Web 2.0 Intellectuals

Media Scholars of Today Have to Explore Unkown Territories of the Modern Virtual World

Studying media today means studying a moving target. Digital technologies and the newly developing cultural practices of the Internet are changing the media landscapes we inhabit and, as some claim, the fabric of our societies.

In these rapidly changing virtual worlds, media scholars are exploring the unmapped territories, both from within and without. They participate in these new online cultures, but also step back to critically examine what is happening.

This means ‘hanging out’ with the digital natives in their natural habitat, trying to understand the emerging languages, rituals and communication practices.

One defining feature of New Media cultures – what has been called Web 2.0 – is the blurring of boundaries between producers and audiences. Consumers are turned into participants and producers. These developments not only have an effect on the old media – on the way news is generated and distributed, for example – but on the entertainment industries, the arts, politics, but also on schools and universities.

The Internet changes the ways some teachers and scholars relate to people, reaching out to audiences far beyond campus gates – for example through weblogs, where boundaries between formal and informal, personal and professional discourses dissolve.

When I went to university a couple of decades ago, university professors were never considered sexy, unless they were French intellectuals and wore black. Now media scholars represent a new kind of cool. Henry Jenkins may be a bearded intellectual, but his avatar was roaming and giving lectures in the virtual Internet world of Second Life before most of us had ever even heard of its existence. A declared fan of popular culture himself and advocate of video games – in his books Fans, Bloggers and Gamers and Convergence Culture and on his weblog henryjenkins.org he throws some light onto how people appropriate popular media content, reshaping it to serve their own needs and interests.

Danah Boyd, who blogs on zephoria.org  with thoughts on youth culture and mediated social networks, walked the red carpet at this year’s Film Festival in Cannes. She had been invited to talk about youth and their engagement with film and new media. Her recent blog essay on class distinctions between MySpace and Facebook users caused quite a stir.  It provoked hundreds of emails, blog posts, and comments across the web. She wrote: “I’m in awe of the amount of time and energy people put into thinking through and critiquing my essay.“

Then there is YouTube and Michael Wesch’s video Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us, which has been viewed over 3.5 million times since it was first uploaded in January 2007. Who would have thought an assistant professor from Kansas would ever reach such audiences? Or a high school teacher like Karl Fish, whose video ‘Did you know?’ was viewed 2 million times since January.

YouTube and other more specialised sites such as TED Talks on ted.com make it possible to watch and listen to clips of presentations by the most brilliant minds. Fans of pop intellectuals may visit David Gauntlett’s www.theory.org.uk and buy some action figures or trading cards of theorists such as Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Germaine Greer and Michel Foucault – wearing black, of course.

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