At the mention of the phrase ‘world of communications’, many descriptors come to mind including high technology, innovativeness, fast paced, adaptive, rapid change and evolving technology. The recent years can surely be described this way as witnessed with convergence in technology which has in many ways revolutionized mass media and communication. The rise of digital communication has made it possible for media organizations to deliver video, audio and text material via the same wired, wireless or fibre-optic connections (Dewdney & Ride 2006).
Today, the world of communications is surrounded by a multi-level convergent media wherein the various modes of information and communication are increasingly integrating into one in order to adapt to the enduring demands of technologies (Dewdney & Ride 2006). Convergence of technologies is increasingly changing the way in which we create, consume, learn and interact with one another.
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THE CONCEPT OF “DIGITAL CONVERGENCE”
The proposition to have all modes of information and communication converging into a digital nexus can be traced back to the late 1970’s (Mueller 1999). One of the earliest expressions of this idea came from Nicholas Negroponte, a technologist and founder of MIT’s media lab (Brand 1987). In 1978, Nicholas used three overlapping circles in representing the technologies of broadcasting, computing and printing (Brand 1987). He suggested that the most rapid growth and innovation could be found where the three intersected.
His analysis had however failed to factor in the telephone system, but simultaneously, telecommunication analysts were already in the course of developing their own language of merging technologies. For example, the ugly neologism “compunications” was coined by Harvard’s Anthony Oettinger to express the overlap between telecommunications and computing (Mueller 1999). Nora and Minc, French writers, developed a more graceful term “telematique” which expressed the same overlap (Mueller 1999). However, neither of the two terms became successful. Up to date the world is still struggling with a combination of terms such as “telecommunications” to label the basic technology of the information economy.
Amongst those that embraced Negroponte’s view was John Sculley, who was one of the executive at Pepsi in 1983 (Kawamoto 2003). John Sculley left Pepsi to become the CEO of Apple computer during that time. He used two graphic representations of the “information industry” to illustrate his vision for Apple INC, one for 1980 and the other for 2000 (Kawamoto 2003). The graphic for 1980 had seven boxes with each representing a discrete industry: media/publishing, computers, office equipment and distribution, consumer electronics, information vendors and telecommunications (Kawamoto 2003). While the one for 2000 which was labeled “convergence” represented an overlap of these industries. These overlaps were given new labels such as “virtual reality”, “interactive news”, “info on demand” and “national data highway”, and “2-way TV”(Kawamoto 2003).
Where the mention of the word “convergence” appeared in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, it was always in connection with Sculley and Apple (Kawamoto 2003). It also appeared in a few of the articles. For example, in 1994, the New York Times, while reporting on the San Jose Mercury New’s online edition on AOL, had a subheading with the term “media convergence” which forecasted that technological changes were increasingly leading to convergence of all forms of media into one (William 1994).
With the World Wide Web emerging in the mid-1990s, the notion of media convergence was getting more popular and by the time a merger between AOL and Time Warner was announced in the early 2000, the term “convergence” had become a buzzword which was associated with electronic content delivery (Kawamoto 2003).
Today, this concept of “digital convergence” has become a ubiquitous buzzword in media and journalism. It is almost impossible to follow developments in technology and media without encountering this concept of digital convergence. This raises a fundamental question: what exactly do we mean by “digital convergence”?
Digital convergence can be given a varied set of definitions. Digital convergence can be defined as the coming together of information content from voice telephony, sound broadcasting, television and print media; into a single application or service (Simpson & Weiner 1989). Convergence can also defined as the merging of industries, for example, the merging of traditional media companies with internet companies, such as Time Warner and AOL (Jenkins 2001). It may as well refer to the convergence of specific types of media such as video, audio and print into one digital media (Dewdney & Ride 2006).
A more succinct definition is that put forth by Ithiel de Sola Pools, a revolutionary in the field of social science. In his groundbreaking work on technology, Ithiel de Sola Pools (1983), coined the term “convergence” to describe a single integrated common carrier that met all the needs of the media. Clearly, the term “digital convergence” can be given a varied set of meanings, all of which conflate the integration of technologies of broadcasting, telecommunications, computing and printing. Despite the varied set of definitions to this concept, one thing that can be agreed upon is that digital convergence is increasingly and quickly transforming the very nature of mass communication.
DIGITAL CONVERGENCE A ‘REALITY’
As noted above, this concept of digital convergence has been there for nearly three decades and has long been associated with digital revolutions. Scientists, academics and media theorists have for decades tried to assess and forecast the impact that this concept may have on mass media (Yoffie 1996). However, only until recently has this concept gained practical importance and has mostly been prompted by developments in technology, creative management and government deregulation (Pavlick & McIntosh 2004).
In the past, communications media were separate and they provided distinct services. Voice telephony, broadcasting and online computer services operated on different platforms (Pavlick & McIntosh 2004). With digital convergence, a new epoch of multimedia has been ushered in where in voice, images and data can be brought together to form a single network that renders more efficient and effective services to the users of information content (Pavlick & McIntosh 2004). This convergence has been made possible through digitization which represents all forms of information in the same abstract form, in digital binary formats (Pavlick & McIntosh 2004).
As Pavlick & McIntosh (2004) notes, digitization enables all forms of the media to escape their traditional means of transmission (analog) and be translated into one another, as computer bits migrate merrily. The digital technology is increasingly blurring the boarders between broadcasting, telecommunication, television, publishing and computing services. Digital convergence has become the key factor of change in communication media with it rendering better, more efficient and innovative services to the users of information content.
In other words, digital convergence has made it possible for consumers to access content and services regardless of the connection type. Open standard-based technologies such as IP; radio technologies such as cellular, DVB and WLAN; middleware technologies such as HTML, WAP, MMS, Symbian, XHTML, PoC, Java and DRM; and connectivity technologies such as the Blue tooth, USB 2.0, RFID, and universal plug and play; have all made it possible for consumers to access information content and services without having to worry about interoperability issues (Anon 2004).
Much of the content that is created today is in the form of a digital format, which give users a range of options to choose from for the content that they want to consume. For example, standardized content formats such as MP3 and MPEG4 can be consumed on a video player, TV or on a smartphone (Anon 2004). Digitization is increasingly changing the way content is distributed by media organizations. The mass media content is no longer distributed through traditional channels and instead digital content is now delivered via the internet, satellite and through a host of other digital technologies (Pavlick & McIntosh 2004). The content has been made available 24 hours a day, with media organizations updating their content continuously and reaching out to a worldwide audience.
Convergence of mass media, which has been facilitated by digitization, has become the focus of media organizations. Today, various forms of mass media are converging into a digital nexus with increasing speed (Dewdney & Ride 2006). This increasing integration of technologies of computing, telecommunications, broadcasting and print media into a single digital environment is quickly revolutionizing media and journalism (Dewdney & Ride 2006).
IMPACT OF DIGITAL CONVERGENCE ON THE MEDIA AND USERS OF INFORMATION CONTENT
With these in mind, convergent media can thus be seen as a cross-plat form media, one which was conventionally associated with a certain platform or device but through digital convergence can now be accessed and distributed through another platform of device (Dewdney & Ride 2006). This convergence represents more than just a one-dimensional technological question as it also incorporates structural changes in the economic field where information services play a significant part and the convergence of industries as well (Dewdney & Ride 2006).
Digital convergence is enabling companies to merge and produce much better and efficient services. For example, in 2000, Time Warner, an American film and publishing conglomerate merged with AOL, an internet service provider to become the largest media corporation in the world (Dewdney & Ride 2006). The coming together of these two companies represented a new level of convergence of the industrial and economic organization of media production and distribution (Dewdney & Ride 2006).
From the electronic media perspective, digital convergence significantly transforms media communication and changes the way, in which we create, consume, learn and interact with one another. A good example of this digital convergence can be seen with the Mobile TV. Nokia, for example, has produced a range of smartphones embedded with RealOne video player, which enables operators and service providers to offer both streaming and live video content such as news, short films, music videos and sports to their customers (Anon 2004).
Digital convergence has also enabled the expansion of mobility into the areas of imaging, games, music and media by enabling content to be accessed anytime and from anywhere (Anon 2004). Having multiple functionalities such as MP3 players, digital cameras, and PDA functionality in one device (smartphone) brings significant benefits as consumers need only a single device to perform a number of functions instead of several different ones (Anon 2004).
Digital convergence is also playing an important role in the area of imaging. For example, Nokia is collaborating with imaging industry leaders to create a total imaging experience for its customers. Its collaboration with Hewlett Packard will enable for easier printing of pictures via Bluetooth wireless technology (Anon 2004). Nokia is also collaborating with Kodak to enable easy picture sharing with embedded Kodak picture applications in its smartphones (Anon 2004).
There is no doubt that the increasing convergence of the various modes of information and communication has changed the way in which we interact and communicate with one another. Traditionally, information was communicated via analog mass communication. This was largely one way of reaching out to the audience. The process of analog mass communication was characterized by a relatively large, heterogeneous and anonymous audience (Pavlick & McIntosh, 2004). Audiences had relatively fewer means of communicating directly with each other on a mass scale and neither did they have a direct means of communicating with the creators and publishers of the content of mass communication.
With digital convergence, communication has become easier and quicker as audiences can communicate directly with each other and with the creators and publishers of mass media content via email, online forums and other interactive media (Pavlick & McIntosh, 2004). Additionally, the audience can create mass communication content themselves and reach far larger audiences at a relatively lower cost than with the traditional media (Pavlick & McIntosh, 2004).
DIGITAL CONVERGENCE SETTING THE COURSE FOR FUTURE OF JOURNALISM
Digital convergence is also transforming and setting the course of future of journalism. Among journalists, the idea of reporting a story using multiple media tools has generated a heated debate especially with the print reporters, who often don’t carrying audio recorders and video cameras while at work (Kawamoto 2003). Due to these concerns, a mobile journalist workstation has been developed by engineers, which strap on to the back of a reporter and which enables him/her to capture multiple types of content from a news event.
This idea of a backpack journalist, however, did generate strikingly different views. For example, Jane Ellen Stevens, who had worked as a video producer and newspaper reporter was proud of the idea of a backpack journalist (Martha 2002). She opposed against hiring reporters that were computer illiterate and cited an example of Preston Mendenhall of MSNBC.com who spent a substantial amount of time traveling to Afghanistan and sending back written articles (Martha 2002).
Despite this, the work of Preston Mendenhall was still aired and presented on the web. Mendenhall’s example is rare, however, it is clear that the number of multimedia reporters will increase in future, and in many ways, the course of journalism is being set by the increasing convergence of the media. Some of the journalists are already gathering information in multiple formats. They are expected, for example, to write news, shoot and edit videos themselves (Kawamoto 2003).
This is in sharp contrast to the traditional media where in reporting, video editing, and news photography were discrete professions (Kawamoto 2003). It is feels safe to predict that greater changes are on the way and the future of journalism lie with convergence of all forms of mass media. At minimum, journalists need to have the basic knowledge and understanding of the unique capabilities of different communications media.
It is however important to note that this convergence doesn’t necessarily imply that a single journalist ought to do all the work from reporting, writing, shooting videos and editing them as well taking pictures and presenting their stories on the web. We will always need to have specialists in these specific fields. But in the converged media organizations, journalists who are well equipped with the basic know-how of multiple media are the ones who are most successful and drive the greatest innovations and are the leaders of tomorrow.
In summary, we can say that digital convergence conflates the integration of technologies of broadcasting, telecommunications, computing and printing. This concept has in many ways transformed the very nature of mass communication and is quickly revolutionizing media and journalism as various forms of mass media increasingly converge into a digital nexus. The convergence of all forms of mass media is not only setting the course of media and journalism, but is also changing the way in which we create, consume, learn and interact with one another.
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