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My failed BeyondBroadcast talk

I did the “wrapup” at BeyondBroadcast, and tried to talk about the thought I keep coming back to but am never able to articulate. At least it was brief – under 10 minutes, I think. Here’s the outline of what I said:

1. What’s the thread between participatory culture and participatory democracy? Why think one has to do with the other? How can participatory culture be “transformative,” as Henry Jenkins suggested in his terrific opening talk. (Digression: The mainstream media are focused on including “user-generated content” on their sites as their response to participatory culture, but that’s not transformative.)

2. Well, what is democracy. There are bunches of definitions: Majority vote, society of equals, government that gets its authority from the people. But most important, it’s ours. The government isn’t theirs, the way it was the king’s.

3. So, what does “ours” mean? Again, there are bunches of definitions: What the law gives you control over, on our side, of our nature or essence. But, when it comes to culture, look at the difference between your study of a foreign culture and your participation in yours. Culture is ours because it makes us who we are; we are indistinguishable from it.

4. But, participatory culture is changing the nature and topology of ours. It’s ours in a different way. We can create works with strangers, with anonymous crowds, and in all the other ways we’re inventing. This is a very different sense of ours. And it’s not just that we can build Wikipedia or Flickr streams. We also get to make these works matter to one another: That we can surface and pass around the video or the prose so that it becomes a shared cultural object also changes the nature of the ours.

5. So, how does this new ours affect democracy? (And it’s more likely to affect democracy before it affects politics since those folks have a death grip on power.) How does this ours get turned into an us that operates politically? I dunno. I.e., this talks makes no progress on the question it raises :( [Tags: ]

11 Responses to “My failed BeyondBroadcast talk”

  1. david – i wouldn’t call your talk a failure (see subject line) but i also wouldn’t call it a wrap up.

    instead of trying to bring together the day’s disparate threads, you seemed more interested in highlighting the complexity of the concept of ours.

  2. I wouldn’t call it a failure. I think you did a good job of talking about what’s happening today and asking the question of why it matters. Trying to tie a neat ribbon around the various discussions from yesterday was not something that was possible. I preferred your 10,000 ft approach.

  3. I don’t think it was a failure either. The line you ad libbed about building something powerful with strangers nailed it!

  4. Participatory culture and participatory democracy involve getting people *engaged* in the action.

  5. oh, definitely not a failure, D…your “what is it and why does it matter?” line of questioning is *always* important. At cons like this, there’s lots of enthusiasm for high concepts presented by eloquent and meaningful thinkers, and it is very easy to get swept up in the headiness of it all….without hearing what’s actually being said…

    the thing that got me in what you said was how big media is “thrashing around” with the inculsion of user generated content. Yes, they are–and the “users” (people) could get seriously thrashed by what big media does with their work (loss of right to republish, for one thing. usurping of ugc under copyright laws, then repurposing of same ugc a possible other…) What occurs with ugc is happening to us more than some realize.

  6. the thing that got me in what you said was how big media is “thrashing around” with the inculsion of user generated content. Yes, they are–and the “users” (people) could get seriously thrashed by what big media does with their work (loss of right to republish, for one thing. usurping of ugc under copyright laws, then repurposing of same ugc a possible other…) What occurs with ugc is happening to us more than some realize.

    And don’t think for one minute that this doesn’t include NPR and PBS. Public broadcasting and copyright They should not be exempted from this conversation.

  7. I agree with Beth. I work regularly over the I-way with people I’ve never met; at some point they are no longer “strangers” but nor are they “people” in the meat sense. We often have no idea what they look like.

    We’ve all serendipitously made connections with cyberpersons or groups with whom we develop a rapport due to common interests/causes, similar senses of humor, or other traits that bond us.

    This is, to me, only a new form of “meeting at the pub” or other social gathering for exchanging opinions (“. . . *engaged* in the action.” as Daniel said) but less locally. Unfortunately, it tends to be an exclusive media as only us “geeks” are fully participatory.

    On a different tack, this trend is going against McLuhan’s “global village” concept of “a single consciousness” which he saw TV creating. I see this as a Good Thing. The ability to participate causes us to seek those with whom we have some common interest instead of forcing us to coexist with those physically around us, whether we like them (or even approve of them) or not.

    Thus the proliferation of entrenched groups like StormFront, mainstream political “camps”, splinter political “camps”, religious cybersantuaries, and nearly any kind of social milieu one could want, allowing us to ignore all the “thems” around us.

    Inevitably the downside of this trend is a depersonalization of people in the meat world leading to road rage, less socialization, and impersonality in the “marketplace” (Walmart?). Look around you in a crowd: a large percentage are connected elsewhere on cellphones or ipods. We don’t even have to live in the world we inhabit.

    My point is that this “participatory trend” is a change, not a new manifestation. Cyberspace makes it easier to find kindred beings but can reduce the interaction with those of differing opinion leading to more polarization of the citizenry while allowing better response to events among each group.

    In either case (the old or the new), it is still a minority who becomes involved and participates, albeit a larger minority now since it is so much easier. It’s still easier to sit and watch American Idol or some other drivel.

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  10. Earlier in the day I was taking notes. Your talk, I just sat back and enjoyed. “Ours” and “us,” “me” and “mine”… thank you for re-stating what we heard, David. How participatory media feeds, amplifies, projects and protects participatory democracy and culture depends on us.

    I thought about SJ’s point, that “participatory culture” is redundant, and I thought that even so, this talk by David is bringing it back home.

    I thought it was a great talk.

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