Understanding Social and Cultural Convergence

By: Gabriel E. Levy B.

Until recently, the concepts of interactivity and media were opposite poles; in fact, the theories of communication taught in the faculties defined the receiver as a passive subject who consumed without having any influence on the message [1]. During the last century, the few existing forms of interactivity consisted of live calls to a show, participation in contests, or sending letters by physical mail.

The advent of the Internet substantially transformed the role of the spectator or consumer, bringing new dimensions that are dramatically transforming their role. Even authors such as Henry Jenkins claim that the role of citizens in communicative processes is so significant that it has unleashed a new phenomenon that he has called Social and Cultural Convergence [2].

Prosumption as a starting place

In the early 80’s, an American author named Alvin Toffler, wrote the books: “The Third Wave [3]” and “Future Shock [4]”, futuristic and visionary publications of the world, which, among many other concepts, first coined the term PROSUMER or PROSUMPTION [5], an acronym between the words PRODUCER AND CONSUMER/CONSUMPTION. Toffler anticipated decades in time to define and characterize the new role of the citizen spectator, whose behavior is not reduced to the tuning of a program, but to active participation in the construction of the message that comprises the content.

A perfect example of prosumption is the phenomenon of Youtubers or Instagramers, individuals who in addition to consuming all types of content on multiple platforms, also produce content that is consumed by other types of prosumers, generating a two-way process in the reception and transmission of information.

Another form of prosumption is, for example, the relationship between traditional video tuning and the interaction of users while using social media, a phenomenon known as “multiscreening“, a typical case being people who simultaneously tweet while watching TV and produce a lot of information about the content they are consuming. To the extent that they tweet or comment on social media their impressions of audiovisual content, they are giving out information that was practically impossible to obtain in other times. This way and for the first time in the history of television, we are measuring expectations besides audience, perception, feeling, permanence, fidelity; it is a real time content evaluation thanks to the interaction that people have on social media. Likewise, watching a live broadcast, tweeting and following a hashtag, is a revealing experience, since it is equivalent to talking about a content with thousands of people at the same time.

Furthermore, when a consumer of a content leaves his/her comments on the official forum or blog, he/she is developing a much simpler type of prosumption, but is finally contributing to the message.


One of the most interesting phenomena derived as an evolution of the prosumption is co-creation [6]. It arises from communities of citizens who consume and produce content and who add their intelligences and capacities, giving way to a type of collective intelligence [7], where individuals not only belong to that media collectivity, but also actively participate on it, releasing creativity and innovation, generating economies of scale and leveraging each other, moving from individual prosumption to collective creation. A typical example is the communities of open source software developers [8] or cryptocurrency mining [9], also some online audiovisual collectives and even wikipedians [10], all these forms significantly evolve social relations and impact the content industries.

We are influenced and influencers

For more than 30 years, the Californian researchers Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler [11], studied the way in which the people of a small town in the state of Massachusetts, called Framingham [12], related to each other, obtaining very revealing conclusions that were later published in the book Connected [13]. The studies conducted by Fowler and Christakis demonstrated what many classical authors such as Aristotle[14] had already identified: “Man is by nature a social animal” and other aspects that we did not know until now, such as “we have a great power to influence other people, even without knowing them“.

The research of these two academics took the concept of prosumption, co-creation and interactivity to another level, showing that the two-way role that we as content consumers have, eventually impacts the structure of society itself, influencing other people and triggering social phenomena.

The studies in Framingham allowed us to understand the forms in which domino effects are triggered in “Social Networks“, which in turn are exponentially enhanced by the use of “Social Media“. We can now better understand how the rich get richer, how deadly stampedes originate, why the health of a person depends on the health of those around them, or why people adopt the eating patterns of their friends’ friends.

Within the “Information Society” context we live in, we find the concepts of Fowler and Christakis materialized in phenomena like the massification of the so-called “Influencers“, who significantly influence the lives of thousands and millions of people around the world through the contents they publish on their “Social Media“, either on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, significantly influence the lives of thousands and millions of people around the world, triggering social movements or even how dangerous the manipulation of the information of people can be when trying to influence their decisions, as happened in the case of Cambridge Analityca [15].

An asymmetrical field

The 90-9-1 theory formulated by Jakob Nielsen [16] in 2006, also known as Participatory Inequality [17], stipulates that any digital project that requires the collaboration of a community in order to operate suffers from an inequality in such participation, which is represented by approximately the following proportions:

90% of the users are “lurkers”. They are dedicated to observing, but they never contribute any content.

9% of users contribute from time to time and in a fortuitous way, representing 10% of the content of the platform.

1% of the users account for more than 90% of the participations and other activities of the system. This 1% is called Heavy Contributors, as their activity far exceeds that of the rest of the community”. Jakob Nielsen

This theory, while recognizing that the prosumption phenomenon exists, assumes that participation is not symmetrical, since most people take a passive role and only a small minority assume a very active role in the process of building content. For this reason, it is not convenient to generalize audience behavior, but rather to recognize the asymmetries that exist within the critical mass, understanding that prosumption does not always occur in the same way or in the same proportion.

Social Convergence

The emergence of prosumption, co-creation, collective intelligence and influencers has had a transversal impact from the social perspective and has generated deep changes that range from the political, cultural, economic to entertainment, generating a new phenomenon of collective interpersonal relations that the professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at USC, Henry Jenkins has called Social and Cultural Convergence:

Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers through their social interactions with other consumers; the most significant change may be the transition from individualized and personalized media consumption to consumption as a networked practice“.

Convergence represents a paradigm shift, a transition from media-specific content to content flowing through multiple media channels, to the growing independence of communication systems, to the multiple access modes to media content, and to the increasingly complex relationships between top-down corporate media and bottom-up participatory culture“, (Henry Jenkins III 2008) [18].

It is important to understand that cultural convergence is essentially a complex communicative environment that is giving rise to what we could call a new type of society. As the Argentine author Carlos Scolari[19] has shown, it is altering the media industries and the way people relate to the media, while at the same time it is necessary to understand that it is an “ecosystem” in which not all the elements are in the same situation or at the same level, but conversely, there are hierarchies, conflicts, and struggles for survival, “as occurs with the recording industries, the cinema, and television”.

In conclusion, we can state that phenomena, such as prosumption, co-creation and collaborative intelligence, have produced such dramatic changes in contemporaneity that we have evolved towards a post-industrial and information society. We are all connected in a great global village, where anyone can eventually influence, even unwittingly, millions of people they do not yet know, triggering real changes in their habits, way of life or ways of seeing or understanding the world, triggering an unprecedented cultural and social convergence in all of human history.

[1] Communication Theories: Areas, methods and perspectives, Volume 11, Global Village, Miquel Rodrigo Alsina, University of Valencia, 2018, ISBN 8437095921, 9788437095929, 236 pages

[2] Convergence Culture: Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Volume175, Henry Jenkins, Grupo Planeta (GBS), 2008, ISBN 8449321530, 9788449321535, 301 pages

[3] The Third Wave, Best seller Edivision, Alvin Toffler, Adolfo Martin, Edivision, 1980, ISBN 9681306538, 9789681306533, 494 pages

[4] Future Shock, Volume2 of Alvin Toffler’s Library, Alvin Toffler, Volume20 of The Paper Chest, Tribuna Series, Volume106 of Tribuna de Plaza & Janés, Alvin Toffler, ISBN 8401459311, 9788401459313, 539 pages

[5] Prosumer Definition

[6] The Co-Creation Paradigm, Venkat Ramaswamy, Kerimcan Ozcan, Stanford University Press, 2014, ISBN 0804790752, 9780804790758, 360 páginas

[7] Collective Intelligence Definition

[8] Open Source Software Definition

[9] What is cryptomining?

[10] Wikipedian Definition

[11] University of California Fowler Profile Link

[12] Wikipedia article on Framingham

[13] Connected: Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (Taurus (Firm), Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler, Penguin Random House Editorial Group, 2010, ISBN 6071104432, 9786071104434, 354 pages

[14] Article: Man as a social being

[15] Keys to Understanding the Cambridge Analytica Scandal

[16] Article about Jakob Nielsen

[17] 90-9-1 Theory

[18] Convergence Culture: Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Volume175, Henry Jenkins, Grupo Planeta (GBS), 2008, ISBN 8449321530, 9788449321535, 301 pages

[19] Media ecology: Environments, Evolutions and Interpretations, Carlos A. Scolari, GEDISA, 2015, ISBN 8497848276, 9788497848275, 300 pages