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News, Information and the Wealth of Networks (MIT Communications Forum)

09/21/2006 5:00 PM 3-270
Yochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard; Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California; ; William Uricchio, Professor of Comparative Media Studies;

Description: Each speaker examines the widespread change unleashed by digital technology from his respective field. At the same time, these authors find quite a bit of common ground. Yochai Benkler describes how the spread of computers and connectivity -- to perhaps 600 million people worldwide _ has shifted the economics of production. It has, says Benkler, -created a new condition where the most important inputs into the core economic activities of the most advanced economies are widely distributed in the population: computation and communication resources, human creativity, intuition, experience and motivation." Individuals on their own or with collaborators can act without requiring formal authority or central management. What Benkler describes as commons-based peer production creates both competition and new market opportunities. The BBC is now taking advantage of individuals who offer unique content, such as the cell phone images from inside the London Underground following the terrorist bombings. This new freedom for individuals to post material for the rest of the world to view has major ramifications for democracy. Benkler describes the Internet-based attack on flawed Diebold voting machines, which led to legal judgment -- albeit a year too late to affect election returns. The production and distribution of knowledge and culture also has implications for human welfare and development, with open source publishing of bioinformatics and medical and agricultural innovations. -We are beginning to practice new ways of being free and equal human beings," says Benkler, though any gains will be -subject to a global and persistent political and regulatory battle." Henry Jenkins discerns convergence, and sometimes collision, between -top down" and -bottom up" media. We live in a world -where every story, image, sound, relationship, and brand is going to be conducted across the maximum number of media channels, legally or illegally, corporate or amateur," he says. This participatory culture engages in a give and take with traditional, centralized powers. The grassroots absorbs stories or consumes material provided by the mass media, then filters or comments on it _ e.g., MoveOn.org's -Bush in 30 Seconds" video contest. Mass media takes the grassroots content, and attempts to sell it back to users, or generates -astroturf"ãfake grassroots material. Says Jenkins, -Some say we live in a world where five companies control media in our lives. Others say we live in a world where there are no gatekeepers. I say, 'Yes, that's true' to both." In this -apprenticeship stage," we are acquiring skills in participatory culture and collective intelligence, first as fans, bloggers and gamers. But this will -translate to new forms of activism in a rapid way." Jenkins cites how amateur photos, songs, and cartoons during Hurricane Katrina helped shape public opinion about the disaster response. The final season of -West Wing" engendered political engagement in the blogosphere that straddled party lines, -suggesting ways out of purely partisan elections," says Jenkins. But he warns of a participation gap: -If you live in a world with 10 minutes of connectivity with slow bandwidth, you have unequal access."

About the Speaker(s): Henry Jenkins' forthcoming books include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. His previous books include "What Made Pistachio Nuts": Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic; Classical Hollywood Comedy; and Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Jenkins has published articles on a diverse range of topics relating to film, television and popular culture. His most recent essays include work on Star Trek, WWF Wrestling, Nintendo Games, and Dr. Seuss.

Jenkins has a Ph.D. in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Iowa. William Uricchio received his Ph.D. in cinema studies from New York University in 1982 and comes to MIT from the Institute for Media and Re/Presentation at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, where he was department chair. He currently directs a five-year cultural identity project in the European Science Foundation Changing Media Changing Europe initiative.

A Fulbright and Humboldt fellow, Uricchio has published widely on early television, early cinema and their emergence as cultural forms, including Reframing Culture: The Case of the Vitagraph Quality Films(1993); Die Anf_nge des deutschen Fernsehens: Kritische Ann_herungen an die Entwicklung bis 1945(1993); The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media (1991); and "The Nickel Madness": The Struggle to Control New York City's Nickelodeons in 1907_1913. His most recent books include Media Cultures (2006 Heidelberg), on responses to media in post 9/11 Germany and the US, and We Europeans? Media, New Collectivities and Europe(forthcoming). Yochai Benkler's expertise is in information law and policy in the digital environment, communications law, and intellectual property. Before starting to teach, he clerked for the Honorable Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court. His books include The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (Yale University Press 2006). Selected articles include Coase's Penguins, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm, and Freedom in the Commons, Towards a Political Economy of Information, 52 Duke L.J. 1245 (2003).

Benkler has an LL.B. from Tel-Aviv University and a J.D. from Harvard University. From 2001-03, he was a Professor of Law, New York University School of Law and served as Director, Engelberg Center for Innovation Law and Policy and Director, Information Law Institute. In 2002-03, he served as Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and from 2001-02, he was a Visiting Professor of Law, Yale Law School.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Communications Forum

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