Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Socratic Dialogue

Jenkins: Social media is an expression of participatory culture!
Fuchs: Oh really, Jenkins? Why don’t you tell me what is so participatory about it.
Jenkins: Well, for starters, the web has become a place where corporations can actively engage consumers and invite them to participate in the creation of new content! The barriers to expression are remarkably low, and everyone has a chance to be heard.
Fuchs: Why don’t you give me an example of how consumers are invited to participate.
Jenkins: Lots of companies hold contests in which their customers can submit and vote on ideas for new types of products. This way, the consumers get to be a part of the creative process, and they get a product that they want!
Fuchs: So consumers basically perform a service for a company? They provide an idea as well as a valuable consumer preference information?
Jenkins: Yep! Everyone has a lead role.
Fuchs: But the companies are not paying their costumers for this service… In essence they’re outsourcing their design work for free, right?
Jenkins: Uh.. I suppose you could say that.
Fuchs: So everyone is playing a lead role, but not everyone is receiving the same rewards. That doesn’t seem like equal participation to me. In fact, that sounds like the companies are benefiting at the expense of their consumers and disguising a scheme to acquire valuable information for free.
Jenkins: But its not like the consumers are receiving nothing at all. They receive the empowering knowledge that they helped create something!
Fuchs: So you think that its participation rather than exploitation just because the consumers are involved in the decision making?
Jenkins: Yes, I do. Audience involvement is at the very heart of participation, and its not exploitation if the audience enjoys it!
Fuchs: Aaahh, interesting theory, Jenkins. While I disagree that its not exploitation, I agree with your claim that involvement in decision making is at the heart of participation. However, true participation means having the right to be part of decisions that govern and control the structures that effect you. That means its about more than just cultural factors, its also about political and political economic factors.
Jenkins: Well, I’m referring to participatory culture, Fuchs. Not participatory politics and not participatory political economics. I’m concerned with expression, engagement, creation, sharing, experience, contributions, and feelings— not your critical pessimism.
Fuchs: So you’ve decided to focus only on the feel-good and romanticized aspects of social media, and you’re entirely uninterested in the harsh realities of privacy violations, exploitation, and economic discrepancies, etc?
Jenkins: Well I could say the same about you! You are only concerned with the downsides of social media, and you completely ignore the advantages and conveniences it provides us with. You go on and on about exploitation and economic crisis, but I do not agree that those are defining qualities of social media. Websites like Facebook provide us with the invaluable service of keeping us connected with our friends, they suggest articles that pertain to our interests, and they allow us to share our own thoughts and ideas. The only thing we need to do in return for that service is have a few ads on our news feed! We don't even have to look at them if we don't want to!
Fuchs: Your relentless Web 2.0 optimism is uncritical and serves corporate interests. Facebook may provide its users with messaging and sharing abilities, but its not free. The users pay by viewing endless amounts of advertisements. In reality it is actually the users that provide Facebook with a free service-- they provide personal information that Facebook can then sell for a massive profit. Is that profit made from that information shared with its creators?
Jenkins: ..... no
Fuchs: Here's the deal, Jenkins, an internet that accumulates capital by exploiting and commodifying its users can never be participatory! Participatory democracy strives to maximize human capacities and make humans well rounded individuals. If social media had this kind of goal in mind, we wouldn't be directed to the websites of the highest bidding corporation. We'd be directed to websites that actually correspond with our interests and aren't seeking to profit off our human desire to keep connected!
Jenkins: *silence*
Fuchs: I wouldn't be surprised if you were getting paid by an advertising company right now! They probably hired you to romanticize social media and keep users feeling like active participants so they continue to "express themselves" and create information that can be bought and sold.
Jenkins: *more silence*

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