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Personal media vs. communal media in Jenkins’ Convergence Culture

February 8, 2010

I’m reading Henry Jenkin’s Convergence Culture, 2006 version. Impressed with fluency of writing, with examples of how old and new media coexist in the present era, with attempt at distinguishing media from ‘delivery technologies’ (p. 13-14) and with the frank admission that the author doesn’t really understand the current media revolution – a rare public confession to make in the genre of popular new media scholarship, not generally known for the modesty of its authors. Jenkins argues against a technology-driven account of media convergence. Instead he regards convergence as a ‘cultural shift’ in which consumers ‘seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content’ (p. 3).

Because of Jenkins’ insistence on the growing complexity of today’s media landscape, I was surprised to read in the Conclusion about his views on ‘personalised media’. This, says Jenkins, was an early 1990s ideal promoted by the likes of the conservative theorist George Gilder in which digital media would liberate us from the tyrannical mass media, ‘allowing us to consume only content we found personally meaningful’ (p. 255). In contrast to this individualistic world dominated by personal media, Jenkins argues that convergence fosters ‘participation and collective intelligence’ (p. 256). He concludes that

[r]ather than talking about personal media, perhaps we should be talking about communal media – media that become part of our lives as members of communities, whether experienced face-to-face at the most local level or over the Net (p. 256).

But surely it is not an either/or matter? With Marika Lüders (2008), I would argue that three main types of media coexist and collide in many parts of our contemporary world: mass media, group media and personal media. Personalised media is one trend among many that we can observe in recent years – the ability of individuals to personalise their media uses. But it is not the only trend, and individuals never operate in a boundless, undifferentiated social space. Individuals personalise their media within and across organisations, markets, fields, kin groups, peer groups, cohorts, and so on, each with their own social and media ‘logics’, as I argue in a forthcoming paper, The weakness of weak ties.

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