Convergence, within the new media paradigm, what is it and why is it happening?
Convergence can have a multiple of meanings depending on who you ask. The most common definition of Convergence is the combining of multiple new media technologies such a TV, Radio, Personal Computers (Internet, Software and Hardware). Another way of describing Convergence is the creation of a Programme or application that is capable of running on numerous new media technologies such as TV/Interactive TV, Internet, and Mobiles without going through too many modifications.
Convergence is constantly taking place around us, this is in part because of the vast knowledge humans behold but more importantly the humans lust for something newer and better to keep them happy. Technology is improving in leaps and bounds and with these technologies coming closer together, they become incorporated with one another this can lead to new devices and improvements in certain fields but can at the same time pose a threat to current new media formats such as the Television which will be explained further later on.
The pace of which new media Convergence is moving is rapid and many theories have been put forward to try and answer why. Marshall McLuhan had many theories on technological change. He argued that Media not only changed people's lives it also impacted the environment in which it emerged. The impact of the new technology would disturb current ones because a new technology isn't simply just accepted into society, it has to find its place. This idea of McLuhan's that new technologies "disturb" older ones is still true today as we can see with the TV. The TV is and has been for a long time the entertainment hub of most households, it's a very simple concept; TV channels broadcast shows and films to the viewers. However the Television is in danger. Taken from the IPTV Digital Home Report,
"Now, the television's role is expanding from a passive video playback device to incorporate elements of interactivity, convergence, and personalized entertainment experiences."
As technology evolves and Human demands increase, more is expected from the TV. Video on Demand (VoD) a relatively new technology allows people to watch a TV programme or film at a time that suites them. This has caused a major concern for the TV broadcasters as it means they must have a major rethink about the structure of TV and were its going. The ever more popular VoD or IPTV has seen great growth over the past few years as indicated by the below graph.
To some people however the TV is already history. Tim Burners Lee was asked his opinion on TV and were it was heading.
"Whether it's pay or free, it's per view, and I get it by following a link, one way or another. I won't be searching channels. I think the concept of a channel is going to be history very quickly on the internet. It's not relevant."
(Tim Berners-Lee, TV is history)
Brian Winston another theorist believed that New Media Technologies and Science are closer together than we thought. He believed that scientific knowledge becomes implemented as technology.
"Supervening necessity has transformed prototype into invention and... despite the operation of the 'law' of suppression of radical opportunity, continues to encourage technological performance in the form of production, spin-offs and redundancies"
Winston argues that a new invention is held back and takes times to be absorbed into the human fabric despite how badly it's needed; this is known as the "suppression of radical potential"
As mentioned earlier Convergence does have its drawbacks and Winston mentions "redundancies", which are caused by machines taking over the jobs of what people used to do. "Software robots - also known as bots or software agents - can earn hard cash in the real world. They can even outperform people in some tasks, so it makes sense to let them do all the hard work." (Rowe, 2005) This is a problem as the moment but could balloon into something bigger if not carefully monitored.
The above graph shows peoples thoughts on what features they would like to see from their TVs. This backs up McLuhan's ideas of Technology changing the environment around people, because VoD or IPTV have gathered great momentum people want more out of TV, But the TV in its current state cannot offer people "Primetime Anytime" unless its equipped with such features like IPTV, the TV is in danger of becoming outdated unless the broadcaster can offer the people a redesigned packaged that attracts them. The above does seem to back up Tim Burners Lee's idea that the standard TV channel will soon be gone and replaced with TV's that have a schedule that matches your free time.
There is no doubt that Convergence has changed the way we go about our everyday lives. All the technologies we need can almost be had in a single device such a mobile phone (Radio, Internet, TV, Phone), this has happened because of technological innovations. Whilst the positives are quite clear such as cheaper items, more technologies all combined into one, the negatives stand quite tall as well. Job losses and the loss of cultural identity to name a few. Convergence will continue to change and evolve and that's because Humans will continually strive to create something new or come up with a new idea, the proof is in the new products continuously coming out the new "Ipad" for instance which are the result of numerous technologies squeezed into one device.
- Kurt Scherf, IPTV and the Digital Home, 2009
- Tim Berners-Lee, TV is history
- Brian Winston, Media Technology and Society, Routledge, 1999,
- Duncan Graham-Rowe, How bots can earn more than you, 2005