SxSW 2008: Henry Jenkins and the word “We”

Henry Jenkins PhotoHenry Jenkins, a professor at MIT who specialized in cultural/comparative studies, gave the opening remarks at South by Southwest Interactive on Saturday, and had a lot of interesting things to say about the cultural changes that technology is causing.

He put forth a lot of compelling ideas, which he does an excellent job of addressing and summarizing at this blog entry.

The thing I liked about him and his attitude toward people is summarized in his statement “people don’t engage in meaningless activities.” He’s respectful, understanding, and interested in everyone he comes across. As a result he is able to synthesize a great deal of knowledge about why people do the things they do.

He was all over the map with different cultural phenomena, many of which probably deserve their own blog entry at some point, but they all boil up into a point that rattled and changed my world view somewhat:

His opinion is that people have gone through a period of “mentorship,” where like children society has been stewarded by a few sage individuals – political leaders, big brand marketers, high profile academics. This has been a result of our place in the development of communications technology and the understanding of our world.

Now that paternalism is wearing off, driven by the internet and mobile technologies. Society is becoming the culture of “We,” permanently. This is reflected in the difference between the speeches of older politicians and the younger ones (Any idea why “Yes, we can” resonates so widely right now?). It’s reflected in the difference between old world push marketing and new world social marketing. It’s reflected by people taking more control of everything from their own finances to their own health.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of it, as the human race grows up.

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