Thursday, May 31, 2007

Creative Media

[Part Three in a series: Reading Benkler's Wealth of Networks.]

Creativity is a key value promoted by the new media environment. The enhanced capacity for both individual- and peer-production enables our transformation from passive consumers to engaged producers of social media. This is not to wholly replace polished, professional ("Hollywood") production, as Benkler notes (pp.55-6):
It does not mean that there is no continued role for the mass-produced and mass-marketed cultural products—be they Britney Spears or the broadcast news. It does, however, mean that many more “niche markets”—if markets, rather than conversations, are what they should be called—begin to play an ever-increasing role in the total mix of our cultural production system. The economics of production in a digital environment should lead us to expect an increase in the relative salience of nonmarket production models in the overall mix of our information production system, and it is efficient for this to happen—more information will be produced, and much of it will be available for its users at its marginal cost.

The point, again, is to supplement commercial mass-media products. Peer-produced niche products and information may prove valuable to diverse audiences, but – no less importantly – their production engages the creative capacities of their amateur producers, which – as every amateur hobbyist well knows – can be an extraordinarily empowering and meaningful human experience. As Benkler (pp.134-5) writes:
[Home-made film] Jedi Saga will not be a blockbuster. It is not likely to be watched by many people. Those who do watch it are not likely to enjoy it in the same way that they enjoyed any of Lucas’s films, but that is not its point. When someone like Cejas makes such a film, he is not displacing what Lucas does. He is changing what he himself does—from sitting in front of a screen that is painted by another to painting his own screen. Those who watch it will enjoy it in the same way that friends and family enjoy speaking to each other or singing together, rather than watching talking heads or listening to Talking Heads.

Social media creates communities, and empowers the participants. They become contributors to their culture, rather than passive “consumers” of an (often imported) mass-media. Such cultural engagement exemplifies the core ideals of democracy, whereby active citizens work together to build a society, sharing their individual and collective experiences.


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