Did video kill the radio star? A look at convergence culture.

In the words of American media scholar Henry Jenkins, we are living in time of transition. A time in which the old system is dying and the new media is at its advent. The possibilities are endless. If we have reason to be concerned, we also have time to pause and be enthusiastic about the future (UNED, 2013).

New Media refers to forms of media that are computational or rely on computers for distribution, but it’s important to also keep in mind, the implementation of new technologies does not mean that old ones will simply die. The main difference is that we can now access all this material and information through one device such as our mobile phones, and more-so, through the internet. New media help to make new ideas work, they allow new practices and relationships evolve, overriding existing social, cultural, political and economic structures (Winter, 2012).

Technological development has enabled the so called digital revolution to permeate all levels of society. Content now flows through multiple channels at the same time, offering high democratic potential and a more panoramic view of whats on offer. This idea is described as convergence culture.

In his book Convergence Culture: where old and new media collide (2006), Henry Jenkins describes convergence culture as an intersection between grassroots and corporate media. A place where the content creators and consumers are interacting in new ways never seen before. Consumers are the new marketers, pushing content and engaging other consumers. Media is flowing through individuals, into communities and onto larger networks, ultimately changing as culture embraces it (Pull, 2014).

When distinct new technologies come together to share tasks and resources it is referred to as media convergence. Take for example the mobile phone, which shares day to day communication technologies with the ability to take photos, shoot video footage and check your email. Multiple media industries and platforms have migrated together, encouraging audiences to search for new entertainment experiences. Consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make new connections, a cultural shift from the more linear offerings of the past (Jenkins, 2006). In this sense we can not clearly define where one media begins and another ends.

What we can conclude, is there is more participation in media than ever before. Consumers are no longer siting back and watching. A participatory culture has formed around this media convergence. The audience is no longer passive. They are active and they are influencing. The video-sharing website YouTube is a prime example of participatory culture. YouTube gives anyone with a video camera and an internet connection the opportunity to communicate with people around the world and create and shape cultural trends.

This in part due to a broader cultural convergence. Stories now flow through multiple media platforms. Novels become television shows, film franchises become amusement park rides, pop stars now promote their own vodka by talking selfies on instagram. And everyones involved. Companies such as Time Warner, Sony and News Corp have demonstrated that owning complementary assets across multiple media platforms is crucial to survival (Daidj, 2011). Interests are spread across film, TV, books, games, music and the internet. This could also be referred to as economic convergence.

For this reason Jenkins suggests, not all participants are created equal. “Corporations — and even individuals within corporate media — still exert greater power than any individual consumer or even the aggregate of consumers. And some consumers have greater abilities to participate in this emerging culture than others” (2006, p3).

The culture of participation can however, have powerful and positive effects on society. It’s ultimately about moving us from being just consumers, to potentially full creative producers, capable of evoking and communicating important messages such as social justice (UNED, 2013). But as Pool (2009) would argue, convergence does not mean ultimate stability or unity. “It operates as a constant force for unification but always in dynamic tension with change. There is no immutable law of growing convergence; the process of change is more complicated than that”. (Jenkins, 2006, p11).

Due to this ever changing media landscape, more information is available than ever before. There is more information on any given topic than any one person can store. Convergence culture allows for collective intelligence. In other words, the total sum of intelligence of all the members in a given community. When this knowledge is pooled together, it is far more powerful than previous learning environments. Here communities can leverage their combined expertise and subsequently influence and change the direction of the media originally presented to them (MIT, 2016). While this has become a powerful tool for consumers, it has also benefited producers who now have access to incredible amounts of pooled audience data.

Twenty-first century media culture is increasingly marked by convergence, or the coming together of previously distinct technologies. It can be organic, cultural, economic, global and technological. While it is hard to gage how this will affect societies moving forward, new media is allowing people to make their own decisions and interact with the media they are consuming.

The fear of digitalisation is that it may leave us more shallow. Carr (2010) worries that the vast array of interlinked information available through the internet is eroding attention spans and making contemporary minds distracted and less capable of deep, thoughtful engagement with complex ideas and arguments. Personally I would align with the more optimistic views of Henry Jenkins and welcome the engagement, especially in the areas of education and reform, where the possibilities for progress are infinite.

References

Carr, N. (2010) The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York, Norton.

Daidj, N. (2011). Media convergence and business ecosystems. Global Media Journal, 11(19), 1–13.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture. New York. University Press.

de Sola Pool, I. (2009). Technologies of freedom. Harvard University Press.

MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing. (2016, April 29). Collective Intelligence [video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/JAPg8NgINUU

Pull. (2014, Jan 21st). Henry Jenkins: Spreadable content makes the consumer king [video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ZCKoLB1kUsY

UNED. (2013, April 2nd). Henry Jenkins [video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/1nrWcFPjnCc

Winter, C. (2012). How media prosumers contribute to social innovation in today’s new networked music culture and economy. International Journal of Music Business Research. 1(2), 46–73

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The Chass Lounge

Music producer, Pianist, Father. Currently studying Masters of Creative Industry with SAE. Based in Brisbane, Australia.