Understanding and Dimensioning Convergences

In recent years, the term convergence has changed from being a word in the specialized academic jargon to become a concept widely used in the multiple contexts of communications, technology and social life in general.

Although “Convergence” has positioned itself as a concept in the global imagination, it is important to identify that it is no longer just a particular phenomenon in the technological field, but rather an accumulation of communicational processes that have given rise to a wide universe of manifestations and the so-called digital transformation.

Why do multiple convergences exist?

By: Gabriel E. Levy B. – www.galevy.com – @galevy

Convergence is perhaps one of the most widely used concepts in the context of communications. Even for some analysts, it is the greatest social and cultural change that the contemporary world has experienced in the 21st century from a communications perspective [1].

Through the conjunction of services, media, and technologies, ranging from the personal computer to the Internet and from websites to smartphones, convergence has transformed our way of life, making the world seem smaller and more attainable.

As convergence expands globally, it has surpassed the technological field to colonize the broad spectrum of the communications universe.

It is at this point that it is necessary to point out that, given the diversity of fields of study in this social discipline, it is insufficient and too imprecise to refer to a single convergence, and it is necessary to recognize that there is not only one convergence, but multiple convergences, as we will analyze below.

Technological Convergence

It is the starting point of convergence. Its origin dates back to the genesis of the computer, a device that broke with the differentiation and historical dependence between the receiving device, the service and the contents. In other words, telephone calls were made between telephone devices, the radio was listened to on a radio receiver, television was tuned exclusively to a television set, and the press could only be read on newsprint and books on printed texts.

In the second half of the last century, the emergence of storage technologies allowed the diversification of devices for audio and video. This way it was possible to record on disks, cassettes and tapes, which could be more easily reproduced in audio and video recorders. However, there was still a direct relationship between the device, the service and the content.

A new phenomenon occurred with the advent and development of the personal computer in the 1970s and 1980s: the integration of all the above-mentioned communication services into one device. For the first time, a single device made it possible to listen to the radio, read newspapers, watch television, make phone calls, listen to music, view photos and print documents.

This is how the phenomenon of convergence originated in its daily aspect, which as its name indicates, refers to the integration of services and contents available to be consumed in the same technological device, breaking the historical dependence between devices and services.

This phenomenon was articulated from the beginning to an industrial aspect in which technology companies began to integrate parts generated by different companies into their products.

Over the years, technological convergence was not limited to a single device; on the contrary, many devices were digitized (literally becoming small computers) and began to provide multiple services for multiple contents, a sub-phenomenon called divergence within convergence [2].

Scholar Milton Muller, in the book Telecom Policy and Digital Convergence [3], defined technological convergence as

The acquisition of all communication technologies through a single device: the computer[4]

As a consequence of this phenomenon all the communication devices that we use in our daily life are converging computers, which allow the consumption of multiple services and contents, including the so-called smartphones, smart TV, smart watches and tablets, among others.

Social and Cultural Convergence

Proposed by the American professor Henry Jenkins [5], social and cultural convergence [6] derives from a phenomenon, investigated by this prestigious scholar from the University of Southern California, called participatory culture [7].

This paradigm proposes the dissolution of verticality in the relationship between consumers and the media, where viewers become active subjects who dialogue with the content through multiple forms of interaction.

These audiences were called co-creative and were grouped under the concept of fandom (the domain of fans or supporters), which is in harmony with the concept of prosumers proposed by the author Alvin Toffler decades ago in his book The Third Wave [8].

Fans are subjects who actively intervene in the co-creation of content and allow it to expand, which is why a new cultural dynamic is emerging that produces this type of Social and Cultural Convergence.

Cultural convergence represents a paradigm shift – a move from medium-specific content toward content that flows across multiple media channels, toward the increased interdependence of communications systems, toward multiple ways of accessing media content, and toward ever more complex relations between top-down corporate media and bottom-up participatory culture triggering the very phenomenon of convergence“. Henry Jenkins [9]

 Media Convergence

From technological and cultural convergence, a third type of convergence emerges: Media Convergence, resulting from the dissolution of the limitations associated with the device on which the media was built. By breaking the technological frontiers down, a much more effective, globalized and multimedia communicative scope is allowed.

In simple terms, if the press does not have the paper barrier, by migrating to the Internet and computers as a platform where audio and video can be incorporated, becoming a convergent medium (something impossible to achieve before the advent of the computer).  Likewise, audiovisual media become convergent when the text is incorporated to their contents.

Fifty years ago, the possibility of watching a video in a newspaper, reading a text on the radio or listening to an audio in a book was a matter of science fiction, since the technological characteristics of the device made it impossible.

Nowadays, by contrast, it is quite outdated to define a medium that operates on the Internet by its technological characteristics, since we assume convergence as something implicit in the inherent nature of contemporary media, regardless of whether they have migrated or are native to the digital era.

Interestingly, many media that migrated to convergence on the Internet still maintain their architecture on traditional platforms, as is the case with many newspapers, which continue to circulate in a traditional paper form and in a convergent manner on the Internet.

One of the authors who has most reflected on this phenomenon is the Spanish scholar Saura Osuna Acedo, who analyzes the impact of this phenomenon on mass communication in her book Media Convergence [10].

Content Convergence

If technology converges, along with culture and media, it would be impossible for this phenomenon not to be transferred to content, which was also created by virtue of the technological characteristics of the devices for which they were created.

This is how audiovisual, radio and textual narrative were configured, concepts that, although they are still valid, have evolved towards a hypermedia narrative in which the integrating strategy is the concept of transmedia narration.

This term was coined by the American author Marsha Kinder [11] to designate the contents that flow through multiple platforms in an articulated manner, through a universe of stories that constitute together a franchise, known as the Transmedia Franchise.

These contents are called Liquid Contents, Expansive Contents and Multiplatform Contents because they have the capacity to circulate articulately in multiple screens and platforms, unlike the contents created for traditional media [12].

Another manifestation of content convergence is the dissolution of its borders, a phenomenon illustrated by the so-called memes, which are the result of the convergence between photos and texts or GIFS, which are the convergence of texts and videos.

Network Convergence

One characteristic of the emergence and consolidation of media and communication technologies in general is that they developed their own networks, whether wired or wireless.

Thus, with or without the use of the public radio spectrum, each media and service used a type of network: radio, for example, consolidated itself through the AM and FM frequency networks, while open television did so through VHF and UHF; on the other hand, pay television did so through coaxial cable and telephony used copper wire.

The advent of the Internet meant the integration of all services into a single network, the great world computer network, through which audio, video, telephone calls, radio stations, and practically all human communications flow, generating a convergence defined as Network Convergence by Brazilian analyst Marcio Wohlers [13].

As with other convergences, the paradox of coexistence with past technologies still exists, because while all converging services and content can travel through the only world computer network, the other networks mentioned above continue to exist in parallel.

Other convergences

To the extent that the technological convergence derived from the evolution of the computer and the Internet has impacted practically all aspects of human life, fostering digital transformation, many parallel phenomena of convergence have emerged in other knowledge disciplines, such as Industrial Convergence and Services Convergence, studied from the economic sciences, but whose impact extends to other areas such as communications, which altered the business models of content, for example, through the so-called Convergence of Content Markets or Convergence of Telecommunications Services, represented by Triple Play, which offers all communications services integrated in the same package, network and bill.

In conclusion, convergence is a communicative phenomenon that has significantly enhanced the way in which humans use information and communication technologies, leading to a digital transformation of society, culture, economy, politics, and practically all aspects of daily life.

Although its origin dates back to the technological convergence derived from the computerization of devices and the consolidation of a large global network of computers called the Internet, while communications have continued with their evolutionary course, new forms of convergence have emerged in parallel, such as: social and cultural convergence, media convergence, content convergence, network convergence and service convergence, dimensioning a much more communicated, connected and interactive digital society.

Photo: Lorenzo Herrera on Unsplash.com

Sources of Bibliographic Consultation:

[1] Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Henry Jenkins. NYU Press, 2006. ISBN 814743072, 9780814743072. 308 pages

[2] Paper by Engineer Juan Ramón García Bish during the Andinalink Costa Rica 2018 fair

[3] Telecom Policy and Digital Convergence, Milton L. Mueller, Editor, 1997 ISBN 9629370085, 169 pages

[4] Telecom Policy and Digital Convergence, Milton L. Mueller, Editor, 1997 ISBN 9629370085, 169 pages

[5] Henry Jenkins’ website

[6] Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Henry Jenkins. Grupo Planeta (GBS), 2008 ISBN 8449321530 – 301 pages

[7] Link to the book Participatory Culture by Henry Jenkins in Internet Archive

[8] The third wave. Alvin Toffler. Bantam Books, 1989. University of Michigan ISBN 0553246984, 537 pages

[9] Convergence culture: The culture of media convergence / Paidós comunicación. Henry Jenkins. Grupo Planeta (GBS), 2008 ISBN 8449321530 – 301 pages

[10] Media convergence – Technological integration in the digital era – Carlos Busón – Sara Osuna Acedo Knowledge Society, 1 Communication and new technologies ISBN: 978-84-7426-958 – 2008 – 160p

[11] Book: Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marsha Kinder, University of California Press, 1991, ISBN 0520912438, 277 pages

[12] Book: Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marsha Kinder, University of California Press, 1991, ISBN 0520912438, 277 pages

Disclaimer: The published articles correspond to contextual reviews or analyses on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources.  The publications are NOT opinion articles and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent Andinalink’s position, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.