Profile: Henry Jenkins, Media Spectator

Gen Y’s seeming addiction to media gets a bad rap these days. We’re all text messages, Twitter and video games. Don’t think video games and movies can help kids learn? Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at USC, formerly of MIT, begs to differ.

Jenkins on Guitar Hero

During his decade-long stint as the Director of MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, Jenkins led a partnership of educators and business leaders to promote the educational benefits of computer and video games and documentary films to promote literacy. He wants to teach students how to utilize the emergence of new and digital media to help continue to transform the business world, training them how to analyze culture to understand how to best integrate into it, organize that information and “translate it into a language that can be understood by stakeholders.” In a recent interview on LifeTips radio, Jenkins answered some relevant questions on digital media and its effects on the ways we interact and learn.

In his recent book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Jenkins illustrates how the digital revolution meets mass media and the new, strange relationships that are birthed out of that. With the consumer’s louder, more visible and public presence across a range of platforms, the little guys can influence the big guys in ways not possible before. On platforms such as YouTube, previously impossible interactions are occurring; media created by commercial giants sits alongside media created by students and non-profits. Large and small share a similar proximity on Twitter, allowing a certain pressure on mainstream media. If its audience is still talking about something on Twitter, CNN has to keep covering it, right?

Jenkins jokes that aside from ChatRoulette, new media has positive effects on our day to day lives. We’ve grown increasingly skeptical; each new technology is pushed out and examined closely before it’s integrated. The conversation about each new development is vast and in-depth. Though new media has raised concerns—cyber bullying and invasion of privacy—Jenkins is quick to cite the benefits; we’re living more socially integrated lives where business and social connections can remain strong across geographic distances. The word “local” no longer applies solely to geography. From LA, Jenkins employs his long-time assistant Amanda who is in Kentucky. He’s also able to collaborate with seven others on his current project, a book called Spreadable Media. This project is an answer to the viral media phenomenon, where he rejects the terminology for its connotations of contamination and unknown cures in favor of the participation-driven spreadable media. “Human agency is the key,” he states in the interview. Rather than mass media calling all the shots, we are able to use our tools to transform the “mass” into the “personal,” creating value by putting information into specific and localized context.

And that’s exactly what he teaches; how to evaluate the culture in order to understand the effects new and digital media are having—and will have—on it. He’s not preparing his students to get jobs after graduation; he’s preparing them to create jobs that don’t exist yet. Check out more about this super hip professor at his personal blog where you can learn from him for free.