Navigating Participatory Culture In Today’s Media-Driven World

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I am in the generation that grew up reading paper books and listening to music on tapes, but we also started taking selfies as we went through puberty (unfortunately documenting our awkward stages) and talked on MSN messenger rather than the phone. I did not get my first cellphone until I was 16 years old, but it was not necessary because only a few lucky individuals had one. Now however, my younger sister of age 9, is begging my mother for a cellphone because everyone in her class has one and she feels left out. At her age, she is still completely able to function as a little human being without her own cellular or computer, however I cannot envision my life now without a cellphone or internet. While being on social media sites such as Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook is usually voluntary, it is becoming more evident to me that this is not always true. For example, this course requires students to create a Twitter account, and my new job is using Facebook as the main medium for communication between colleagues. So what was once something you could avoid, is now something almost ‘unavoidable,’ and I do not always willingly engage in my everyday digital practices. 

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Schafer writes that the computer has developed “into a medium for work, leisure and entertainment” (p. 9). While it could be possible to avoid the internet for some time, it has certainly become the most convenient way to connect with people world wide, people close to us, and to “publish, organize and share large quantities of data”(p. 9).  It is important for us to perceive technology as somewhat of a floating signifier, because the meaning we put to it changes over time. While many people tend to view technology as something that is imposed on us (technological determinism) with its predetermined effects, technology would not be anything without our engagement. Zeffiro states, “technology is not the driving force of historical change, but it is one part of the force.” A clear example of this is shown in a 2014 study that shows 45% of internet-user ages 18-29 in serious relationships reported their relationships being impacted by the internet (Pew Research). While the internet cannot be a sole cause for the success or failure of relationships, it can certainly be an influence. Also, the internet has somewhat of a bad reputation for damaging young people’s abilities to communicate, but it also makes long-distance relationships of all kinds much more manageable. 

Participatory culture refers to the way in which technology has transformed to treat users more as active participants rather than a consuming audience (Zeffiro). The internet has become a medium for amateurs like myself to produce content, and as a platform for discussion (Schafer, p. 11). The school’s use of Sakaii is a beneficial platform to most students to ask questions, and easily check assignments, however we must condition ourselves to regularly check the site, and depend on it for knowledge and instructions. I see hegemonic power relations at work in participatory culture. There are media corporations that own all of these sites, whose sole objective is profit, most often by the means of advertising. While there is a sort of pseudo-individualization and an illusion that we can choose when and how we engage with technology, our explicit participation and implicit participation still benefits these industries and its hegemonic negotiations of power and privilege. 

For example, people have made careers for themselves by ‘simply’ posting videos on YouTube. It is a site that anyone can create content on, however to make money on your original content you must monetize your videos with advertisements. Still… the internet has made this university course a reality, and created jobs that we would not have imagined would exist decades ago. So regardless of if you are pro-technology or not, our world is changing, and we must learn to understand it in order to navigate its new boundaries. 

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