Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation

Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation

Salie Davis

I have a particular interest in open source and creative commons licensing. The book, Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation talks about the term “Publics” as being a shared culture. This culture operates outside of economics. The current capitalistic culture, once based on rewards and economic gain through contribution and hard work, has disintegrated from a three class step society, two a two class have and have nots of varying degrees.  With the increased technology making participation more accessible, the lower classes struggle against economic barriers by attempting to educate and assist the common culture through these technologies.  “Publics can be reactors, (re)makers and (re)distributors, engaging in shared culture and knowledge through discourse and social exchange as well as through acts of media reception” (Varnelis, 2012, Pg. 3) This works in today’s culture due to the ability to pool from a larger geography of participants.

With technology advancement, much like the evolution of the printing press and eventual media industry, Governments and top level economic status, work to create structural barriers to limit the commons exchange of thoughts and ideas in order to maintain control over the populations. One example of this is the limit on cross border internet communications. This is not only through country barriers but even region barriers within countries. For example the United States has the New England region and the South Eastern, etc.  This means when shopping online the individual is limited to options by region which essentially limits the individuals’ choices.

According to the text however, “Yochai Benkler sees these decentralized networks of communication and exchange as major catalysts of the shift to a networked information economy that is displacing the industrial information economy” (Varnelis, 2012, Pg. 8) This proposal suggests that nonmarket devices will increase through the advancement of media convergence and networked participation. Michael Bauwens also theorizes that human network- based organization may result in individuals “…engaged in the production of common resources, without recourse to monetary compensation as key motivating factor, and not organized according to hierarchical methods of command and control” (Varnelis, 2012, Pg. 8). This is explained as the networked information economy of which the costs for producing creative applications can be shared over the public space between like-minded participants who can forgo the price system in order to creatively combine their interests to create projects. This results in “…nonmarket sector of information, knowledge, and cultural production…” (Varnelis, 2012, Pg. 8).

This book does well to incorporate several different possible theories of future change based on the increase of networked participation such as the theories of Bauwens who describes this network as a person to person (P2P) interaction increasing significant social, economic and political exchanges between individuals that would not normally take place. In the same text it is also pointed out that human nature seeks like minds, therefor there is a debate that exists as to whether this P2P interaction truly initiates change or whether it just reinforces currently held beliefs through the increased access to assemble with like minds.

Varnelis keeps the discussion well rounded through the analysis of several different opinions such as Garret Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons,” that considers the norm of the public realm to be individualistic and self-serving, therefor the commons is an unrealistic ideal that cannot come to full fruition or the opinions of Jane Jacobs who states her theories that the public sphere is only minimally social in nature. (Varnelis, 2012, Pg. 45). The conclusion that I am able to most relate to is … ” persistent predictions of imminent doom for established content industries, together with fears of corporate litigation and monopolistic forces squelching the emerging common culture, indicate that the future of public culture is still very much up for grabs” (Varnelis, 2012, Pg. 49). Therefore, the uncertainty and various possible future outcomes that exist as institutional and professional authorities are challenged by networked participation in the social, cultural and political realms. One example of this is the fact that P2P and creative commons sharing “…is new legislation by existing media conglomerates aiming to extend the scope of their copyright and prevent the creation of derivative work” (Varnelis, 2012, Pg. 158). It seems only through active participation can we take an active role in determining the final outcome.

Varnelis, K. (2012). Networked Publics. Cambridge, US: The MIT Press. Retrieved from


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