How Progressive is Participatory Culture?

Technology has changed drastically in recent decades, which in turn has caused a shift in culture so that we are now part of a participatory culture. Indeed, when looking specifically at the evolution of the web, it is evident that this new technology has taken us from being passive audience members to active participants. As Shäfer states, we are now capable of creating and sharing our own content, rather than simply taking whatever content is available to us. Society now has the ability to get involved in culture.

However, we cannot chalk this shift down to technology alone. Let me explain: Shäfer states that the computer was initially used to for problem solving in an office environment, before people began to use the World Wide Web as another medium of communication. This is extremely interesting because the computer was not initially used for purposes of communication; rather, we took existing technology and created a cultural change with it—not the other way around. The invention of the computer did not create a new mode of communication; we created it by using the technology for our specific purposes.

On one hand, the popularity and ease of the web is fantastic. This globalization allows us to converse with people all around the world and experience/ understand other cultures without actually visiting the place. In addition, the participatory culture allows audiences to get involved and create their own content, rather than be solely at the mercy of corporate content. If audiences don’t like the content on the market, they have the ability to create and share whatever they want with people all around the world. Moreover, if they have a problem with current content, the web affords them a medium in which they can voice their concerns.

On the other hand, this idea of participatory culture and the Web 2.0 is not as liberating as it appears. Certainly, this becomes obvious when looking at my own participation. For example, this morning I logged into my Facebook page, and I also opened a new window to browse an online store. As soon as I closed the browser and went back to my Facebook homepage, there were ads for the clothing store I had just been looking at. This is a perfect example of the limitations of participatory culture, because although I think I am in control as a producer of my own web content, commercial sites such as Facebook and Google can track your movements on the web in order to try to sell products to you later. So, while I am producing my own content/ using the web for my leisure, these commercial sites are exploiting my use of the internet. Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube… even though these services are free and allow us to maintain a participatory culture, at the end of the day they are all profit driven, and this comes through in the way they collect information about us as we use them.

There was a time when I only used Facebook, and the ads weren’t this bad. Now I am on a multitude of social networks and I am noticing this trend of data gathering more and more. SO, after reading Shafer’s article and thinking about my own participation, I would have to argue that although we are led to believe that we are free agents in this new participatory culture, we must also remember that we are enabled to participate through profit-driven corporations with ulterior motives. Thus, this new kind of culture has both advantages and disadvantages, and requires users to be smart.

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