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11 July 2005

Henry Jenkins on the 'collective intelligence' of media fans

Extensive quotes from Henry Jenkins' Interactive Audiences? The 'Collective Intelligence' of Media Fans follow. I'll probably make some more of this when I have the time.

The new participatory culture is taking shape at the intersection between three trends:
(1) new tools and technologies enable consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content
(2) a range of subcultures promote Do-It-Yourself (DIY) media production, a discourse that shapes how consumers have deployed those technologies
(3) economic trends favoring the horizontally integrated media conglomerates encourage the flow of images, ideas, and narratives across multiple media channels and demand more active modes of
spectatorship.

...Levy explores how the 'deterritorialization' of knowledge, brought about by the ability of the net and the web to facilitate rapid many-to-many communication, might enable broader participation in decision-making, new modes of citizenship and community, and the reciprocal exchange of information... The new knowledge communities will be voluntary, temporary, and tactical affiliations, defined through common intellectual enterprises and emotional investments. Members may shift from one community to another as their interests and needs change and they may belong to more than one community at the same time. Yet, they are held together through the mutual production and reciprocal exchange of knowledge. As Levy explains,

...Not only does the cosmopedia make available to the collective intellect all of the pertinent knowledge available to it at a given moment, but it also serves as a site of collective discussion, negotiation, and developmentā€¦

On-line fan communities might well be some of the most fully realized versions of Levy's cosmopedia, expansive self-organizing groups focused around the collective production, debate, and circulation of meanings, interpretations, and fantasies in response to various artifacts of contemporary popular culture...

Nancy Baym has discussed the important functions of talk within on-line soap fandom: 'Fans share knowledge of the show's history, in part, because the genre demands it. Any soap has broadcast more material than any single fan can remember.' Fans inform each other about program history or recent developments they may have missed. The fan community pools its knowledge because no single fan can know everything necessary to fully appreciate the series. Levy distinguishes between shared knowledge (which would refer to information known by all members of a community) and collective intelligence (which describes knowledge available to all members of a community). Collective intelligence expands a community's productive capacity because it frees individual members from the limitations of their memory and enables the group to act upon a broader range of expertise...

Soap talk, Baym notes, allows people to 'show off for one another' their various competencies while making individual expertise more broadly available. Fans are motivated by epistemaphilia - not simply a pleasure in knowing but a pleasure in exchanging knowledge. Baym argues that fans see the exchange of speculations and evaluations of soaps as a means of 'comparing, refining, and negotiating understandings of their socioemotional environment.' Matthew Hills has criticized audience researchers for their preoccupation with fan's meaning production at the expense of consideration of their affective investments and emotional alliances. Yet, as Baym's term, 'socioemotional' suggests, meanings are not some abstracted form of knowledge, separated from our pleasures and desires isolated from fandom's social bonds. When fans talk about meaningful encounters with texts, they are describing what they feel as much as what they think. Fandom is held together as much through those shared expressions of emotion and desire - by what Sue Clerc, drawing on fan slang, calls 'drool' - as through the exchange of program specific information.

Levy contrasts his ideal of 'collective intelligence' with the dystopian image of the 'hive mind,' where individual voices are suppressed. Far from demanding conformity, the new knowledge culture is enlivened by multiple ways of knowing...

The new information space involves multiple and unstable forms of recontextualization. The value of any bit of information increases through social interaction. Commodities are a limited good and their exchange necessarily creates or enacts inequalities. But, meaning is a shared and constantly renewable resource and its circulation can create and revitalize social ties...

The new digital environment increases the speed of fan communication, resulting in what Matthew Hills calls 'just in time fandom.'

...Hills explains, 'the practices of fandom have become increasingly enmeshed with the rhythms and temporalities of broadcasting, so that fans now go online to discuss new episodes immediately after the episode's transmission time or even during ad-breaks perhaps in order to demonstrate the ''timeliness'' and responsiveness of their devotion.'

This expectation of timeliness complicates the global expansion of the fan community, with time lags in the distribution of cultural goods across national markets hampering full participation from fans that will receive the same program months or even years later.

...Concerned about different national expectations about what kinds of animation are appropriate for children, anime fans have organized their own ratings groups.

As the community enlarges and as reaction time shortens, fandom becomes much more effective as a platform for consumer activism. Fans can quickly mobilize grassroots efforts to save programs or protest unpopular developments. New fandoms emerge rapidly on the web - in some cases before media products actually reach the market. As early participants spread news about emergent fandoms, supporters quickly develop the infrastructure for supporting critical dialogue, producing annotated program guides, providing regular production updates, and creating original fan stories and artwork. The result has been an enormous proliferation of fan websites and discussion lists. Kirsten Pullen estimates, for example, that as of June 2000 there were more than 33,000 fan websites listed in the Yahoo! Web Directory, dealing with individual performers, programs, and films - with 1200 websites devoted to Star Trek alone! One portal, Fan Fiction on the Web, lists more than three hundred different media texts which have generated at least some form of fan fiction, representing a much broader array of genres than previously suspected. As fandom diversifies, it moves from cult status towards the cultural mainstream, with more Internet users engaged in some form of fan activity...

The speed and frequency of communication may intensify the social bonds within the fan community. In the past, fans inhabited a 'week-end only world.'

Andre MacDonald has described fandom in terms of various disputes... a community whose utopian aspirations are constantly being tested against unequal experiences, levels of expertise, access to performers and community resources, control over community institutions, and degrees of investment in fan traditions and norms. Moreover, as Nancy Baym suggests, the desire to avoid such conflicts can result in an artificial consensus which shuts down the desired play with alternative meanings. Levy seemingly assumes a perfect balance between mechanisms for producing knowledge and for sustaining affiliations...

To be marketable the new cultural works will have to provoke and reward collective meaning production through elaborate back stories, unresolved enigmas, excess information, and extratextual expansions of the program universe.

...New technologies provide the information infrastructure necessary to sustain a richer form of television content, while these programs reward the enhanced competencies of fan communities. Television producers are increasingly knowledgeable about their fan communities, often courting their support through networked computing.

The horizontal integration of the entertainment industry - and the emergent logic of synergy - depends on the circulation of intellectual properties across media outlets. Transmedia promotion presumes a more active spectator who can and will follow these media flows. Such marketing strategies promote a sense of affiliation with and immersion in fictional worlds. The media industry exploits these intense feelings through the marketing of ancillary goods from t-shirts to games with promises of enabling a deeper level of involvement with the program content. However, attempts to regulate intellectual property undercut the economic logic of media convergence, sending fans contradictory messages about how they are supposed to respond to commercial culture.

Posted at 03:08 PM in Fandom, Media Literacy | Permalink

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