Steven Johnson and Henry Jenkins

Keynote at SXSW Saturday. Notes, not a true live blog. Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson

  • SJ: have you seen another wave of the backlash, the dumbing down?
  • HJ: these things do come in waves and we’re probably overdue. Never underestimate the desire of parents to see their children as dumb, it’s easy to imagine our children as failures as they do things that were unknown to us. Young people are adapters of new media, outside of eyes of their parents. There’s a sense of fear – I said to my some everything i said I wouldn’t. It does not take much, a decline in test scores, a Columbine and that gives a moral panic. There are new literacies that are so powerful but parents do not understand. People want me to tell them it is OK.
  • SJ: I’ve always wanted to see the development of ways of measuring these new technologies. have you seen anything?
  • HJ: the evidence has moved from the anecdotal to the local and we start to see some national stuff. the model is wrong, it started from the assumption of the individual learner, but as we move to the era of collective intelligence, it changes. It is a very different model of how we process information. It starts from the assumption that everyone has some expertise, but not that all know everything.  The challenge is to measure the skills we have to measure the ability to share knowledge.   I had respect for expertise until I got asked to write for Encyclopedia Britannica, then I relasied that wikipedia had got it right.  There’s more brainpower in the collective than the individual. How we work and play is polling knowledge, but that is not how we test young people. It’s about processing knowledge, not acquiring it.
  • SJ: if you spend lots of time in front of new tech, do you ever look at a new tech and say that is just stupid
  • HJ: it’s a momentary flash in my mind. my graining shows me that people don’t do things that are meaningless. the challenge is to find out why things are meaningful. what I think is interesting up to a point only.  You have to start from premise that things are meaningful.
  • SJ: since last time, TV has changed – Lost and the Wire. so which is better? What criteria do we used to evaluate?
  • HJ: the wire has created a layer of complexity over the years. with Lost, much of it takes place online, through the transmedia extensions, through the fans.  the complexity of engagement is part of what makes that compelling. Wire may be the last gasp of an old style TV, whereas Lost may be the first glimpse of new TV. pushes us in new directions in how to engage with TV.
  • SJ: when you look at those fan creations, it’s amazing how much time people have.  One person does this thing, then they upload it, put it in the discussion.  Clearly these people don’t have kids!
  • HJ: we should reverse this. What’s wring with America that these incredibly bright people don’t have opportunities to do this in the workplace. I study pink collared workers-  need quals but their job does not give opportunities and they get this outside. why are those skills so underutilised. how can we harness that creative energy. What we are seeing right now is that people are getting skills in their play that are being applied to the rest. As we learn to live in a knowledge culture, as we develop the apparatus to trust and share knowledge, how do we turn that back into something that can change society.
  • SJ: there’s a Harry Potter fan fic documentary you are in?
  • HJ: I get involved, I talk to lots about this. There is a feeling that people are learning how to read from HP, but there is also people who are learning how to write, via fanfic novels. Also social network learning – through wizard rock/ They are learning to become political through Harry Potter, about rights to write stories, on fair use. It’s a global network of people who connect through their love of the fiction. In a hunting society, kids play with bows and arrows and in an information society, kids play with information
  • SJ: when people talk about this generation, talk about they are under some kind of attack from their media, lets look at what are they like. this is the least violent generation since 50s, the most political engaged, the most entrepreneurial. so do we have a crisis or an opportunity.  People are more engaged in general, on different levels. The idea that there is some kind of reason for a moral panic is very strange.
  • HJ: I’m a total Obama boy (massive cheers). Yes We Can is one of the things that fascinates me. A friend tracks language use online – politicians use ‘I", young people use ‘we’. It is a language of social networks and collective intelligence.  It has a history, it reflects Obama history. It’s a different way of modeling society.  Looking at a recent speech of Hilary, it was all ‘I’, but Obama  – it’s about the process by which he collects information, about how we build this together.  Through the SNS, it’s about a circle around the candidate.
  • SJ: I’ve been involved with OutsideIn for a while, to look at the geographic internet. It was thought that the internet would drive people away from the cities, but the opposite is true. We saw how many local bloggers there were, that blogged about the neighbourhood and community. My one plug, we are about to launch OnMyRadar, a facebook feed, local information. tied into FireEagle. Show me things that are happening here and now. Trying to enable local experts, to pass the knowledge.
  • HJ: the challenge is how to harvest community to share information. We have underestimated high school kids, how many have Lj accounts, learning to write. Can we free young people up to write things up.  Can people contribute to the botton up news. How do we give them the tools to do so,

Audience Questions:

  • one thing i talk to my kids is about the ratio of production and consumption? do you think new media changes this?
  • HJ: Yes. it is increasing. % of young people producing is astronomical compared to others.  Look at Soulja Boy.  He tapped into social networks, got people to share the videos and music. The challenges are 2fold, if 57-60% are producing, what about the ones who do not have access, who do not feel empowered. those inequalities are things we need to talk about.  We have the media being circulated and things can go wrong, what happens when the adults don’t know what go wrong. We need parents to watch their back, to support.  We have to take responsibility to support them.
  • SJ: Create vs Consume is a good way. Parents were coming up to me saying about limiting screentime – the difference between watchign and creating, it is the kindof things that they are doing.
  • Q: how literally should I take the idea of collective intelligence. what individual skills are useful?
  • HJ: collective intelligence – 2 ideas. one is wisdom of crowds, an aggregate model, all independently add info and it is averaged out. the other is about consensus. the levi model depends on diversity, without diversity then the outcomes is flat.  In that model there is no tension between individual and collective, they have to have their own contribution and input.  The difference between wikipedia and youtube.  YT is majoritorian, Wiki, is collective and diversity. On YT different voices are there but are hidden from view.
  • Q:How about cyberaddiction, how people sit in front of a screen for hours and hours.
  • HJ: the minute we use addiction language we are getting the wrong start. stay up all night reading a book then I’m learning. so what do people find so compelling about these activities. Can we make school as compelling. Addiction experts say that what we see are symptoms of depression, the challenge is to separate out tech from real problems of mental health. In China, the government use the word addiction to control access.
  • Q: how are the online relationships change the social fabric.
  • HJ: the social fabric was damaged in 50s – mobility, etc, the internet is part of repairing that damage, it gives us ways to maintain the connections. we meet more people than we ever did before, that is a large social force. we use tolls like sns to manage those relationships. Facebook now sends the CV with it, so it helps.
  • Q: transformative abilities for creation – so how do we balance democratic and commercial.
  • HJ: I’m an optimist. I believe in participatory culture. but if we take it as given that we have it then we will lose it.     we have to challenge the terms we are given. we have to hold companies accountable for their terms they give us that prevents participation.  when communities are commodified, when gift culture becomes UGC with no value, no revenue for creators. I’m excited about the organisation of transformative work, pooling knowledge of lawyers.  We can;t assume the interest of company owners and consumers are the same.
  • SJ: because we come a the world as an optimist, we have used our writings to push for this, we are progressives, in thinking about the world, about where the progress is coming from.  There is reason for hope, looking at positive and empowering trends.
  • Q: pink collar workers – hi level education, not using capacity in the job. what could be done?
  • HJ: we need a workplace that harnesses the skills of these people.

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