audiences : culture : curation : spread : content : creation : innovation : activism : slactivism : remix : production : storytelling : engagement : copyright : collaboration
These are the words that I highlighted on the programme for this year’s Futures of Entertainment conference at MIT, from which I’ve just returned. I actually did this on the outbound flight, using a pen, on a paper programme. Obviously these would have been hashtags had there been wifi on the flight (and no, I’m not complaining).
Looking back at these tags now, I can safely say it more than lived up to expectations. Launched 6 years ago through the Convergence Culture Consortium and Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT, Futures of Entertainment brings together leading media scholars and industry practitioners for an intensive 2-day programme of panels and debates focused on media and audiences. The blend of academics and digital media types is invigorating – not interdisciplinary in the strictest sense, but the mix in background/focus certainly leads to a uniquely rich and inspirational event. Always a stellar line-up, Futures of Entertainment is a real melting pot of digital media/audience/fandom/participatory culture researchers and practitioners.
This was the first time I’ve attended, although as I’ve followed past proceedings online I knew it would be a great experience. The reason I had to attend this year is that I’m working with both undergrad and postgrad students on a series of projects based around ‘spreadable media’. ‘Spreadability’ was the buzz-concept of FoE5, and I think it’s a brilliant and welcome challenge to the tired and misleading ‘viral’ metaphor. From a pedagogical perspective it’s incredibly rich as not only is there potential for all kinds of creativity in terms of learners producing artefacts, but also there’s real scope for critical thinking and theoretical developments around content, audiences, agency and networks. Gold dust as far as digital media literacies are concerned, therefore this was pure personal learning/development rather than a speaking gig – a welcome respite as I was able to immerse myself in everybody else’s thoughts and words rather than worrying too much about my own. I do believe that it’s crucial to keep abreast of what’s happening ‘out there’ in order to keep developing relevant, transmedia pedagogies, and I often find that I get the most of out conferences that aren’t necessarily focused on learning as it encourages me to contemplate, and frame, things differently.
Anyway, on to the conference… the standout sessions (for me) were:
Maria Popova and Joshua Green in a brilliant one-to-one conversation around The Ethics and Politics of Curation in a Spreadable Media World. This was an energetic and passionate discussion much of which focused on the definition of curation and the role of the curator i.e. semantics and power relations. Being a fan of brainpickings.org I knew this would be interesting, but both Maria and Joshua were so incredibly incisive in the way that they challenged one another and this was one of those sessions where one hour feels like ten minutes. Seriously good stuff.
Another standout session was Curing the Shiny New Object Syndrome: Strategy Vs. Hype When Using New Technologies. The panellists were Todd Cunningham, Jason Falls, Eden Medina, David Polinchock, Mansi Poddar, and it was brilliantly moderated by Ben Malbon from Google Creative Lab. The discussion was a great mix of laughs, scholarly musings and industry insights on innovation and I loved how @edenmedina brought a more academic slant to proceedings. While there was much talk of SNOS (Shiny New Object Syndrome), they also explored the fetishisation of failure and the problems of assuming that what works in one culture can be easily transported elsewhere – which led to the important point that for all our talk of the importance of being able to fail and not fearing failure, that failure is indeed a privilege.
I also loved the session From Participatory Culture to Political Participation. The panellists here were Sasha Costanza-Chock, Dorian Electra (new to me, and I was instantly blown away by her Economics music videos on YouTube), Lauren Bird from the Harry Potter Alliance (was already a fan of Lauren’s as I’ve known about her work for a while, and Bassam Tariq, the co-creator of 30 Mosques in 30 Days. Again the moderation was excellent thanks to Sangita Shresthova. This session was fascinating due to the conversation around activism and using fandom and fan practices to highlight issues, awareness and encourage action. However, what I found most interesting was the reluctance of the three (Dorian, Lauren and Bassam) to define themselves as political or as activist, leading the audience to question whether there was some kind of generational shift (very mixed views from the crowd as to whether their reluctance to define themselves as political or as activist was a help or a hindrance).
Finally, another session which remains deeply embedded in my mind (although not for the same reasons) was the panel on Rethinking Copyright, with T Bone Burnett, Henry Jenkins and Jonathan Taplin. Burnett and Taplin put forward the classic ‘music industry’ viewpoint, which wasn’t shared by the audience. This would be an interesting session to relive through both the first and second screen. Voices were raised and tensions were rising (although Henry stayed calm and reasonable throughout). The Twitter backchannel was going crazy, but kudos to Sasha Costanza-Chock for standing up on several occasions to offer well-informed perspectives on alternative revenue/licensing models – and also to the guy who stood up to admit that he was the one who closed down Napster. This was a pretty intense session, to say the least…
I’ve just chosen a few highlights here, but I urge you to watch the all the videos on www.convergenceculture.org when they become available. Rachel Clarke did a brilliant job of live blogging each session, while @huey pulled together tweets in Storify which also offer a neat perspective. My usual low-grade instagram pics are here, while there are much better pictures here.
While FoE brings together media scholars and industry practitioners who share the same passions around content, audience and participation, the diverse perspectives on topics such as copyright or activism (and the generational, political, or financial motivations) meant that this conference couldn’t be anything but thought-provoking and invigorating. At times, I found myself nodding vigorously at speakers who used particular terminologies/frame of reference, while I’d have an equally visceral (negative) reaction towards the few who spoke in marketing language and yet they were talking about the same phenomena. Terminology and meaning, ontologies and epistemologies… it was fascinating to reflect on what was being said from different perspectives, and what our choice of language says about us. The great thing about Futures of Entertainment is that it’s the kind of environment where you can say “oh, I’d say xxxxxxx to describe that” and there’s no jostling for position of battles of ownership, just insightful and positive dialogue. However, while we all might have been talking about the same things, jargon does matter. As @henryjenkins tweeted during a particularly lively debate: “it is NEVER just jargon!”.
Thank you, Futures of Entertainment 2012.