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In my book, Convergence Culture (Jenkins, 2006a), I offer a description of our present moment of media change and try to identify trends which are redefining the relationship between media producers and consumers. This essay outlines some of the implications of those changes for the media literacy movement. Two seemingly contradictory trends are shaping the current media landscape: On the one hand, new media technologies have lowered production and distribution costs, expanded the range of available delivery channels, and enabled consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and re-circulate media content. At the same time, there has been an alarming concentration of the ownership of mainstream commercial media, with a small handful of multinational media conglomerates dominating all sectors of the entertainment industry. No one seems capable of describing both sets of changes at the same time let alone show how they impact each other. Some fear that media is out of control, others that it is too controlled. Some see a world without gatekeepers, others a world where gatekeepers have unprecedented power. At the intersection between these two forces lies convergence culture. Convergence culture is what comes after the digital revolution. In the world of media convergence, every important story gets told, every brand gets sold, and every consumer gets courted across multiple media platforms. Convergence Culture (Jenkins, 2006a) rejects what it calls the Black Box Fallacy the idea that convergence should be understood primarily in terms of the merging of technological functions within media devices. Rather, my book sees convergence as a cultural process. Convergence alters the relationship between existing technologies, industries, markets, genres, and audiences. Media companies are learning how to accelerate the flow of media content across delivery channels to expand revenue opportunities, broaden markets, and reinforce viewer commitments. Consumers are learning how to use these different media technologies to bring the flow of media more fully under their control and to interact with other consumers.
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Henry Jenkins In this new media landscape, children are participants not spectators, not even consumers in the traditional sense of the term. They are actively shaping media content a process which offers them new opportunities for emotional growth and intellectual development but which also poses new kinds of ethical responsibilities. Let s be clear that participation refers to something different from interactivity: Interactivity is a property of technologies; participation refers to what the culture does with these new media resources. The iPod is a technology which enables new kinds of interactions with recorded sound (and video); podcasting is a new form of participation which has grown up around this technology. As we develop a better understanding of the affordances of new media technologies, new kinds of participatory cultures grow up around them. My own work is motivated by a belief in the potential benefits of these new participatory cultures in terms of diversifying media content, fostering a more empowered public, and making media companies more responsive to their consumers. Many of the key political struggles in the 21st century may center on our right to participate (which can be abstracted from the first amendment rights to speech, press, assembly, petition, and religion). In Convergence Culture (Jenkins, 2006a), I argue that by participating in popular culture, consumers young and old acquire skills in collaboration and knowledge sharing which may be fundamental to the future of democratic citizenship. Yet even if you are still driven by a desire to protect children from exposure to media violence or commercial interests, then you need to understand the shift in the way media operates. Even if you want to focus on television rather than new media, the emergence of participatory media is fundamentally altering the ways people relate to broadcast media. None of us can pretend to have all of the answers: the changes are still occurring, and so far they have moved in unpredictable directions. If educators do not study the changing media landscape, they are in no position to help students navigate its twisty pathways. This essay describes some of the ways that youth are experiencing these changes in their relationship to popular culture. I will focus on notions of role play, pop cosmopolitanism, complexity, and knowledge sharing which are central to any understanding of the pedagogical potentials of contemporary popular culture; I will suggest ways that these experiences challenge the underlying assumptions shaping our current media literacy curriculum. The chapter will end with a first stab at naming and illustrating some of the core skills which educators will need to be fostering in the coming decade. Education for the digital revolution has stressed tools above all else: The challenge was to wire the classroom and prepare kids for the demands of the new technologies. Little effort was made to give kids a context for thinking about these changes or to help them think about the new respon16
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Media Literacy Who Needs It sibilities and challenges they faced as participants in the digital culture. Convergence culture is no longer purely digital as wave after wave of portable technologies have reshaped the flow of media within our culture. We can no longer afford to simply focus on the technologies and ignore the cultural changes which are occurring around and through them. And we really cannot afford to remain so fixated on television and mass media that we ignore the emergence of participatory culture altogether. I am one of the principal investigators for the New Media Literacies Project, launched in spring 2006 by the MacArthur Foundation. The Project s central focus is to identify skills, knowledge, and competencies young people need to become meaningful participants skills which will be central to learning, citizenship, community, and cultural expression. We hope to identify and promote a range of different interventions through schools, afterschool programs, public institutions, and commercial culture itself designed to promote these new-media literacies. We are just beginning our work by trying to spark a public dialogue about the future of media education. Many educators and policy makers may ask: Media literacy who needs it First and foremost, adults need media literacy education. Our education schools offer little guidance for teachers in how to talk with their students about the significant media changes taking place all around them. Most of the groups offering advice to parents focus on restricting access if not prohibiting media outright and thus do little to help moms and dads understand what it would take to construct a meaningful relationship to media. Our legal authorities are striking out blindly, trying to regulate media changes they do not yet fully understand. Our children are immersed in this emerging culture while adults too often remain on the outside looking in. Marc Prensky (2001) writes about the widening gap between digital natives and digital immigrants, suggesting that these two generational cohorts are never going to experience digital media in the same way because of such fundamental differences in backgrounds and experiences. Adults, he says, compute with an accent. But, make no mistake, kids need media literacy education, too. We will see some vivid examples throughout this essay of informal learning communities where kids develop core cultural competencies through their participation in popular culture. Yet these skills are unevenly distributed across the population and even the most media-literate kids are often not asking hard questions about the ways media reshape our perceptions of the world. We owe it to all of these constituencies to be up to date in our understanding of the media landscape and forward-thinking in our conception of what constitutes media literacy.
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