Friday, February 27, 2009

Spreading Meanings, Not Viruses

Don't Flu Yourself
Originally uploaded by daviddaneman
Last weeks have been quite exciting in terms of finding a new way of working. Going from an office job to freelancing has meant learning a new sense of pace. All the things I do currently are assignments where my work is measured on the originality of the ideas I produce, not based on the hours I spend at the office. It has also meant that I need to learn a new way of implementing reading and browsing as an essential part of my weekly routine. They count in the end much more than coordination meetings. It is fun - I give you that -, but it is also work.

I have developed a completely new way of using the Web. At the hectic office I used the Internet mostly like fast food, like media snacks (munched easily with increasing frequency and maximum speed – like chips – a description from Miller in Wired) between emails and phone calls. Now I take daily an hour or two to go through a dozen or so blogs, mark interesting stuff on Delicious and develop a more systematic way of finding content. Finding content that matters takes time and diligence.

The best thing I have discovered is Henry Jenkins´ blog. MIT´s Media Professor Jenkins focuses on what people are doing with media rather than on what the media is doing to people. His approach is critical but enthusiastic and he does not shy away from using very current examples for making his case.

His 8-part essay If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead is something I would recommend for everyone working with brands and media culture. Jenkins sees consumers as empowered and intelligent species using media for their own purposes and goes beyond the discussion on virals. He talks about the spreadability of media – that citizens spread and reform content rather than passively carry a virus. That spreading media is an essential part of reputation management online. Just think of your own Facebook usage – what you link and post tells your “friends” a lot about who you are.

A statement by Jenkins that is highly useful for instance for my work with StrangerFestival: loss of producers´ control over meaning is a precondition for circulation. Spreadable media memes have to available for remixing before transferring so that people can use them for their own purposes to recreate meaning. As John Fiske puts it: this is where mass culture turns into popular culture. From a producer´s point of view creating media content that “sticks” on people would be wonderful but today´s successful content is one that spreads, shapes and puzzles. Which is actually quite liberating and empowering if you really think about it.

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