2009

Shiny things and tasty little morsels.

September 20, 2009 501A, assignments Comments Off

I have a very bad habit. (Lots, actually, but that is many, many other posts.) This one really comes down to being what I like to call an intellectual magpie: I’m interested in lots of different subjects and ideas, and like to think, read and talk about said subjects and ideas, and often connect them in different ways.

This drives my friends nuts, because I tend to say things like “I read this REALLY FASCINATING article which pertains EXACTLY to this conversation we’re having RIGHT NOW but not obviously, and I’d link you but I can’t remember where or how I found it/what the headline was/who wrote it. BUTYOUSHOULDTOTALLYREADITRIGHTNOWGO.”

You see how this would get annoying.


15 Sep 2009

Each new platform is a kicking, screaming toddler.

September 15, 2009 501A Comments Off

By which I mean to say, every social media service demands attention constantly.

To continue this riff on ideas about a crisis of selection, I’ve noticed several people talk about information overload, particularly within the context of multiple platforms of interactivity.


14 Sep 2009

There are 1.2 million Google hits for “love to hate”

September 14, 2009 501A Comments Off

Via the Pew Research Center for People and the Press: a new report that says, among other things, a) nobody trusts the press and b) everybody thinks the press is important to the workings of a democratic society.



But if three-quarters of the news consuming public thinks a media organization is for the other guy, doesn’t that mean we’re doing our jobs?

(I know that’s not necessarily the correct way to read the data, because some people could think we’re “for” their side.)

I find it interesting, too, that a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents thinks press treatment of the Obama administration is fair, and I’m heartened about this:



The study also has some interesting things to say about people’s consumption of local news, and there are some surprisingly positive implications for community news outlets. Go see.