Thursday, February 12, 2015

Socratic Dialogue

*Fuchs walks by Jenkins in a study lounge and looks over his shoulder, observing Jenkins scrolling through his Facebook news feed on his iPhone*

Fuchs: Hey Jenkins! Aren't you supposed to be writing your English paper? Why're you procrastinating on Facebook?

Jenkins: Hi Fuchs! I'm just taking a break to update my social media. I love that I'm contributing to culture right now. You should try it some time.

Fuchs: Contributing to culture? How so? How are you influencing the shape of our culture by simply using Facebook? That seems a little trivial to me.

Jenkins: Well I think that various forms of social media allow self expression. They are a facet of participatory culture.

Fuchs: What do you know about the participatory? I've got my own opinions on the concept as well.

Jenkins: Well in my opinion, the participatory is a culture that has low barriers to engagement and expression, whether that be artistic or even civic. It encourages the active participation of its members, and the members that contribute to the culture also must believe that their contributions matter and have an effect. But in addition to that, it is also social. On some level, the members feel like they have a social connection with each other, and they feel strong support for sharing their input with others. The contributors have a strong sense that they matter in the community and that they have a say over where the culture is going.

Fuchs: You are so naive, Jenkins. It is hilarious to me that you think that participation is an exclusively cultural term when in reality, it is so much more than that.

Jenkins: What do you mean? What else is there to it?

Fuchs: Well, for starters, you've neglected the fact that the participatory is a multi-faceted concept. You have a very tunnel-visioned view of it, because you only interpret it under the umbrella of culture.

Jenkins: I'm lost.

Fuchs: Let me explain it this way: it is simply impossible to isolate participation to culture, when the very term "participation" has deeply political and democratic roots.

Jenkins: Wait, wait, wait. Is participation not the act of humans meeting on the internet to form collectives, create, and share content?

Fuchs: Yes but that is only an extremely minor part of it. You you need to view the participation more holistically. By taking the reductionist approach, you are ignoring aspects of participatory democracy, questions about the ownership of companies, collective decision-making, profit, class, and the distribution of material benefits. Your concept of participation is not theoretically grounded.

Jenkins: Ok, smart guy. If you know so much about what participation really is, why don't you just tell me your ideas instead of just shooting down mine!

Fuchs: So glad you finally asked! Well for starters, a truly participatory media democracy must also be an ownership democracy. It means that members of society have the right to be a part of decisions and to govern the control the structures that affect them - they're a form of human rights. Like I said before, participation cannot be limited to culture.

Jenkins: But what about the Internet? You don't mean to tell me that social media is not participation in some form. That's a total lie!

Fuchs: No, you're right in some ways. Internet culture is not separate from political economy - in that sense, social media culture is a culture industry. However, while you focus on engagement on the web, you simultaneously neglect to understand the ramifications this participation has in terms of capital and political economy. They are intertwined and inseparable. Once again, Internet participation is not isolated.

Jenkins: You lost me again.

Fuchs: Well, what do you think of sites like YouTube?

Jenkins: YouTube? I love that site - anyone can post content they like! It's a truly grassroots-form of expression. Plus it's my go-to site for cat videos - by the way have you seen the one of the cat playing the piano?

Fuchs: Yes I have and it's awesome but don't get distracted. You seem to have forgotten that YouTube is owned by Google. All the advertising revenues garnered from the advertisements on the site are paid straight to the shareholders of Google, despite the fact that the majority of content on the site is produced and provided by users. Seems like exploitation of digital labor to me.

Jenkins: Well then in that case, a more collaborative approach is needed between media producers and consumers. That's such an easy and straightforward solution.

Fuchs: Once again you are seeing things in one-dimension. Capitalism itself is contradictory. In capitalism, you cannot have collaboration without two roles: domination and exploitation. Each group must play one of the roles. It is an inherent vice of capitalism - collaboration is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Jenkins: Well now you're just being pessimistic.

Fuchs: No I'm being realistic and standing by my views. You need to understand that an Internet that is based on the commodification of its users cannot be participatory. The reductionist approach that you have adopted will be your downfall.

Jenkins: I won't stand here anymore to be insulted by you! I was at peace before you came,  just minding my own business and taking a study break on Facebook.

Fuchs: Sorry for trying to educate you!

Jenkins: Well it's not appreciated. Now, please leave so I can finish my work.

Fuchs: Ok fine. I guess I'll talk to you later, unless you'll be too busy scrolling down your News Feed!

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