Have you ever watched TV, surfed the internet, and texted a friend at the same time? Welcome to the world of convergence! In this lesson, you’ll learn more about media convergence in all of its forms.
What Is Media Convergence?
Not so long ago, if you were going on vacation, you’d need to drag out a litany of devices and resources just to get you there and help you enjoy and capture all the best moments: a GPS for routing you the right way; a camera and camcorder for taking pictures and videos; a CD player (or, if you’re old enough to remember them, a cassette player) stocked with all your favorite tunes; a book or portable DVD player to keep you entertained; and your wallet for purchasing mementos from your trip. Today, you need only one device: your smartphone.
Smartphones have rendered most of these other object obsolete, doing the job of;by some estimates;up to 50 different things in one portable, ultra-powerful package. This process in which some technologies are no longer useful and others are simply changed in the way we use them, is known as media convergence.
Media convergence is the joining, or ”converging,” of distinct technologies into one. It takes completely separate ideas and smashes them together, so that we’re left with one big idea. Take, for example, the smartphone from the lesson’s opening. The smartphone is the convergence of computing, communication, and content, frequently referred to in convergence theory as the three Cs. Now, one tool gives us the opportunity to communicate while functioning as a computer on which we view and share content, whereas before we would have needed multiple devices to accomplish each task individually.
But media convergence isn’t only an end result like a smartphone, but also a process in how we create, consume, and distribute media. Think for a minute about how you found out about the latest big event in the news. Were you watching television? Reading a newspaper? Probably not. Most likely you were informed thanks to convergence, perhaps reading it on a social media feed on your smartphone as you commuted to work.
Media convergence has even changed the way we receive data. Instead of getting a news report from TV, we’re getting that same report from a television station by way of the internet and social media, in particular. For people who work in media, convergence has changed the way they do their jobs. Instead of reporters simply writing a story to appear in tomorrow’s newspaper, they’re filming short video clips and tweeting about it, too;a smash-up of different digital technologies.
Communication and technology are just two of the areas where convergence has been impactful. Media scholar Henry Jenkins theorized that there are actually five categories of convergence that we see today.
Categories of Convergence
Let’s take a look at the five categories of convergence.
This is a big one, and one we’ve covered a bit already. Technological convergence is the merging of technologies that allows us to access previously inaccessible technologies on one device. For example, you now have the ability to watch television or movies on your smartphones. You can also play video games, which previously were only available on a separate home gaming device. Now you can literally take your television, Blu-ray player, and Nintendo with you in your pocket.
Economic convergence in recent years has been most visible in company mergers. This type of convergence is apparent when small media companies are gobbled up by media conglomerates, creating a large organization whose media outreach spans multiple products or services. An example of this is Comcast Corporation/NBCUniversal, whose holdings include Xfinity (a cable and internet provider); Bravo (a television station); DreamWorks Animation (a film studio); the Philadelphia Flyers (a sports team); and BuzzFeed (an online commentary provider).
If you want a good way to remember cultural convergence, think about Disney’s princesses. Not only do they have a place at the Disney theme parks, but they are also in movies and books and on store shelves. Cultural convergence is the way in which we consume one ”brand” across many channels. A second piece of cultural convergence involves the way everyday citizens participate in it. Through channels like YouTube and Instagram, we’re able to share information and engage with people all over the world. So-called YouTube ”sensations” who come up with the latest trend that we enjoy are a piece of cultural convergence.
Organic convergence may be something you do every single evening, without even realizing it had a name. If you’ve ever watched television while surfing the internet and texting your best friend, you’ve contributed to organic convergence. Organic convergence is the combining of different types of media being used at the same time.
Global convergence is the last of the categories projected by Jenkins. This one is all about how different cultures across the world influence one another despite the distance between them. The film industry in India is often referred to as Bollywood, a riff on its influence from Hollywood culture. Several popular horror movies in America (like The Ring, for example) got their start as favorites in Japan before getting released overseas and even remade with English-speaking actors.
Media convergence is the joining of several distinct technologies into one. The internet and digital age have helped fuel this progress, turning a simple smartphone into a multifaceted device that can be used for everything from making a call to watching television and playing video games. Convergence is built on the idea of the merging of the three Cs: computing, communication, and content. However, there are other categories of convergence at play, too, identified by media scholar Henry Jenkins. He theorized that convergence is as follows:
- Technological, in which the merging of technologies allows us to access previously inaccessible technologies on one device
- Economic, which is when small media companies are gobbled up by media conglomerates, creating a large organization whose media outreach spans multiple products or services
- Cultural, which is the way in which we consume one ”brand” across many channels
- Organic, or the combining of different types of media being used at the same time
- Global, which is all about how different cultures across the world influence one another despite the distance between them
Convergence is not only an end result (like a smartphone), but a process in how we create, consume, and distribute media.