Henry Jenkins: “Obama is Like a Stub in Wikipedia” and Other Thoughts About Social Media

As I mentioned in my last blog post, the conversation between Steven Johnson and Henry Jenkins yesterday afternoon at SXSW08 was brilliant and insightful. Here are some interesting snippets (all paraphrased, hope I captured the intent):

On Harry Potter:

  • We hear a lot about the fact that Harry Potter helped children take up reading but it’s more than that. They also took up writing (fan fiction), learned how to use social networks, learned how to be political, via online communities.

On Barack Obama:

  • The “Yes We Can” slogan uses the language of social networks and collective intelligence. Young people online use “we”, politicians use “I”, very egocentric. Some political pundits say his platform is weak. It’s not weak, it’s like a stub in Wikipedia. We’ll do this together.

On social tissue:

  • World of Warcraft (videogames) is the new social glue, like bowling was in the 1950’s.
  • The Internet is actually helping repair the social tissue that was broken by increased population mobility. We now carry our relationships on our back, like turtles.
  • The main challenge is drilling down to the local level. Traditional media has not been doing a good job at covering the hyperlocal news. It’s a hard problem to solve. It’s the “pothole” issue. If you’ve been obsessing about that pothole in front of your house, and it gets filled by the city, it’s big news for you. But it’s not for residents of the next street.

On harnessing the community:

  • Maybe we can use high school kids? They have time, skills, idealism and want to serve their community. How can we free them to talk about local?

More about this conversation here and here. A “graphic” recording of the conversation is here.


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